By Frank Sabatini Jr.
It is easier to see Alaska from the heart of Normal Heights than it is to see Russia from Sarah Palin’s backyard.
At least in terms of food, the state of Maine also comes into focus, and without the support of a high-powered telescope. Simply poke into Corner Liquor, and nobody will challenge these claims or spoof you on “Saturday Night Live.”
Maine native Chris Fournier and his wife, Joann, sublease a section of the store under the name Alaskan Seafood Connection. Prior to opening it more than two years ago, Fournier was a longtime foreman at a seafood plant in Kodiak, Alaska.
His intention after moving here was to open a wholesale seafood business. But he decided instead to start a “full-cook deli” specializing in everything from New England lobster rolls and fried scallops to salmon burgers and red-tinted hot dogs that Mainers know well.
Fresh and frozen seafood is also available by the pound, including king crabs, snow crabs, salmon, cod and rockfish sourced directly from Alaska. They share deli space with cooked, whole Maine lobsters — some of them lusty 5-pounders.
Seating is limited to two outdoor tables. Oddly, there’s plenty of open space inside the circa-1938 structure that could potentially accommodate extra seating. But overall, the store would need a fresh paintjob and cleaner flooring before ever doubling as a veritable café.
A friend and I seized one of the teeny sidewalk tables after placing our orders at the deli counter. All of the food came out within minutes apart.
First up were the fish and chips, which yielded several pieces of cod cloaked in bubbly-textured batter. They’re served over excellent fries that we saw cut to order and then dusted in flour. The latter procedure successfully prevents them from becoming soggy too fast.
The cod nuggets were fresh and flaky, although only semi-crispy. They ultimately came alive from a few splashes of fresh lemon and repeated swipes through the house-made pickle-perfect tartar sauce. So good, we fetched another container to give our fries the same love.
Our lobster roll hit most of the classic high points: a buttered and toasted frankfurter roll, check; abundant lobster meat dressed lightly in mayo and lemon, yes; and crispy, diced celery in the mix, you bet.
Missing or undetectable from the equation, however, was fresh tarragon some chefs use to jazz up the lobster salad. Also, as a personal preference, I like the sandwich filled with heftier chunks of the shellfish, as seen throughout sections of Connecticut.
While waiting for our Styrofoam container of lobster bisque to cool down, we encroached on a hot dog sealed in “natural casing” from Kayem Old Thyme.
“This is crazy looking,” my companion said of its ruby-red color, achieved from food coloring that New Englanders have long embraced in much the same way Southerners uphold dye in red velvet cake.
The dog was juicy and flavorful, probably one of the best we’ve had in a while, and even before dressing it in mustard, relish and onions. It was tucked into a toasted, buttered roll, which provided half the thrill.
Our main disappointment was the lobster bisque. Despite visible flecks of meat floating within, the pale liquid yearned for a robust stock, fresh herbs, white wine or sherry, and far less flour. All told, the roux was stretched too far, and the flavor suffered as a result.
Since our visit, a friend strongly advised I return for a few items we didn’t try, describing the clam dip with house-made chips as “the bomb” and the grilled salmon burger as “fresh and wonderful.” The menu extends also to clam chowder; oysters in the half shell; fried shrimp or scallops; fish lumpia and salmon-stuffed pasta shells.
Who knew you could find any of these foods when purchasing a bottle of gin or a Bic lighter?
—Frank Sabatini Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.