by Lauren McKee
For more than 15 years, the James Beard Foundation has honored some of the country's most beloved regional restaurants with its America's Classic Award. These establishments, often family-owned, are treasured for their quality food, local character, and lasting appeal.
In anticipation of our announcement of the 2013 inductees, we're unlocking the America's Classics vault and checking in on some past winners. First up: South Thomaston, Maine's Waterman's Beach Lobster, which received the award in 2001.
Sisters-in-law Sandy Manahan and Lorri Cousens continue to oversee this temple to Maine's unofficial state crustacean. In fact, very little about this classic shoreline shack has changed. Out-of-state visitors and locals still make the summertime pilgrimage to Mussel Ridge Channel in the Penobscot Bay; when they arrive, they order whole lobsters that weigh one to four pounds, depending on what Lorri's husband has caught that day, or they go for lobster rolls, crab rolls, heaps of clams, or even a hot dog. Some head to the beach to dress picnic tables with tablecloths from home and drink bottles of Sauvignon Blanc or Champagne. Others sit under the large covered deck, sipping on sweet tea.
While the basic ritual of a visit to Waterman's remains intact, regulars know about a couple of changes. For years Sandy's mother, Anne Manahan (née Waterman), made the restaurant's famed pies. Even when she passed ownership down to her daughters, the "retired" restaurateur rose every morning to make the day's desserts. But as Anne neared her 80th birthday, Sandy and Lorri realized they would need to relieve her. With original recipes in hand, they approached a neighbor who had a reputation for baking. They asked the candidate to reproduce each of Waterman's most popular pies, which were then presented for the veteran baker's inspection. After tasting each one, Anne gave her blessing. Post handover, staples like strawberry-rhubarb, made from stalks grown up the road, have remained a customer favorite, and the menu has sprouted homemade ice cream and other seasonal treats. Anne's successor insists on remaining anonymous, lest they be bombarded with requests for raspberry-nectarine crisp.
Despite the economy, business has not slowed down at Waterman's, thanks to the swelling numbers of visiting tourists. Still, Waterman's has adjusted its prices so that loyal, in-state patrons can continue to eat there. Their cause was aided by last year's infamous lobster glut, which led to some affordable specials, like a one-pound lobster with butter, chips, and a roll for $10.95.
Stay tuned for the James Beard Foundation's announcement of the 2013 America's Classics.
Learn more about the James Beard Awards.