Diners and seafood shoppers who find their way into Peekytoe Provisions toward the lower end of Main Street in Bar Harbor can thank their good fortune on a Christmas visit to Massachusetts and a mess of oysters.
Six years ago, owners Cyndi Bridges and Drew Smith were on a Christmas visit to family in Norwell, Mass., the Boston suburb where Smith grew up and went to high school. One afternoon, they went out to buy some oysters at a well-stocked nearby fish market.
“We thought, ‘Why is there no place like that in Bar Harbor?’” Bridges said late one June afternoon during a brief lull in lunch service. By the following September, they had opened Peekytoe Provisions, combining a market that sells impeccably fresh seafood and an eat-in, takeout restaurant that features that same seafood as well as a variety of options for diners not in the mood for fish.
Whether aquatic or terrestrial, virtually all of the ingredients that Smith uses in his carefully prepared and imaginative cooking come from local sources and nearby suppliers. Most of the seafood is sourced from local fishermen and shellfish harvesters and all of it comes from suppliers committed to sustainable fisheries.
Bridges’ and Smith’s journey from buying oysters from a Massachusetts fish monger’s shop to selling them in their own Bar Harbor establishment was more logical than it might seem.
Smith’s family is from Mount Desert Island, his father graduated from MDI High School, and “he came up for family visits all his life,” Bridges said.
She is a “resort brat” who was born in Aspen, Colo., and whose family moved around to jobs at ski areas in Telluride, Calif., and Vermont while she was growing up. After two years at Colorado College, she transferred to College of the Atlantic.
She worked summers at Donahue’s, a venerable Bar Harbor eatery, to help pay tuition and expenses and about 14 years ago she “convinced the boss” to hire Smith to work for a season.
After a couple of winters together, Bridges and Smith moved to Park City, Utah, where they spent two full years doing “everything” in restaurants —both the front and the back of the house — before splitting the next four years between the western ski Mecca in winter and Bar Harbor in the summer.
“We both really missed Park City, but we missed the ocean more,” Bridges said. Tired of working for other people, “we decided we had to open our own place,” she said.
Opened in September 2014 and now entering its fourth summer of operations, Peekytoe Provisions, named for the species of Maine rock crab preferred by high-end chefs for use in crabmeat salad, crab cakes and other culinary creations because of its delicate flavor and texture, is the product of that decision.
“Originally, we thought we could just do fresh fish,” but that that wasn’t a sustainable business model, Bridges said, so they added a restaurant that would “do a menu that reflects what we have in the fish case.”
What was in the fish case during a recent visit was impressive.
Among the shellfish selections were oysters from two MDI and two Damariscotta River oyster farmers, bottom-cultured mussels harvested from waters around the island by Trenton-based Hollander & deKoning’s Acadia Aquafarms and hardshell clams harvested by a digger who is chairman of the shellfish committee in the neighboring town of Mount Desert.
Among the finfish selections were native species including haddock and Casco Bay cod loins, and a variety of more exotic fish — sushi grade tuna, Florida grouper and red snapper, organic Wester Ross Atlantic salmon — all sourced from sustainable fisheries.
In winter, during the Maine fishing season, dayboat scallops from local fishermen will be in the case.
One star of the show just before the inshore fishing season ended on June 20, was locally caught dayboat halibut that shop sources “from several local guys” who phone in to see if there is a market for their catch. Fresh halibut caught farther offshore is available throughout the year when weather permits and the fish cooperate.
No surprise given the name, local hand-picked peekytoe crab is available, to travel or in several prepared dishes, as is locally caught Maine lobster.
If taking fish home to cook doesn’t appeal, there are always enticing chowders, sautéed mussels or treats like pan-seared yellowfin tuna tacos, a crabmeat panini or a halibut sandwich with fiddlehead dillybean pesto and roasted tomato on a brioche bun to tickle the palate.
Not in the mood for seafood? Try the “Duck Sausage Bomb,” the house-smoked Asian pulled pork with blueberry habanero sauce and homemade kimchi on a challah bun or corn or flour tortillas.
Peekytoe Provisions is open Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 244 Main St. in Bar Harbor, Tel. (207) 801-9161 or www.peekytoeprovisions.com.