KENNEBUNKPORT, MAINE

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I can’t help but feel a little uneasy sitting at a table in the home of Ralph and Louise Hurlbutt. Louise, a famed interior designer, and her husband are hosting a dinner as part of an event produced by Maine magazine called the Kennebunkport Festival (www.kennebunkportfestival.com). My friend Emma and I give one another an out-of-place look as we sit down at an extravagantly elegant table. Feeling like Jack Dawson at his debut in the first-class dining hall aboard the Titanic, we carefully examine the fine china and count the number of utensils. The well-dressed crowd surrounding us, decked out in pearls and tailored jackets, makes us assume we’re far from the comforts of our liberal bubble in Brooklyn. This gives me a bit of an uh-oh-they-don’t-know-I’m-gay anxiety.

The awkwardly silent table isn’t broken up by talk over gay rights, the election, abortion, or other off-limit family dinner conversation topics—it’s the food by Chef Peggy Liversidge of Kitchen Chicks (www.kitchenchickscatering.com) that ultimately brings us together. We laugh over our reactions to the succulent smoked salmon and house-cured gravlax starter and talk about how I am so going to put the lobster on the menu at my wedding. “Oh you’re getting married?” a Barbara Bush-esque woman next to me asks. “Well I haven’t met him yet,” I laugh. “Oh my god! You’re gay?” I sit up nervously for the follow up. “I want a gay son,” she shouts to her husband.

By dessert (gorgeous, fresh strawberries soaked in rum), our table’s laughter is competing with the neighboring table as we down the wine pairings by Devenish Wine and talk about everything from Snooki to Santorum. By the end of the night, we kiss Mrs. Hurlbutt goodbye and give her a big thank you. When we walk out the door, our cheeks are stained red with lipstick and our phones are crammed with 207 numbers—we can hardly wait for the rest of the festival.

Kennebunkport, Maine is a picturesque New England town located just a short drive south of Portland. While images of George Bush, fresh seafood, and American flags may flash in your head when Kennebunkport is mentioned, you wouldn’t be wrong—it’s a little slice of Norman Rockwell Americana. Of course, the area is famous for the Bush’s summer compound and world-renowned lobster, which is all wrapped together with a big bow of patriotism. Though, if you begin to scratch the surface, Kennebunkport has a whole lot to offer and is actually filled with a truly welcoming summer and year-round population that just may surprise you. Your first glimpse of this may be from the numerous gay-friendly and gay-owned hotels throughout Kennebunkport including Kennebunkport Inn, The Cottages at Cabot Cove, Old Fort Inn and Resort, Tides Beach Club, and the Grand Hotel (all owned by openly gay and handsome hotelier Tim Harrington and his super gay-friendly partner Debra Lennon). We stay at his ultra-stylish Hidden Pond (www.kennebunkportresortcollection.com) where we have our own massive two-bedroom cottage with an outdoor shower located only a mile from Maine’s coast.

“It feels like there is finally a changing of the guard in Kennebunkport, with the traditional dinosaurs giving way to new, exciting group of enthusiastic restaurateurs,” says Joe Ricchio of Maine magazine who is also a blogger/webtv host at Foodcoma.tv, as we sip Allagash White beer at Chicks Marina and take in the sprawling water view. “Sure, you can still track down a lobster roll and fried clams if that’s what you’re looking for, but there is also well-executed, eclectic cuisine, complimented by increasingly interesting wine lists and housed in very dramatic settings,” he adds.

This excitement is palpable throughout the week as we meet visitors from all over who have come to take part in the culinary events in Kennebunkport and raise money for Share Our Strength Maine (www.strength.org), a non-profit that aims to end childhood hunger.

Besides dining at some stunning houses (you can also pick from all sorts of culinary experiences, including a naked-food tasting in a gallery), the Kennebunkport Festival takes you to various restaurants, hotels, and even marinas to experience the best that Kennebunkport has to offer. Each evening starts with a cocktail hour, then dinner, and finally an after party. So, by the end of it all, you will have visited a considerable amount of locales and have tasted a diverse sampling of foods from Maine’s top chefs.

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