In the Footsteps of Anthony Bourdain: J’s Oyster, Portland, Maine

Story by Milli Thornton & Brian Williams. Photos Copyright © Brian Williams.

MY HUSBAND BRIAN called from South Portland, Maine and said he’d just been to the Bug Light. I thought he said “Bud Light,” so I shrieked “WHA?!”

Knowing how much he hates Bud Light (he’s more of a Guinness guy) I thought he’d lost his marbles. Of course, that’s exactly how he was hoping I’d react, and he was delighted to direct me to his Facebook page, where I saw his photo of the cutest little lighthouse you could wish for.

Officially known as the Portland Breakwater Light, it has an interesting history of guiding ships from Casco Bay through the entrance to Portland Harbor.

The most elegant of all Maine’s lighthouses, this was modeled after an ancient Greek monument, built in the 4th century BC. The cast-iron, cylindrical light has Corinthian columns and charming Greek roof edge adornments called palmettes. It’s dubbed “the bug” because of its small size. —

The Bug was refurbished and relighted as a private aid to navigation in 2002. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places. It crowns Bug Light Park, situated in an old World War II shipbuilding complex where Liberty ships were built. The park has free parking, a walking path, saltwater fishing, Cushing’s Point House museum and the Liberty Ship Memorial.

But Brian had bigger bugs to fry and he called me later from downtown Portland. This time he said he was waiting in line at J’s Oyster in Old Port—and that it must be Anthony’s fault the lines are so long there now.

Brian and I are fans of Anthony Bourdain’s food show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations. If you’ve watched Anthony, you’ll know he’s often in exotic locations around the world, eating amazing gourmet food prepared by the planet’s top chefs. Either that, or brains and gizzards and all manner of offal (which he loves).

When I heard there was an episode of No Reservations set in Maine, I was intrigued. It didn’t seem like Anthony’s kind of place. He’s a sophisticated New Yorker (don’t get a big ego when I say that, Tony) and I was eager to see what he would find in Maine. Just covering the lobsters would not be his speed at all.

When the episode opens, we learn that cameraman Zach Zamboni is a native of Maine. He is planning to show Anthony everything from Portland eateries to the remote interior, including a backwoods BBQ operated from two old railroad cars.

Naturally, they begin in Portland, which Anthony tells us has been called “America’s foodiest little city” because of the number of restaurants per capita. And they must eat first at J’s Oyster, which is always Zach’s first stop when he comes home.

Taken with the Blackberry - J's Oyster

With a parrot perched on his shoulder as he talks at the bar in J’s, Zach says J’s is the kind of place that refuses to change—and that’s why he likes it.

Anthony describes J’s as a “loud local joint with lots of raw shellfish, pints of cold beer, a good crowd” (watch the video below to enjoy the raucous fun) “and a real passion of mine: steamers.”

Beer on tap at J's Oyster, Portland, Maine

Steamer clams are a fond memory from Anthony’s childhood. He demonstrates for viewers how to wash them and then dip them in clarified butter. As he indulges, he says steamers are “truly one of the greatest specifically American things EVER.”

So, what did Brian order at J’s? He chose the oyster sampler and loved it. To wash it down he applied liberal Harpoon IPA, which is on tap at J’s. Harpoon IPA is an India Pale Ale that pairs well with seafood, Thai food and spicy chicken.

He sat at the bar between a retired manager from a famous rock band and an engineer. Brian is an engineer who loves heavy metal, so he was in element.

Too much in his element, if you ask me. As Milliver’s Travels staff photographer, where are the compelling images of the food? And the restaurant’s interior?

There he was walking in the sainted footsteps of a foodie hero and he didn’t even remember to get a snapshot of his oysters. The conversation was just too good
. . . and, after all, he got the beer picture. The most important thing, right?

Hmm. What should his punishment be?

J’s Oyster
5 Portland Pier
Portland, Maine
(207) 772-4828


Brian Williams

Brian in Russia


Brian R. Williams, spouse of Milliver, is often the photographer (including video) for the stories Milli writes. An electronics and RF engineer, Brian writes emergency communications software for his company, Comtekk. Milliver counts it among her victories in life to have published reluctant writer Mr. Williams as a guest blogger, with a fascinating story from his stint in Russia: A Sakhalin Road Trip.

Milli at Devi, Montreal

Milli at Devi, Montreal

Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Screenwriting in the Boonies and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.

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  1. Pretty cool! I bet your hubby had a GREAT time! It looks awfully cold, tho! I love the accents on the show – I guess they would hear our Southern accents down here!

    Thanks, Milli…this was loads of fun!

    • Glad you found it fun, Ann. That’s exactly why I was eager to write it. And I was lucky enough to find the perfect Anthony Bourdain video to go with it.

      • That lighthouse doesn’t hold a candle to how cute you are my friend! I miss you guys so much.
        I might just get in the car and drive over.

  2. That lighthouse is too cute, the Bug Light suits it well.

    Lovely article Milli and Brian 🙂

    • Jo ~ Glad you liked our husband-and-wife story team efforts. Of course, I can barely get Brian to behave . . . but that makes it more of a fun challenge for me. 😉

  3. What a fun article! Love the cute little lighthouse.

    I watch the travel channel, and No Reservations is a great show.
    We visited Maine before and loved it. Every where you looked was a picture postcard. If we ever get to Portland, Maine, I am going to make it a point to go to J’s Oyster!

    • Betsy, pleased to know you’re a fellow No Reservationist. 😉 Let me know if you ever make it to J’s. I’m still living vicariously through Brian on that one. 😀

  4. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten my plate of food, intending to take a pic so I can post something about it, but it’s just too yummy-looking and I dig right in! Personally, I’d forgive Brian without any punishment whatsoever. 😉

    I do love delicious seafood and on your recommendation (not to mention “Tony’s”), if ever in Maine I’ll be sure to check this spot out.

    • Lisa, you are a kind soul 🙂 Maybe next time I’ll remember the pic…maybe.

      • We’ll see. His next test is eating at The Flying Turtles Bar & Grill in Buffalo, NY this weekend. I’ve already seen the adorable tank of turtles on their website (turtles being one of my favorite animals) so look out if he doesn’t get a pic of that!! 😉

      • So, you can write, eh.
        That would be 1651, not Flat Tire or Guiness which are for grown ups.
        I promise to go back up the page and click on the fiction piece about Russia as I am sure you would never write “The Rest of The Story”.
        I was just looking for the Cyrillic key board set on my puter too.
        ךםהק טםו ךםאדת דאקהק

        • “Flat Tire?” Is that a new flavor at Eske’s?

          …Yes, getting me to write literature is akin to pulling teeth, just ask Milli. However, motivating our adopted son, aka Stevie to write something, I fear would require nothing short of “an act of God.”

  5. Love this, Milli and Brian! I was born in Portland and grew up in Cape Elizabeth just a couple of miles south, where Portland Head Light is and the Lobster Shack (also featured on Tony’s episode). My Mainah girlfriends and I giggled at the characterization in the show about Maine women “bein’ kinda stocky and havin’ mosta theyuh teeth.” Thanks a lot, Tony Bourdain! Matt still teases me about that. Love you guys.”

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