Located right along the coast and just thirty minutes from Portland, busy downtown Brunswick is a popular destination for summer people “from away.” But this former mill town, located at the juncture of Route 1 and the Androscoggin River, lights up in the winter with more than enough shops, restaurants, and art spaces to keep the locals busy through the spring thaw.
By Maria Padian
Photographed by Amy Wilton
WHAT TO DO:
Brunswick adheres to the traditional New England model, with industry at one end (the Cabot Mill), God at the other end (First Parish Church), and the people in between (the town green). Beginning at the bottom of Maine Street enjoy live music, a rotating display of local art and photography, and film series in the beautifully renovated space of old Mill 3 at Frontier Café and Cinema ( 14 Maine St., Suite 6321, 3 Fort Andross, 207-725-5222, explorefrontier.com). Lunch- and dinner-goers are treated to spectacular river views from the high-ceilinged dining room, where the carefully restored original floors gleam and parties gather at long tables custom-made from reclaimed wood. Heading up the hill toward the church, art lovers can check out original paintings by New England artists at Bayview Gallery ( 58 Maine St., 207-729-5500, bayviewgallery.com) and indie-movie lovers can relax in the comfy couches of the Eveningstar Cinema ( 149 Maine St., 207-729-5486, eveningstarcinema.com) while they sip coffee and take in the alternative offerings you won’t find at the cineplex. At the top of the hill, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art ( 9400 College Station, 207-725-3275, bowdoin.edu/art-museum/index.html) offers a quiet respite from the chill and one of the premier college art collections in the country. This month special exhibitions will include work by Boston photographer F. Holland Day, Victorian-era landscapes by John Ruskin, and nineteenth-century Japanese prints. While you’re on campus, don’t miss a chance to check out the formidable collection of stuffed walruses, polar bears, and seals at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum (Hubbard Hall, 207-725-3416, bowdoin.edu/arctic-museums) where “cold” takes on a whole new meaning.
You may think the deep midwinter is no time for a farmer’s market, but the Brunswick Winter Market ( 14 Maine St., Fort Andross Mill Complex, brunswickwintermarket.weebly.com) is hopping for the holidays! On Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. you’ll find more than fifty local merchants selling crafts, fresh produce, baked goods, artisanal cheeses, and more. Shop for gifts at the newly opened Local ( 148 Maine St., 207-729-1328 ) where . . . you guessed it, “local” specialty kitchen and food products will tempt you. Of course, if you’re looking for something a bit more extravagant than a six-pack of microbrewed beer, cross the street to Keith Field Classical Goldsmith ( 147 Maine St., 207-725-5141, kfgoldsmith.com). The Field family has been making jewelry in Brunswick since the late 1800s, and Keith’s original designs are truly “wearable” art — be sure to check out his Lobster Claws and Compass Rose collections. For something a bit less contemporary go no farther than Day’s Antiques ( 153 Park Row, 207-725-6959 ). Located in the historic Pumpkin House across from the town green, you’ll find a treasure trove of antique art, furniture, and accessories.
While Brunswick can’t compete with Portland for variety, it comes close: A stroll along Maine Street will reveal Italian, Greek, Thai, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, German, and Mexican offerings. No true Brunswick morning can begin without a doughnut from Frosty’s ( 54 Maine St., 207-729-4258 ). Famous for outstanding doughnuts, Frosty’s recently reopened under new ownership. Its religious iconography lining the walls is gone, but the recipe stayed the same. Carry cash and come early, because Frosty’s begins serving at 4 a.m. and the doughnuts disappear, especially the glazed twists. Better yet: Call ahead and have your order set aside. Around the corner from Frosty’s, you can sample gourmet Greek-Italian fare at Trattoria Athena ( 25 Mill St., 207-721-0700, trattoriaathena.com). This charming venue features casual fine dining and the occasional five-course wine dinner, but seating is limited, so call for a reservation. A stalwart of the Brunswick dining scene, Richard’s Restaurant ( 115 Maine St., 207-729-9673, richardsgermanamericancuisine.com) does hearty, authentic German cooking to a tee, and let’s face it, ’tis the season for those rich mushroom sauces, schnitzels, and strudels. Richard’s also has a knack with German sausage, and the schlachtplatte (a sampling of sausages and sauerkraut) is not to be missed. On the other end of the dining spectrum, consider the Asian-influenced tapas at Tao Restaurant ( 22 Pleasant St., 207-725-9002, tao-maine.com). Sip a handcrafted cocktail as you sample and share a variety of small plates that include lobster pho, roast pork buns, and the not-to-be-missed calamari with Sichuan pickled fiddleheads. Though just a few blocks off Maine Street, a trip to El Camino ( 15 Cushing St., 207-725-8228 ) feels like going south-of-the-border even in the dead of winter. This restaurant’s pomegranate margarita was named one of America’s twenty best cocktails by GQ magazine, and when ordering food, stick to the daily specials, where locally sourced ingredients give its Mexican cuisine a Maine twist. For dessert, there’s no debate, it’s Gelato Fiasco ( 74 Maine St., 207-607-4002, gelatofiasco.com). Using Maine-produced milk and authentic Italian gelato-making techniques, this is the real stuff. About thirty flavors are made daily and offerings vary, but look for Italian eggnog and peppermint stick this month.