Mexican on the coast. Cupcakes on the farm. Relish on the roadside. Brûlée in the bike lane.
Who makes the tastiest taco? Where’s the loveliest lobsterboat tour? What is the one hike you just can’t skip? We logged the miles to bring you this handy, savvy, witty guide to our favorite Maine everything. Here’s an excerpt from the July issue, featuring this year’s Best of Maine Editors’ Choices in the Food and Drink category.
Best Treat in a Cup
Michelle Shields has a Maine foodie pedigree. Her husband’s family has operated Shields Meats in Kennebunk since 1923. In 2007, she started Fresh Fruit Frenzy to deliver fruit and veggies to local businesses. And in 2013, in response to husband Dean’s sweet tooth, she came up with a single-serving lava cake in a cup, the first of five flavors of Jarva Cakes, a just-add-water-and-microwave solution to what’s for dessert. The success of Jarva Cakes is a tribute to the delicious things Michelle and daughters Sydney and Keisha can do with chocolate ganache. 207-221-5655. jarvacakes.com
Best Hamburger from a Gas Station
Tolman Pond Market
The take-out kitchen at Rockport’s Tolman Pond Market isn’t much to look at, and nothing about the menu — pizza, hot dogs, Italians — suggests this Route 90 gas station might secretly churn out a gut-busting epicurean delight. But the editor-in-chief of a certain Rockport-based magazine has developed a carnivorous obsession with Tolman Pond’s burger, gradually hooking her staff. The secret is grass-fed local beef from Curtis Custom Meats, down the road in Warren, but the perfectly toasted bun and generous glob of mayo don’t hurt either. Worth a stop, even on a full tank. 790 West St., Rockport. 207-236-2575.
Best Authentic Mexican
Vazquez Mexican Takeout
Romana Vazquez’s homemade tortillas are the key. Using imported ingredients (“There’s nothing around here that you can use to make authentic Mexican food,” says daughter Juana), Romana creates from-scratch tortillas just the way she made them growing up in Apaseo el Alto, in central Mexico. That provides the foundation for a true south-of-the-border experience Down East. Further cred: Vazquez Mexican Takeout originated in a bus, where Romana sold tacos, burritos, and chimichangas — along with more exotic selections like guarache, pozole, and mole — to migrant rakers in Washington County’s blueberry fields. 38 Main St., Milbridge. 207-598-8141.
Best Farm Stand
Stutzman’s Farm Stand & Bakery
There are farm stands, and then there’s Stutzman’s. Third- generation farmers Sid and Rainey Stutzman have turned a small, backroad farm stand into a community hub, with fresh produce, yes, but also homemade baked goods, wood-fired pizza, and Sunday brunch set to live music. Regulars include painter Alan Bray, who points out, “You can sit in the dining room, look out over the farm, and see people picking what you’re eating.” It doesn’t get more farm-to-table than that. 891 Douty Hill Rd., Sangerville. 207-564-8596.
Flo’s, Cape Neddick
Yes, you can buy it online. But to truly relish the experience, you must experience this relish onsite, at Flo’s famous roadside stand on Route 1 in Cape Neddick. (Be prepared to wait; the hours are just 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) Flo’s much-heralded relish is the point guard of condiments, making all other ingredients better. The mustard kicks harder, the mayo is mellower, the ketchup (if you must) is ketchuppier. Ingredients are famously secret, but sweet onions and molasses are involved. Served with a hot dog, a steamed bun, and not much else. 1359 U.S. Rte. 1, Cape Neddick. 800-255-8401. floshotdogs.com
Best Pub Where Locals and Visitors Mingle
Although Monson’s Lakeshore House has been a saloon of some sort since the 19th century, Rebekah Anderson transformed it in 2006 into a welcome, low-key gathering spot for locals, Appalachian Trail hikers, snowmobilers, skiers, and sportsmen. The comfort-heavy menu ranges from pot roast to quesadillas (for which the menu offers a pronunciation key) to deep-fried fiddleheads (in season). The snug, seven-table room (and five-seat bar) fills up for open-mic Thursdays and live music Sundays, but there’s more seating outside, overlooking sparkling Lake Hebron. Its shoulder-to-shoulder nature is part of its charm: we dare you to not make friends here. 9 Tenney Hill Rd., Monson. 207-997-7069. thelakeshorehouse.com
Best Successful Foodie Kickstarter
Four years ago, Portlander Charlie Compton attended a food truck rally in San Francisco and realized he wanted his own mobile snack shop. One problem — the 15-year-old Compton can’t drive. So he dreamed up the Brûlée Bike, a bicycle towing a specialized trailer full of the French dessert. A spring Kickstarter campaign netted nearly $1,600 in start-up funds, and if his permits are approved, the entrepreneurial teen gourmand hopes to peddle (and pedal) his first batches at Portland’s First Friday Art Walks this summer.
Best Baked Goods You Can Only
Get on a Farm
Tall Trees Snack Shop
You’ve not eaten a cupcake this summer until you’ve eaten a chocolate beet cupcake with vanilla-and-beet buttercream frosting from the pop-up treat mavens at Tall Trees. Agrarian pastry queens Marcy Taubes, a journeyman farmer in China, and Sarah Trainer, a Boston-based artist and baker, borrow kitchen space to churn out their dark and decadent cupcakes, plus sweets like salted honey pies and savory stuff like flaky parsnip-and-pork handpies. Tall Trees has no brick-and-mortar outlet, so watch for their year-old, ephemeral snack stand at various open-farm days throughout the year. facebook.com/talltreessnackshop
Best Totally Unexpected Lunch Spot
MaineGeneral Medical Center
Maine’s most affordable decent lobster roll might be 3 ounces of claw and knuckle meat on a toasted roll for $7.99 at Augusta’s MaineGeneral Medical Center cafeteria. The quality of MaineGeneral’s cuisine improved tremendously two years ago, when the hospital adopted a hotel-style room-serve system. The new approach reduced waste but more surprisingly, commissary fare now includes genuinely tasty, healthy dishes like butternut-squash-and-apple soup, pumpkin mousse, Mongolian seitan over brown rice, and spicy African peanut soup. Around Augusta, word among non-patients is out. “Oh yes,” confirmed a caf staffer during a recent lunch visit, “people come in all the time just because they like the food.” 35 Medical Center Pkwy., Augusta. 207-626-1000. Menus at mainegeneral.org
Photograph by Mark Fleming
Buy this issue and get the full list of this year’s Best of Maine winners.