Best of Maine 2016: Food & Drink

Yardbird Canteen

[dropcap letter=”W”]e’ve been arguing for months. And eating. And shopping. And road-tripping. And at last, all that hard work has paid off. Presenting Maine’s best Food & Drink, including Readers’ Choice winners! (Get the full list of this year’s Best of Maine selections!)

Down East July 2016 Cover
Buy this issue and see all of this year’s Best of Maine selections!


Palace Diner
18 Franklin St., Biddeford. 207-284-0015.

Maine’s oldest dining car (1927) is also its smallest (15 stools), but the Palace is making a big impression under chefs Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell. The pair cooks with familiar breakfast and lunch ingredients — eggs, potatoes, meat — but nothing they serve is standard fare. Every time we try something — whether the deluxe breakfast sandwich (baked egg, applewood-smoked bacon, melted cheese, and jalapeños on a sandwich-size English muffin), the ethereal lemon-buttermilk pancakes, or the gargantuan tuna melt on challah bread — we swear it’s the best iteration of its kind we ever had.

Wine Shop

Maine & Loire
63 Washington Ave., Portland. 207-805-1336.

Natural foods are easy to find in Maine these days. Natural wines, not so much. Brooklyn transplants Peter and Orenda Hale are filling that niche at their highly selective shop, which they stock only with “low-intervention” wines, most of them not available anywhere else in the state. That means the wines at Maine & Loire are made with hand-harvested, pesticide-free grapes using a fermentation process that employs no sulfites and additives. The shop shares space with Drifters Wife, the Hales’ wine bar, so you can sample some of their finds on the spot.

New Chef

Thomas Malz
Custom Deluxe Northcountry Kitchen, 140 Main St., Biddeford. 207-494-7110.

It’s no secret that a growing number of restaurants are luring diners away from Portland, and Custom Deluxe, with Thomas Malz at the helm, is leading the charge. After cobbling together an impressive résumé at restaurants in New Orleans and D.C., Malz chose the up-and-coming city of Biddeford to execute his vision of a bistro that marries American and international homestyle cuisines. One example: chicken and egg over buttered sticky rice with peas and mushroom aioli, the union of a Southern staple with the traditional Japanese rice bowl oyakodon. Another: the soothing, slightly exotic chicken noodle soup, a sort of “Jewish penicillin”-meets-Japanese-ramen affair. Malz’s approach is no-frills, with surprising elegant flourishes, like a silky mushroom soup poured tableside into beautiful antique china cups. Refusing to conform to stylistic constraints, Malz fearlessly experiments in pursuit of new and delicious comfort foods. Toss a handful of fresh Acadian cheese curds into a Vietnamese-style slaw? He’ll do it. Beans, hot dogs, and sushi rice? Absolutely. Angel food cake with maple meringue, and pickled blackberries? Well, you get the idea.

Coffee Roaster

UnRest Roasting Co.
Meet UnRest Roasting Co. founder Micah Beaulieu, the state’s most obsessive itinerant coffee roaster.

UnRest Roasting Co.
Hampden. 207-217-7872.

A carpenter by trade, 35-year-old Blue Hill native Micah Beaulieu started his offbeat coffee roasting company as a hobby. He didn’t expect his super–small-batch coffees would develop a cult-like following — but they have, and for good reason. Beaulieu roasts his beans outdoors over wood fires, traveling the state with his hand-built portable roaster in order to source specific types of wood for his blends. The Mt. Desert blend, for example, is fire-roasted with applewood from MDI. The Allagash Dark blend with maplewood from Clayton Lake. But the real star is the Blue Hill blend: Sumatra beans ground with locally sourced chaga, a strange and burnt-looking giant fungus that grows on local birch trees. Touted for centuries in Russia as a super-antioxidant, chaga is increasingly sold in US health food stores for use in tinctures and teas. Beaulieu swears by the stuff, and while we can’t confirm its medicinal benefits, we attest that it makes a mean coffee blend: strong, bright, and buzzy.


Lakin’s Gorges Cheese
461 Commercial St., Rockport. 207-230-4318.

If you think ricotta is just filling for pasta, think again. Nothing like the stuff in the plastic tubs from the grocery, Allison Lakin’s delicate, sweet, fresh ricotta will inspire you to create soft, fluffy omelets, simple dinner salads, and, when tossed with berries, nuts, and honey, a sublime pudding-like dessert. If stinky is your jam, consider Lakin’s Grandiflora, an aged, slightly funky washed rind cheese, or her pungent Cascadilla Blue. Because milk is affected by what the cows are eating and where they are in their lactation cycle, Lakin works with only one supplier, Tide Mill organic dairy farm in Edmunds, ensuring consistently delicious results.

Lobster Shack

Wharf Gallery & Grill
13 Gibbs Lane, Corea. 207-963-2633.

You have to make a point of going to Corea: sitting at the tip of a peninsula on a peninsula, the tiny fishing village is not on the way to anywhere. There’s delightfully little to do other than sit on Joe Young’s working wharf and watch the lobstermen bring in their catch while you chow down a lobster roll or crab claws. The views of Corea Harbor are so splendid, you may find it hard to leave.


Tree Spirits Absinthe
New England’s first absinthe, from Oakland’s Tree Spirits, gets the traditional Old World fountain treatment (with a New World DIY set up).

Tree Spirits Absinthe Verte
152 Fairfield St., Oakland. 207-861-2723.

Wait, isn’t absinthe illegal? Not anymore. Cloaked in rumors and legends, absinthe is making a comeback, and Tree Spirits is the first New England distiller — and one of only a few in the U.S. — to offer it. Known for producing world-class apple wines and brandies, Tree Spirits crafts its licorice-y, fruity version of the “green fairy” by redistilling applejack with grand wormwood, fennel, and anise. So what’s with that ban? For nearly a century, the U.S. and most of Europe had prohibited the sale of absinthe on the false belief that it made people crazy with extreme drunkenness and hallucinations. The truth is, absinthe, while potent, has no different effect on imbibers than any other alcohol, so in 2007, the US effectively lifted its ban. There are many ways to enjoy absinthe, but we prefer channeling Ernest Hemingway, who practiced the traditional ritual involving an absinthe spoon, a sugar cube, and a cloudy brew that changes as if by magic from deep green to milky opalescent white.


East Ender
47 Middle St., Portland. 207-879-7669.

A family of five can survive for a week off the plate of perfectly fried chicken and yeast-raised waffles. The ham-and-cheese sticky bun is as intoxicating as the yummy, esoteric cocktails (Cardamaro, Cava, Campari, and orange juice? Whaaa?). With fried rice on the menu right next to a house-made donut, the East Ender nails the Venn intersection of sweet, savory, and adventurous where great brunches reside (in a room that’s warm, mellow, and welcoming, no less). We were excited when chef-owners Karl Deuben and Bill Leavy ditched their popular Small Axe Food Truck to take over this space last year. Excitement justified.

Beer Shop

Swett’s Hogan Road Deli & Convenience
451 Hogan Rd., Bangor. 207-942-0119.

Hey, Portland hipsters, what if we told you the state’s best craft beer selection was at a gas station convenience store on a frontage road across from the Bangor Mall? The no-frills bodega next to the Swett family’s 50-year-old tire store and auto garage houses row upon row of coolers and shelves stocked with obscure imports and sought-after American micros (Maine brewers well represented). It’s not the only place in the state to find a $15 bottle of a Danish wild-fermented IPA — just the only place to find it while getting a front-end alignment.

Food Truck

Fox on the Run
Rockport Marine Park.

We judge food trucks by five criteria: cost, indulge-y deliciousness, and location, location, location. Fox on the Run chef-owner Lauren Jellison, a vet of Primo and Francine Bistro, makes (among other things) a knockout $5 haddock taco and a mean pressed Cuban, generously proportioned for $8 and filled with ham, succulent local pork, and tart mustard aioli. The site clinches it — a tranquil beachside pocket park overlooking the colorful boats of Rockport Harbor. Food trucks were invented for spots like this.


Allagash Brewing Company
50 Industrial Way, Portland. 207-878-5385.

Allagash sold its first beer 21 years ago this month, a notable anniversary in the booze biz. Since then, countless other craft breweries have come online in Maine. Several belong in any conversation about the state’s best — but at the end of the day, only Allagash belongs in a conversation about the country’s best. (If you don’t believe us, take it from James Beard Award judges, who nominated Allagash founder Rob Tod for this year’s distinction of outstanding wine, beer, or spirits professional.) What sets the brewery apart? It’s the mix of perfected mainstays (the classic tripel, say, or the ubiquitous white ale), exciting experimental beers (spontaneously fermented sours, previously thought only makeable in Belgium’s Senne River Valley), and continued additions to the regular and rotating lineup (like St. Klippenstein, a silky, rich, and woody bourbon-barrel-aged stout, or the new Sixteen Counties, a Belgian-style pale accented with layers of hop flavor). The only thing more exciting than what Allagash does now is what they might do next.

Bread Makers

Maine Street Meats
461 Commercial St., Rockport. 207-236-6328

A meat and cheese shop might not sound like the place to source your daily bread, but Maine Street Meats co-owner Andrew Flamm and his staff of bakers know their way around flour and yeast (Bon Appetit lauded their loaves last year). Selection varies, but rustic white, baguette, sesame semolina, and sourdough are favorites.

Readers’ Choice

Strong opinions here — a handful of categories decided by fewer than five votes.
[columns_row width=”half”] [column]Distillery

Maine Craft Distilling
101 Fox St., Portland. 207-798-2528.

Beer Bar

Novare Res Beer Café
4 Canal Plaza, Ste. 1, Portland. 207-761-2437.

Cocktail Bar

Fog Bar & Cafe
328 Main St., Rockland. 207-593-9371.


Allagash Brewing Company
50 Industrial Way, Portland. 207-878-5385.


Cellardoor Winery
367 Youngtown Rd., Lincolnville. 207-763-4478.


Crissy’s Breakfast & Coffee Bar
212 Main St., Damariscotta. 207-563-6400.

Coffee Shop

Rock City
316 Main St., Rockland. 207-594-4123.

Coffee Roaster

Coffee By Design
Five locations in Portland and Freeport. 207-879-2233.


Maine Diner
2265 Post Rd., Wells. 207-646-4441.

Maine Chocolate

Wilbur’s of Maine
174 Lower Main St., Freeport. 207-865-4650.


Wild Oats Bakery & Café
149 Maine St., Brunswick. 207-725-6287.


Five Guys
198 Maine Mall Rd., South Portland. 207-747-4399. [/column] [column]Candy Shop

Wilbur’s of Maine
174 Lower Main St., Freeport. 207-865-4650.


Holy Donut
7 Exchange St., Portland. 207-775-7776.
194 Park Ave., Portland. 207-874-7774.

Italian Sandwich

23 locations across Maine. 207-828-5981.

Lobster Roll

Red’s Eats
41 Water St., Wiscasset. 207-882-6128.

Maine Cheese

Pineland Farms
15 Farm View Rd., New Gloucester. 207-688-4539.


OTTO Pizza
5 locations in Portland, South Portland, and Yarmouth.

Seafood Market

Harbor Fish Market
9 Custom House Wharf, Portland. 207-775-0251.


Tony Pickford, Little Village Bistro
65 Gardiner Rd., Wiscasset. 207-687-8232.

Restaurant with a View

Dolphin Marina and Restaurant
515 Basin Point Rd., Harpswell. 207-833-6000.

New Restaurant

Little Village Bistro
65 Gardiner Rd., Wiscasset. 207-687-8232.

Specialty Beverage Store

887 Forest Ave., Portland. 207-773-8808.

Ice Cream

Gelato Fiasco
74 Maine St., Brunswick. 207-607-4262.
425 Fore St., Portland. 207-699-4314.
[/column] [/columns_row]

Photographs: Jenny Nelson (UnRest Roasting Co.); Mark Fleming (Tree Spirits Absinthe)

See more of this year’s Best of Maine selections!