More Down East readers voted in our annual Readers’ Choice poll than ever before, dishing on all their Maine favorites — from oysters to orchards and hotels to harbors. As always, we have a few picks of our own. How did your favorites do?
By Willy Blackmore • Bridget M. Burns • Jen DeRose • Jesse Ellison • Will Grunewald • Brian Kevin • Sarah Stebbins • Jennifer Van Allen • Virginia M. Wright
B&B or hotel? As an old-house junkie, I’m drawn to the former. As an introvert, I want room service. The Francis, which opened in Portland’s West End in late 2017, deftly splits the difference. With 15 rooms and carved woodwork, tiled fireplaces, and stained-glass windows galore, the 1881 former merchant’s home marries the charm of a historic B&B with the amenities — and blessed anonymity! — of a boutique hotel. Cross the street for breakfast at Tandem Coffee + Bakery, or call or text the front desk to have it brought up. You can stay in for dinner at Flood’s, the brasserie-ish new restaurant from the co-owner of Biddeford’s Palace Diner. If you snack (or imbibe) in your room, note that nearly every item in the bar, beer to beef jerky to bottled water, is Maine-made (and so’s the art on the walls). — S.S.
Phippsburg’s venerable Sebasco Harbor Resort (29 Kenyon Rd.; 877-960-2480) has a Dirty Dancing vibe, the kind of waterfront haven where parents let kids roam while lounging by the same pool their parents (and maybe grandparents) once lounged by. Celebrating 90 years, the place feels fresh as ever, from guest rooms in the 1945 ersatz lighthouse to candlepin bowling lanes in the retro rec center. — B.K.
For stay-at-home working parents (like me), a comfy coffee shop with drop-in childcare is the Holy Grail. Westbrook’s Roots Café has all the lattes and pastries and Edison bulbs of a Starbucks (plus sandwiches and salads), but it’s run by nondenominational Green Tree Ministries, which offers its patrons’ kiddos up to 90 minutes of free supervised playtime (with a reservation — walk-ins get an hour, as available) at its adjacent Seedlings Play Place. Little ones 8 weeks to 6 years are welcome, and the group doesn’t proselytize. I can attest that the childcare is trustworthy, the cold brew is smooth, and even heathens are welcome. — B.B.
The Freeport Historical Society’s 140-acre property is a great spot for budding outdoor adventurers, offering an out-there feel just around the corner from the outlets. A wide, wooded path leads a half-mile from the trailhead to a yawning meadow with an apple orchard, a big cedar that kids love to clamber on, and an abandoned 1800 saltbox farmhouse overlooking mudflats and egrets in the Harraseeket estuary. Intrepid kids can explore less-beaten paths weaving through the woods. The best part: you can find yourself alone on a Sunday afternoon. — J.V.A.
$42 adults, $14–$27 children. 1 West St., Bar Harbor. 207-288-2386.
Starting sometime in the next few years, visitors in peak season will need reservations to drive Acadia National Park’s most popular routes. The Acadia by Sea tour is a welcome alternative to park roads, a three-hour sightseeing voyage on a sleek catamaran, the Acadia Explorer, operated by Bar Harbor Whale Watch. The 149-passenger, custom-built boat cruises by Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and Otter Cliff, then crosses Frenchman Bay to take in the jagged shoreline of less-frequented Schoodic Peninsula, with rangers aboard to explain the park’s human and natural history. You can still drive without a reservation this year, but the view of Acadia’s peaks from the bay warrants ditching the car. — W.G.
I skied a full day this spring on Penobscot River Trails’ 15-mile network, along a quiet and wildlife-rich stretch of the East Branch of the Penobscot, during which I encountered one other skier and for which I paid nada. Reportedly, the philanthropic Butler Conservation Fund spent $5 million developing the privately owned preserve, just south of Katahdin Woods and Waters, opening to skiers this past winter (and offering free loaner skis and boots). This summer, the preserve welcomes hikers and bikers, with no entrance fee. Rest stops at two trailside “huts” come with knockout views of the national monument’s wooded peaks and of nearby, mile-high Katahdin. — B.K.
It was midwinter the first time I wore one of Wildwood Oyster Co.’s chunky statement necklaces, made from marine dock line and leather, and suddenly I was thinking about beach-wave hair and seaside lobster bakes. Designer Becky McKinnell stays busy working on her nautical-chic collection (she also has a line of hobo-style leather totes), but when she’s not stitching or splicing, she and her husband and 7-year-old daughter tend to their Casco Bay oyster farm. Find her necklaces and bags at boutiques like Portland and Biddeford’s Suger. — J.D.
Lightweight outdoor-gear manufacturer Flowfold has had a big year, launching a co-branded line of bags and boots with L.L.Bean and opening a new 3,000-square-foot headquarters in Gorham. Amid all the growth, it’s worth pausing to note that the 9-year-old company’s original product line — minimalist wallets made from recycled sailcloth — still rules. The material looks sharp, holds up to abuse, and is thin enough not to leave a big old lump in your butt (or it’ll fit in a front pocket). My favorite wallet and a new Maine classic. — B.K.
I follow hundreds of architecture and design handles on Instagram, and Northern Vernacular is among those that reliably cause my thumb to freeze mid-scroll. Architectural historian (and Portlander) Julie Senk posts crisp, skillfully cropped pics — of a prim brick Federal in Bath, perhaps, or magnificently ornate Second Empire in Richmond — along with well-researched design and history lessons. The historic coordinator for the Maine Department of Transportation (and a contributor to our sister mag, Maine Homes by Down East), Senk spends her free time road-tripping with her husband and Nikon Coolpix A900, unearthing off-the-beaten-path beauties that keep her 8,300 fans double-tapping. — S.S.
Authentic Frenchwoman Nancy Durand Lanson, with an assist from her family, uses a 16th-century northern Mediterranean recipe to make these rustic soaps in a midcoast farmhouse. The base ingredient is olive oil, packaging is minimal, and Durand Lanson’s process generates little waste. Do I love these soaps because they’re eco-friendly? Nuh-uh. I love them for the superficial reason that they’re gorgeous, with layers of swirling color — created with infusions of herbs, clay, mica, and oils — and hand-cut into irregular blocks. Like watercolor landscapes for your soap dish. Buy them at a handful of midcoast co-ops and gift shops or right from Durand Lanson at Belfast’s United Farmers Market. — J.E.
Rick and Denise Sawyer’s pretty little nursery in the woods is unlike any other in Maine, drawing customers from as far as Aroostook County. It specializes in native woodland and shade plants and their counterparts from around the globe, offering hard-to-find varieties of familiar plants, like Japanese woodland peonies and poppies. The Sawyers propagate most of what they sell, and Rick has developed several of his own cultivars, such as Golden Slippers, a lily of the valley with gold leaves and white flowers, and Snowflake, a rue-anemone that blooms in early spring. Hosta lovers adore the place for its more than 300 varieties. Plus, everything the Sawyers sell has been hardiness-tested in their demonstration gardens. — V.M.W.
For 20 years, I’ve been taking my own cloth bags to the grocery store, my little way of producing less waste. Not always it’s easy to find a cheap store. Recently, several Maine towns (including Camden, my own) have banned single-use plastic bags — great news, although making it mandatory dampens my sense of doing good. So I’m upping my green game by using designer Anne Riggs’ laminated-cloth bowl covers in my fridge. Not only are they prettier than plastic wrap (I love the apple and pear prints), they’re reusable, stay on containers better, and are cheaper in the long run ($28 for three). Riggs also makes “unpaper towels,” linen bread bags, and — next on my eco list — reusable produce bags. — V.M.W.
Classic Maine retailers and a few mom-and-pop favorites
Bangor’s upstart mural venture combines the best elements of a public art installation and a gallery show. It’s ambitious and large-scale, with 21 murals covering exterior walls downtown. It’s also diversified and temporary, with more than a dozen disparate artists whose paper works are affixed with wheat paste, a starch mixture that’ll keep them up all summer. Maine Flora and Fauna is the theme, and murals salute everything from fiddleheads to trout. See them anytime, but come for the Sidewalk Art Festival on July 13 to catch some Shakespeare in the park and try out life drawing with live lingerie models at the City Drawers undies shop. — B.K.
I recently picked up a novel called The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry, because of a laudatory note handwritten on a bookmark at Owl & Turtle. Maggie White tends to her shop’s books, slipping canny reviews into her faves. Her husband, Craig, tends the coffee bar, serving pastries made by Maggie and other local bakers, plus a stream of pally chitchat with regulars. The shop turns 50 next year; when the Whites took over in 2016, they were the fourth owners in as many years. They doubled the inventory, moved the kids’ section to the cozy loft, and generally created a convivial hangout for bookworms and java fiends. — W.G.
If you’re after something specific at Volumes Book Store (75 Bangor St., Houlton; 207-532-7727), ask owner Gerry Berthelette, who gets the arcane logic governing this 8,000-square-foot biblio-warehouse. But Volumes’ true appeal is to inveterate browsers, who surf crates, piles, and shelves that oscillate from hyper-specific (a section just for UFOs, another for Mormonism) to delightfully jumbled (Hunter Thompson next to Annie Dillard next to vegan cookbooks). — B.K.
Ogunquit Museum of American Art, 543 Shore Rd., Ogunquit. 207-646-4909.
For her first U.S. solo museum exhibit, multimedia Rockport artist Cig Harvey says she wanted to create a “riot of colors and smells,” an experience that goes beyond simple observation. Eating Flowers brings the outside into the gallery, with live plants and flowers intertwined among Harvey’s dreamy, ethereal photos, videos, letterpressed materials, and more. And the show extends the gallery outside, into the museum’s seaside gardens, where a 7-foot-long neon sign among the tulips declares “Eat Flowers,” reminding us that life’s richest moments employ all of our senses. — J.E.
Maine folklorist Kathleen Mundell and master basketmaker and Penobscot Nation member Jennifer Neptune co-curated Wíwənikan . . . the beauty we carry, opening July 20 at Colby Museum of Art (5600 Mayflower Hill, Waterville; 207-859-5600), which shows off exquisite examples of Wabanaki basketry, along with beadwork, carving, and other traditional arts by Maine’s First Nations peoples. — B.K.
The Theater at Monmouth 50th anniversary season is ambitious: seven plays performed in repertory in one short Maine summer. “It’s tremendous for the actors,” says artistic director Dawn McAndrews, who draws her casts from New York and conservatories around the country, as well as Maine. “They get one to four years’ work in 12 weeks.” The venue, gorgeous Cumston Hall, is a treat. “A stunning, really intimate, and acoustically perfect place,” McAndrews says. Highlights include Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and Hamlet, audience-selected favorites from the company’s early years, and Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, a critically beloved drama about a black seamstress making her way in pre-WWI New York. — V.M.W.
For 10 years, retired techie Fred Pierce has organized the Cobscook Bay Music series in galleries and private homes around Lubec. The venues are intimate, but the caliber of performers is high — and varied. This year’s slate has already included alt-country songwriter Slaid Cleaves and hard-touring bluesman Scott Ainslie; among those still to come are folkie Jack Williams (June 28–29) and smooth-jazz pianist Mike Levine (July 14).— B.K.
General assignment reporter in a small media market is a tough gig: one day, you’re out in the rain doing storm coverage; the next, it’s a quasi-PSA about flu shots; the day after, you’re talking to grieving families after a tragedy. Not only must you be accurate and compelling, you have to present like somebody people want in their living room every night. Multimedia journalist and anchor Cameron O’Brien, who joined News Center Maine last summer, has the kind of audience rapport that’s rare in young reporters (she’s 25). The former sociology student describes herself as an “emotion-based storyteller” and says social justice stories are her wheelhouse, but she comes off genuine and informed whether she’s doing web updates on a murder trial or lifestyle segments with gluten-free bakers. “What I find most rewarding,” O’Brien says, “is simply to talk to people in a way they would want to be talked to.” — B.K.
From fine art in Kennebunk to a fine writer in Bangor
Thrifty, hungry midcoast travelers, be advised: the Dagwood sandwiches at Lincolnville General Store — soft, house-made sourdough or ciabatta, stuffed solid with deli goodies — can easily feed two for under $8. Prepared foods are one of the highlights of Lincolnville Center’s tidy, mildly crunchy little bodega, many of them (like the inventive pizzas) made in the wood-fired brick oven. The breakfast sandwiches hold their own against plenty of restaurant versions — think fluffy biscuits, garlicky greens, and sausage from Orland’s Wee Bit Farm. And the pay-by-the-pound hot bar is like the comfort-food cafeteria of your dreams: shredded-pork posole one night, chicken piccata the next, curried beef the night after. And unlike a caf, you can grab a bottle of wine, a gallon of milk, and some toilet paper on the way out. Or grab a table on the wraparound porch. — W.B.
Last summer, husband and wife Ollie and Kelly Perkins set up their tiny cured-meat concern in the State of Maine Cheese Company building on Route 1 in Rockport. A native Australian and a Bay Stater, respectively, they dabble in all manner of esoteric preservation techniques: pork belly fermented with koji to make pancetta, local pork flavored with local cider and preserved with the sediments of dead yeast known as cider lees. The fascination with process pays off: A Small Good’s velvety, gently seasoned dry sausages and other cured pork products are wonderful. You can also catch the Perkinses Saturday mornings at the Camden Farmers’ Market. — W.B.
Alas, you can’t get this brunch right now, as the Hichborn — a cozy, stylish, year-old restaurant in a former B&B — focuses on dinner service during summer (it’s also quite good). The rest of the year, don’t sleep on the Sunday-morning menu, featuring luscious crab-cake benedicts, lemon-ricotta pancakes, heaping plates of corned beef hash, and some half-dozen other entrées that draw heavily on local purveyors — all beautifully plated and practically begging to be Instagrammed there on the hand-hewn wooden tables. Owners Kirk Linder and Charlie Zorich’s art collection lends some Warhol flair to an 1850s Italianate mansion. Plus, midcoast offseason prices — you can’t eat brunch this good in Portland without running a tab twice as high. — B.K.
Our family treasures the Sunday Bluegrass Brunch at Gather (189 Main St., Yarmouth; 207-847-3250). The dining room, in an 1862 Masonic Hall, has a kind of rustic elegance, but it’s never stuffy, and the soulful vocals of the Gather Rounders, the house bluegrass-folk outfit, fill the room. Our son loves the banjos and fiddles as much as the banana-chocolate-chip pancakes. — J.V.A.
The third outpost for Oxbow, the farmhouse-ale purveyors originally out of Newcastle, is less a taproom than a funky little mini-campus on much-trafficked Route 26. There’s the restaurant, serving wood-fired sourdough pizzas (and 16 rotating drafts) in a stunningly restored 200-year-old barn, a perfect fit with the brewery’s rustic-chill brand. There are the trails out back, a couple wooded miles that are groomed and free to ski in winter (the site was a Carter’s XC Ski Center until last year). Finally, there’s the snug bottle shop and merch outpost, where guests can pour from a couple dozen bottles or grab a few to go — nice for your on-the-go beer drinker shuttling from mountains to coast or vice-versa. — B.K.
When Batson River Brewing & Distilling (12 Western Ave., Kennebunk; 207-967-8821) opened this winter in the heart of Kennebunk’s Lower Village, it explained why I’d noticed the hop yards expanding at the Batson River Farm in Kennebunkport. The Guava IPA and the pork buns are terrific, but it was the games in the stately, club-like tasting room that stalled a recent pub crawl, as my friends got sidetracked by table shuffleboard, Battleship, and a giant, wall-mounted Scrabble board. — B.B.
There are drawbacks to being a pioneer — Baxter Brewing Company predates the state legislation that made the current taproom boom possible, so until last fall, the sizeable Lewiston brewery lacked a comfy place to quaff a pint. The Pub at Baxter (120 Mill St., Lewiston; 207-689-3830) remedies this in high style, with a huge pub in the 170-year-old Bates textile mill that salutes the town’s manufacturing past . . . and has Skee-Ball! This spring, an award from the Maine chapter of the American Institute of Architects rightfully recognized the loving restoration of the historic post-and-beam space. — B.K.
What can we say about Drifters Wife — known for its natural wines and its farm-/sea-to-table ethos — that hasn’t already been said by Bon Appétit (which called it one of the country’s 10 best new restaurants), GQ (which called it one of the country’s best bars), or . . . well, us? A mouthwatering Drifters Wife grilled mackerel was our November 2016 cover girl, and we extoled the restaurant again last summer when it reopened as a proper eatery after essentially being a cluster of tables in the corner of a wine shop. For all its national accolades and elevated vibe, Drifters Wife is pure Maine at heart: tastefully simple and a top-notch spot to enjoy seafood that was swimming yesterday. — B.K.
Maine Street Meats & Provisions (310 Commercial St., Rockport; 207-236-6328; mainemeat.com) has always been an outstanding butchery and bakery. In its new Route 1 location, where it opened in February, it’s an outstanding café too. The huge pizza slices, on perfectly pliant crust, are a steal at $3.50, and the daily sandwich specials (think sturdy muffulettas and crispy ham-hock torchon) make lunch hour an adventure. Down East staffers rarely miss a Báhn Mi Monday. — B.K.