More readers than ever took our annual Readers’ Choice poll this year. First, they nominated their favorites in a write-in round, with the top five vote-getters in each category becoming finalists. Then, some 15,000 Down East readers and fans picked the winners in a final round this summer. Surf the results in more than 50 categories below, along with a few picks from our editors and contributors!
FOOD & DRINK
The bourbon burger at Timberwolves, with owner Michael Stiggle’s housemade bourbon-barbecue sauce, cheddar, bacon, and onions. Photographed by Kevin Bennett.
A spiffy little roadhouse on Mars Hill’s otherwise sleepy Main Street, Timberwolves serves up respectable barbecue and an absolute gut bomb of a burger, with a half-pound of beef, ground fresh daily, and a rotating slate of sometimes over-the-top fixings: chili, mac and cheese, smoked gouda and apples, kimchi and Swiss, etc. Served with hand-cut fries and often a side of chatter from ebullient owner Michael Stiggle, who renovated a former five-and-dime to open the place in 2017. — Brian Kevin, editor in chief
The outstanding Kobe beef burger at M.C. Perkins Cove began on the menu at co-owners Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier’s old restaurant, the four-star Arrows, and migrated to their more casual Ogunquit waterfront spot. At $26, it has a fine-dining price tag, but the rich, earthy patty dissolves on your tongue like butter, and I never regret the splurge. — Alexandra Hall, contributor
Chef-owner Tai Choo has been running Brunswick’s Taco the Town food truck since 2016. Photographed by Benjamin Williamson.
The name means unity and togetherness, an apt description for a food truck run by Lewiston’s Isuken Co-op, which serves snacks like sambusas, flaky and fried pastries filled with diced vegetables, spices, and chicken, beef, or fish. Since the wheels of this rehabbed truck (a former hot-dog wagon) hit the road in 2018, fans have lined up for traditional dishes made with organic ingredients grown by Somali-Bantu farmers. Isuken’s a mainstay at the Lewiston Farmers’ Market — check Facebook for appearances at other markets and festivals. — Mary Pols, contributor
Like a lot of people, I barely left my house back in April. I did, however, drive three hours round-trip to get a half-dozen croissants and a loaf of bread the size of my torso from Tinder Hearth, the 13-year-old wood-fired bakery run out of a Brooksville farmhouse. The croissants we ate in the car. The bread — a miche, or a French rustic sourdough — we sliced and froze, and it’s been a source of great comfort in the months since. — Jesse Ellison, contributing editor
There’s a lot to love about downtown Bangor’s Tea & Tarts. The tarts themselves are amazing, buttery little pastry cups with fillings like lemon curd, peanut-butter mousse, and cream cheese and ricotta with spicy blueberry jam. You can try a few with a flight and wash them down with one of 30 different tea varieties, served hot or cold. But the cozy café also has other baked goods and sumptuous sandwiches (my go-tos include the caprese grilled cheese and the cheese Danish with peach-and-jalapeño jam) and (in non-COVID times) a cute kids area with books and toys and a recurring storytime. — Melanie Brooks, contributor
I recently stopped by Monica’s Chocolates, in Lubec, to find owner Monica Elliot in her shop’s doorway, joking with a party of chocoholics that she didn’t have enough sweets to satisfy them. As if. Elliot is in her kitchen daily, churning out huge quantities of her handcrafted bonbons, truffles, and more. Her sea-life–inspired, chocolate-covered caramels are among my faves: sand dollars filled with cashews, sea cucumbers with peanut butter, sea urchins with toffee and a milk-syrup filling Elliot learned to make in her native Peru. The self-taught chocolatier immigrated to Lubec 20 years ago and started her business on a shoestring; today, her shop welcomes hundreds on a typical summer day. — Joyce Kryszak, contributor
Bent Bough Cider released its first blend in 2018, a tart and funky collaboration with Rocky Ground Cider, which started in 2013. These last few years, the two cider makers — from Waldo and Newburgh, respectively — have bottled some of Maine’s most nuanced, interesting sips, dry and unfiltered ciders that just might convert you if you’re accustomed to the cloyingly sweet stuff. Both use foraged wild apples — Bent Bough entirely, Rocky Ground with a mix of heirloom orchard varietals — and both allow wild yeasts to do the work of fermentation. Wine lovers call it terroir, and it means these small-batch ciders taste like Maine. — Will Grunewald, senior editor
When friends set us up, we agreed to a date, but the place had to be perfect: Intimate enough for conversation, lively enough to minimize awkward pauses. Shared plates, clever cocktails. Old Vines Wine Bar, in Kennebunk, checked all boxes, and we lingered for hours over pork belly and big pours of Nebbiolo. We’ve since been back more times than we can count, marking changes in seasons from aperol spritzes to black Manhattans. This summer, Old Vines has hosted socially distanced music on its huge patio and shared video recipes for its signature drinks. Soon, I hope, we’ll be back at our favorite window table. Until then, it’s take-out negronis and charcuterie in the house we now share. — Kathryn Miles, contributing editor
For as long as I’ve been drinking Maine beer, my favorite brewery has been Allagash (readers’ perennial pick). These days, it’s a dead tie with Oxbow Brewing Company, home-based in Newcastle. Each has a terrific flagship — Allagash White, Oxbow Farmhouse Pale — and an ever-expanding universe of subtle saisons, bold sours, and complex barrel-aged ales. Both have stay-awhile taprooms too, but Bissell Brothers Brewing claims my favorite spot to linger over a draft, at its satellite location in little Milo, from whence the brothers hail. Barnwood and industrial design meet in a former snowmobile dealership with a sprawling patio in a quiet, lovely stretch of the state. Pour me another. — Will Grunewald, senior editor
It’s the dog days of summer — only appropriate to grab a cone from Pugnuts, in Surry. There’s luscious gelato too. Photographed by Michael D. Wilson.
How many small shops make A+ ice cream, gelato, and sorbet, all under one roof? At least one. Pugnuts Ice Cream Shop is a cheery former 1800s general store just uphill from Surry’s town wharf — a scenic spot to stroll with a cone. Yes, the owners are nuts about pugs. My go-to is the made-to-order ice-cream sandwich, with vanilla or coffee between chocolate pug-face cookies. Don’t sleep on the arboreal flavors of the “north woods collection”: birch bark, maple walnut, and oak with whiskey sauce. — Will Grunewald
It’s open year-round, but I still look forward to my first summer cone at Liberty’s John’s Ice Cream Factory. The offerings, churned in house, range from classics like strawberry, vanilla, and a notably crumb-packed cookies-and-cream to more offbeat flavors, like apple crisp, peppermint anise, and chocolate orange peel. Even the brownies in the eponymous sundaes are homemade. Taste something different like these. John Ascrizzi has been making ice cream at his Route 3 shop for more than 20 years, and his scoops, floats, and cute, thin-wafered ice-cream sandwiches taste even better after a day at Lake St. George State Park, a mile down the road. — Frances Killea, contributor
I’m not much of a shopper, but I always get a pep in my step when I’m buying outdoor gear, excited about my next adventure. Pricey new gear can be a gamble, though — you often don’t know how well it fits or functions until you’ve tested it in the field, thereby rendering it nonreturnable. So I love Freeport’s GearME consignment shop, which Emily Kirkton opened in 2018 after a decade of managing Outdoor Discovery School programs for L.L.Bean. You can save on everything from skis to kayaks, rent gear, and give your own gently used stuff a second life by consigning it for cash or store credit (so you can buy more gear!). — Jennifer Van Allen, branded content editor
So many spas usher patrons into dim, candlelit rooms in the name of relaxation. Then there’s the Spa at Cliff House, where guests relax before their treatments in the Seaside Sanctuary, a huge chamber with golden light flooding in through floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the ocean and rocky shore below. The rest of the spa’s 9,000 square feet of saunas, steam rooms, and treatment spaces feel similarly inspired by the resort’s natural surroundings, with treatments that incorporate sea salt and rose petals — a nod to the wild beach roses growing along the dunes outside. — Alexandra Hall, contributor
Come for the treatments, stay for the view at the Spa at Cliff House. Photographs courtesy of Cliff House.
What makes a gift shop more than just the sum of inventory? Imaginative variety, like at Brambles, in downtown Belfast, where shelves groan with a funky jumble of antique, animal-shaped door hooks, Victorian birdcages, intricately embroidered pillows, and statues of raku blue jays, modernist bunnies, and more. Less quirky but equally inspired is the trove of artful scores at Boothbay Harbor’s AE Home. Ceramicist Alison Evans’s crystalline-cast pieces include gleaming plates and huge bowls shaped like oysters and sea urchins. They’re sold alongside everything from feather-soft cashmere sweaters and hand-dipped candles to exquisite black-and-white Maine landscape photos. — Alexandra Hall, contributor
In Rockland, impeccably curated Daughters is the rare shop where the proprietor seems as likely to talk you out of buying something as into it. Owner Ariel Birke encourages her customers to buy only those items they’ll want to wear like a uniform. She has exquisite taste and a sharp eye for what suits, and during the pandemic, she started a concierge service, dropping bags of hand-selected items off at the homes of local clients with a stern warning: only keep what you absolutely have to have. — Jesse Ellison, contributing editor
In a state where the mom-and-pop general store is still a revered institution, your favorite local business may well be an unclassifiable shop with a motley mix of merchandise. I’m known to hold down a stool at Rockport’s 47 West, a top-notch espresso bar that is also a gift shop that is also a bookstore with a superb selection of cookbooks and (what do you know?) indie graphic novels and manga. Also, the pastry display, full of spectacularly decadent cookies, can go toe-to-toe with any bakery in Maine. On the more proletarian side, shout out to Gott’s Store, in Southwest Harbor, fresh off its 75th anniversary. In a year when takeout is king, the fourth-generation family market has been a go-to for Mount Desert Islanders (and savvy tourists) out to grab good pizza, sandwiches, or a surprisingly tasty lobster roll on the cheap. Plus gas, groceries, and an ice-cream counter (and it opens at 3:30 a.m.). — Brian Kevin, editor in chief
I love the creak of the 19th-century wood floors at Machias River General, in downtown Machias. And I love how co-owner Gina Finn highlights Maine makers and farmers on the store’s shelves. A dance teacher at nearby Washington Academy, Finn took over the former Machias Hardware last year, together with her husband and another couple. It’s a kitchen store and specialty market — selling cast iron, snazzy cutlery, bulk spices, Maine-roasted coffee, local eggs, and so on — but it’s also a place to grab outdoor essentials, like Maine-tied fishing flies in the summer and ice-fishing tackle in the winter. Plus, old-school penny candy — I’m a sucker for candy buttons and Bazooka gum. — Jennifer Hazard, contributor
One of the coolest courses I’ve played in Maine is the Bath Golf Club, where I paid all of $20 to walk an 18-hole course originally designed in 1932 by renowned golf architect Wayne Stiles. The course is full of memorable holes, playing over and around water, exposed rock, and long, wispy grass. My favorite spot might be the 11th tee shot, over a hill covered by a stone outcropping, with the potential to shoot a ball in any direction. Surrounded by woods, marsh, and low hills, it’s an exciting, budget-friendly course in a tranquil location. — Desi Isaacson, contributor
If god really is, as they say, in the details, then the seven simple cottages and four suites at Aragosta at Goose Cove may be heaven on earth. The vintage cottages feel airy, with their white draperies and linens, and little touches include exposed wooden beams, local art on the walls, and vases of fresh flowers grown by owner Devin Finnegan, who is both the acclaimed chef at the Aragosta restaurant and a certified master gardener. Step out into an intoxicating swirl of pines, salt air, and ocean views, spend the day hiking moss-covered trails and lounging on a private beach, fall asleep at night to the sound of distant fog signals. — Alexandra Hall, contributor
Big year for podcasts, with more people tuning in as part of their non-commute routine and more producers (perhaps with extra free time) launching shows. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Fish + Game Changers debuted in February, pre-pandemic, but it’s been a comfort listen. Host Katie Yates, DIFW’s public outreach specialist, has a not-quite-whispered, old-school-NPR delivery (think SNL’s old Delicious Dish spoof). Her conversations — with women biologists in one series, K9 partner wardens in the next, and Sebago Lake watershed experts in the most recent — are full of smart tidbits about Maine’s natural resources, but the appeal is hearing the backstories and evident passion of the folks stewarding Maine’s woods and waters. The show is available on podcast platforms like Apple and Stitcher and at mefishwildlife.com/changers.
In an epoch of podcasts, micro-videos, and social-media screeds, it’s easy to overlook how much discipline and consistent thoughtfulness go into running a really vital blog. Since 2008, Portland’s Shay Stewart-Bouley has blogged her experiences as a woman of color in a very white state at Black Girl in Maine. These days, the site has a stable of contributors weighing in on the ongoing struggle against racial injustice here and across the country. Stewart-Bouley is a powerful writer and storyteller, and the site is provocative in the sense of pushing Mainers to think about topics that are difficult — and necessary. — Brian Kevin, editor in chief
Housed in a simple, 19th-century general store on the bank of the York River, the George Marshall Store Gallery blends austere Yankee history (it’s a property of the Old York Historical Society) with adventurous contemporary art in every medium. Group shows might blend textiles, furniture, photography, and painting. Occasionally, hors d’oeuvres and cocktails at the opening receptions cleverly complement the art — curator Mary P. Harding remembers a show called 32 Degrees of Winter where she served snow cones. The York gallery’s 25th season finds it open by appointment only, but the website makes it easy to sign up for a slot. For an anniversary retrospective opening in October, Harding is filling the gallery with memorable pieces from past shows. — Genevieve Morgan, contributor
The Colby College Museum of Art is Maine’s largest art museum, with a strong claim to being its best. With more than 10,000 works of art housed in a lavish 54,000-square-foot complex in Waterville, the museum is the envy of small colleges nationwide. It has benefitted from the generosity of benefactors, including artist Alex Katz and his chief collector, Paul Schupf, and Peter and Paula Lunder (Peter is the former president of Dexter Shoe Company), who gave the museum their personal collection of more than 500 works by the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe, James McNeill Whistler, Pablo Picasso, and Alexander Calder. When it’s open, the museum is as likely to show a conceptual video installation about climate change as a Winslow Homer deep dive as a collection of weather vanes, all free of charge. The pandemic has it closed, but kudos to the museum for launching online exhibitions and virtual curator chats. — Edgar Allen Beem, contributing editor
In July 1870, at the invitation of the state, 53 Swedish homesteaders arrived in Aroostook County to begin carving out a new life. Their stories and culture — and those of their descendants — are preserved at the New Sweden Museum. The three-story building, named the Capitolium by the immigrant Swedes, shows off photos and artifacts that include original, handcrafted cross-country skis (a conveyance the settlers introduced to Maine). Worth a visit on the 150th anniversary of Maine’s Swedish colony. — Ronald Joseph, contributor
There are bigger and better-known greenhouses around greater Portland, but the gardeners in my family swear by Garden Spot Farm, in North Pownal. It’s a modest mom-and-pop affair, a seasonal nursery that started as the Peaslee family’s farm stand back in 1972. But the little cluster of greenhouses produces some 900 varieties of flowering plants, plus the vegetables that were once the farm stand’s mainstay, and the Peaslees, who still run the place, have bark, loam, mulch, compost, and other horticultural helpers. My daughter, our family’s true green thumb, swears the plants are hardier than at other greenhouses, and she has a hard time passing up the $1 “perennial of the week.” — Edgar Allen Beem, contributing editor
From left to right: Will, Sandra, and Scott Longfellow, the family behind reader favorite Longfellow’s Greenhouses, in Manchester. Photographed by Dave Dostie.
We should all be so lucky to have a local hardware store like Rankin’s Hardware, in Camden, where staffers are unfailingly helpful and deeply knowledgeable and consistently treat my most boneheaded queries with the same time, consideration, and respect they give the professional contractor in line behind me. I’ve had 30-minute conversations about the relative merits of various screws and the particularities of $6 cans of spray paint, and there’s always someone to help me navigate the warren of rooms out back, looking for the perfect piece of wood. — Jesse Ellison, contributing editor
OUR PICKS: FAMILY
Portland’s Indigo Arts Alliance intended to launch the inaugural Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival as a kind of literary block party, hosting readings, concerts, and workshops on a closed-down Portland street. When the pandemic forced a shift to the web, the planners “made lemonade out of lemons,” says Márçia Minter, who cofounded Indigo Arts Alliance, an incubator org for artists of color, last year with her husband, artist Daniel Minter. It became a summer-long, online story-telling fest, a weekly series of gorgeously produced videos of top-notch authors and illustrators reading and discussing their work, paired with videos and printable instructions for hands-on projects (welcomed by those of us with some extra childcare responsibilities during quarantine). Books include Beautiful Blackbird, by Maine author and illustrator Ashley Bryan, to whom the festival is dedicated, and author Kelly Starling Lyons’s Going Down Home with Daddy, for which illustrator Daniel Minter recently picked up a Caldecott Honor. The festival runs through August, after which the storytelling videos come down, though the discussion clips and craft materials will stay live. — Brian Kevin, editor in chief
Exploring new terrain can be daunting when your main hiking buddy is still potty training. So I love the Royal River Conservation Trust’s Rain or Shine Club, an easygoing weekly hike, led by RRCT guides, through preserves near me in Yarmouth. Though the excursions are on pandemic hold as of July, my son and I attended religiously before he was in school, forging bonds that have endured long after the hikes. Plenty of Maine’s land trusts have similar family-friendly hiking clubs. Check with the one nearest you. —Jennifer Van Allen, branded content editor