Readers first voted in a write-in round, from which the top five vote-getters in each category became finalists (give or take, in the event of ties). Then, some 10,000 voters picked the winners in a multiple-choice final round this summer. Here and there, we’ve spotlighted some notable reader picks — a few from this year’s bumper crop of first-time finalists, plus a handful of Best of Maine stalwarts that make the list year after year.
A motley, surprisingly chic little shop with a memorable name, GooeyGump is a repeat nominee in the gift-store category and, at the same time, one of readers’ half-dozen faves for décor. Reformed pharma rep Allison Oldham opened her first store in Deering Center in 2019, then upgraded two years later to her two-story, 8,500-square-foot digs on Forest Avenue. It’s a welcoming space with a modern farmhouse vibe, and it’s full of treasures, from kitchenware to gorgeous ceramics to paper goods to cute pillows and throws. Lots of pastels and Maine-y patterns, lots of beachy and nautical designs. Oldham’s first love is restoring old furniture, and she’s into embellishing (“gooey gumping,” as her family called it when she was a kid, glamming out her art projects). You’ll find some great vintage-detailed pieces in the shop, which also hosts workshops for DIYers.
The midcoast comes up big in the florist category, not least with category winner Shelley’s Flowers & Gifts, in Waldoboro, currently celebrating its 40th (!) year in business. On the other end of the spectrum is Thomaston’s Flaura, opened just last year by Aura Ellis (pictured) and more of a floral lifestyle boutique than a traditional florist. No Teleflora orders or deliveries here, but plenty of dazzling bouquets, alongside topiaries and potted plants, a few cute gardening goods, local chocolates and treats, and a smartly curated selection of wines (with a surprising number of non-alcoholic options). Ellis sources her blooms from her own family farm, in Cushing, along with other local growers, like Warren’s On the Mountain Farm. When the sun’s shining through the big front windows of Main Street’s historic Union Block, it’s impossible not to step in here and feel cheery.
Readers in the County (or just passing through) fell for owner Matt Nadeau’s bohemian mash-up of a clothing boutique and metaphysical dry-goods shop. A finalist in the women’s boutique category, Cosmic opened in downtown Presque Isle last August, offering lounge-y basics, flowy patterned separates, summer dresses, and more — alongside crystals, candles, incense, and other New Age-y art and gifts. For the racks, Nadeau looks for pieces “unique enough that you can layer them and mix-and-match them, definitely boho-hippie vibes.” And if shoppers come for apparel and stay for some chakra stones, he’s into it. “People come in for clothes, then they’re pulled towards the jewelry or novelty socks or a tarot deck,” Nadeau says, “to something you don’t see every day.”
We have stepped inside Daytrip Jr. with our kids and watched their eyes widen. Maine has a bunch of great toy stores, and this category sees some usual suspects year after year, including category-winning micro-chain Island Treasure Toys. But Daytrip Jr. is extra fun, in part because it successfully ports over the high-design, soft-adventure concept that owners Jessica Jenkins and Andy West (pictured) first established at Jr.’s adjacent parent shop, Daytrip Society, in 2007. That one’s a consistent reader fave too, in the gift-shop category (both are past winners), for the way it blends the appeals of a boutique and an outfitter and a souvenir stand — Phileas Fogg goes to Patagonia goes to . . . well, Kennebunkport. When the same sense of play and exploration infuses both your kid store and your grown-up store, you’re onto something.
“I can’t imagine Belfast without having Colburn Shoe,” the store’s owner, Colby Horne, told us recently, “and that motivates me to grow and continue to be a cornerstone of the community.” The Main Street shop is within a decade of its bicentennial, and it’s been in Horne’s family since 1922. (His dad, Brian Horne, who sold him the store in 2017, retired last winter after 51 years). But Colburn isn’t some dusty relic. You can count on the place to have a deep inventory of the brands Mainers dig — Chacos, Danskos, Keens, Carhartts — and always a nice selection of running shoes. The bargain basement is, well, full of the subterranean steals you’d expect. And the service is, refreshingly, never pushy. No wonder readers call the place a fave, year after year. Among the reasons Horne loves seeing the shop stay busy? “Knowing how proud my grandfather would be.”
With nine locations across Maine, it’s maybe no surprise that venerable Sherman’s often takes top honors in the bookstore category. But not a year passes without a couple of newcomers popping up — a testament to Maine’s vibrant lit culture and abundance of indie bookshops. Quiet City ain’t new, exactly, but when proprietor Courtney Schlachter opened the predominantly secondhand shop, in 2016, it was tiny. Last year, Quiet City moved into a whopping 1,700-square-foot basement on Lisbon Street, with room to delight browsers and host readings, kids’ story hours, intimate concerts, and more. With its low ceilings, exposed brick arches, and thrifted-furniture nooks for reading and writing, the place feels like your favorite teenage rec room or scrap- py small-town library — which book- worms will recognize as high praise.
When Eunjee Park (left) and Emily Fitzgibbon (right) opened H&E Nail Bar in Portland’s 6 City Center, in spring of 2018, they didn’t expect business to pick up so briskly. But before the year was out, they added a second location on the East End, and today, the two shops keep a fleet of 19 technicians busy offering mani-pedis, nail care, gel polish, wax treatments, and more — oh, and super-cute nail art that jibes with the bright, playful aesthetic of the salons. In case you’re wondering, yep, H&E (Fitzgibbon’s Korean name, Hyejung, is the H to her partner’s E) does indeed put the “bar” in “paint bar,” with a complimentary glass of wine or bubbly (or coffee or tea) as patrons settle into the comfy chairs.
A first-time finalist in not one but four (!) categories: nail salon, hair salon, day spa, and massage studio — a winner in that latter — Rangeley’s Mountain Miracles clearly has its fans. Registered nurse Allissa Gurney opened the spa, on the mountain-town’s main drag, in 2019, with a focus on medical aesthetics like fillers, chemical peels, and IV vitamin treatments. A full-service salon soon followed, and the treatment menu kept expanding as Gurney gathered a crew of “extremely talented women,” realizing how many beauty and health services required a (sometimes long) trip out of Rangeley. These days, she and a much-expanded team offer everything from laser treatments to massage and bodywork to lash lifts to body waxing to LED tooth whitening to . . . well, call and ask.
After a kitchen fire broke out in June of 2020 at a restaurant that was part of the campus of Camden’s Lyman-Morse boatyard and marina, smoke damage left much of the complex unusable. The silver lining: Lyman-Morse set out to reenvision and rebuild, and last fall, the legacy boatbuilder completed construction on a 44,000-square-foot mixed-use marina complex. Perks for the cruising crowd include handsome suites for crew accommodations, a state-of-the-art rig shop and full-service chandlery, a customer lounge with showers and laundry, and new capacity for dockage and storage. Fringe benefits for the rest of us include a nice wide harbor walk and two new eateries: Barren’s Distillery + Restaurant, with a bar full of small-batch spirits and a menu of New England pub food, and Salt Wharf, this year’s reader pick for best new restaurant, with clubby classics on the entrée menu (seafood, steaks, pasta) and what has to be Maine’s best rooftop bar (with a small-plates menu that’s more fun than downstairs — try the street corn or tinned-fish conservas).
It’s just shy of 10 years since Cape Neddick’s venerable Cliff House, overlooking the Atlantic on Bald Head Cliff, changed hands for the first time. The same family had owned the place since 1872, and for much of that time, it’d been a favored retreat of East Coast blue bloods (and a beloved splurge for others). When an out-of-state investment firm (with Maine partners) took over in 2014, some longtime guests worried the place’s character might get watered down. A decade later, those fears are quelled. Cliff House remains plenty luxe, with nautical-mod décor, impeccable service, and a top-tier spa and infinity pool that both allow guests to soak up some of the East Coast’s most gobsmacking coastal views. It also showcases tons of work by Maine artists, offers a reasonable simulacrum of a lobster shack in its bar, and hosts guided nature hikes along its trail network, oceanside yoga sessions, woodcarving demonstrations, and other activities that feel genuinely rooted here — or, anyway, a version of here.
Marvin Merritt IV read Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in high school English, growing up on Deer Isle. He didn’t love it, but it’s crept up on him since. “It was definitely a hard piece to navigate,” says Merritt, a cofounder of ISLE Theater Company, “but a lot of people here connected with it because it’s a seafaring story.” Helping audiences forge connections through storytelling is at the heart of the mission of the Deer Isle–based company that Merritt and Harvard pal Anna Fitzgerald founded just after graduation, three years ago. ISLE has since produced an eclectic mix of site-specific shows, using professional actors and crew, at spots that include a Deer Isle quarry and a Penobscot farm. This summer’s Water, Water Everywhere, August 10–20, is a contemporary retelling of “Ancient Mariner,” staged at Brooklin’s WoodenBoat School. During a month of rehearsals, visiting artists stayed with local volunteer hosts. “It’s immensely fulfilling,” Merritt says, “to see a small island community pull together and make this theater company possible.”
Jane and Kelly Littlefield, who for 15 years have run an unassuming, captivating home gallery in Winter Harbor, learned all they know about exhibitions and sales as schoolteachers nursing a serious art-collecting habit. The truest lesson, Jane says: make everyone feel welcome. These days, the Littlefields represent 38 painters and sculptors, all with Maine connections, and enough readers have been wowed by their sculpture garden and white-walled gallery annex and the two public-friendly floors of their art-filled home to earn Littlefield Gallery a half-dozen wins and nominations in the gallery category since 2017. Closing out the season, mid-September through mid-October, is a three-artist show that includes the moody, stylized landscapes of Sarah Faragher (pictured).
GRANITE AND BASALT, VIEW TO NED ISLAND FROM GRINDSTONE NECK, WINTER HARBOR, MAINE – OIL/CANVAS, 24 X 18″, BY SARAH FARAGHER, IMAGE COURTESY OF LITTLEFIELD GALLERY
It’s been open just over a year, but already little Freya’s feels like a must-stop for dessert devotees traveling up the coast. After moving from Colorado to the midcoast a couple of summers back, married proprietors Therese Inman and Garett Reppenhagen renovated an out-of-the-way corner of the mansard-roofed 1856 Union Hall (it was a darkroom back when Maine Media Workshops occupied the building). Among other things, they put a deck out back with a nice view of the lobsterboats bobbing in Rockport Harbor. It’s a scenic spot to attack a dish (or house-made waffle cone) of Inman’s luscious gelatos or sorbettos, of which a dozen or so options stock the cooler. On a recent visit, the strawberry sage balsamic and lemon mascarpone, with blueberry swirls, were the MVPs. Freya’s also has a small menu of sweet and savory crepes and (rejoice!) is the all-too-rare sweet shop that also pours beer and wine.
A few reader picks in the winery category have, shall we say, been aging for several years: Cellardoor, Maine’s largest winery, has won for eight years running. Sweetgrass, with its Union farm HQ and hopping Old Port tasting room (the pandemic, sadly, nixed a Kennebunk location) is a perennial finalist. Perhaps the more surprising stalwart, though, is Dragonfly, in tiny Stetson, 20 miles west of Bangor. Opened in 2004, the vineyard and winery changed hands in 2020 (a potato-farming family from nearby Exeter branched out) and is in its fourth consecutive year as a BOM pick. Its fans love the firepit tables on the outdoor tasting deck (a pandemic adaptation that stuck). On hot summer days, they seem also to love that some fruit wines come in slushy form (including in to-go pouches). And admirers of German-style wines will love grabbing a bottle of Edelweiss, a sweet, crisp white made with estate grapes. Zum wohl!
Not a bummer in the bunch among the year’s best new restaurant nominees, from category winner Salt Wharf, with its wowza harborside site, to Rodney’s, an ambitious hotel-restaurant makeover in Presque Isle. But the spot we’ve told the most friends about this year is Papi, the Old Port’s stylish Puerto Rican gastro cantina. We’d love to say we were won over after the first sip of the Bad Bunny cocktail — rum, amaretto, coconut ice cream, and pineapple syrup, with Mexican pepperleaf foam — that beverage director LyAnna Sanabria (left) handed over. Or upon the first bite of piquant pork sliders with plantains, crispy yuca fries, or perfectly pliant little empanadas from the kitchen, run by executive chef Ronnie Medlock (right). But in truth, we were sold on first glimpse of the dining room (run by manager Gene Valentin, center), a dead ringer for a low-key elegant taberna on some San Juan side street.
It’s a sign of a good shop when you have to get up early on a weekend to score a donut, and so it is at Ruckus, which opened in downtown Rockland in 2021 after an infancy as a pandemic pop-up. Baker Todd Bross turns out yeasted brioche donuts — airier than cake donuts, but Ruckus’s are hefty, four inches across — in a bonkers array of adventurous flavors and kaleidoscopic designs. Summer faves include strawberry shortcake, with a pile of local strawberries and vanilla Italian buttercream sandwiched inside, and lemondrop, with lemon- shortbread cookie crumbles, lemon buttercream, and a drippy vanilla glaze. Whim flavors can seem like Instagram bait — donuts coated in breakfast cereal! stuffed with marshmallow fluff and encrusted with graham crackers! — but we have yet to try one that hasn’t left us oohing, aahing, and sticky fingered.
Hey, why no Best Beer or Best Taproom categories this year? Vote for your favorite Maine beer, breweries, taprooms, and more in our inaugural Best of Maine Beer poll by September 1. We’ll publish the results in the magazine this fall in a special salute to Maine craft beer.
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