What I Eat: Downeast Maine

Chances are if you invite me somewhere or if I’m planning a trip the very first thing I’m going to do is check out what food options I’ll have. I’ll do a exhaustive Google search, load my Happy Cow app on my phone, and scour Instagram for both popular destinations and hidden gems alike. When I transferred colleges years ago and found out that there was going to be both a Cosi and a Chipotle near my new campus I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Food is my comfort, my connection to my past, and what makes me happier than almost anything else. Being vegan can make it a bit more difficult to find food in certain places but my goal with this series is to show how you can find awesome food in unexpected places!

alpaca

When I was thirteen years old I started going to summer camp in Maine. This place stole my heart almost instantly and over the years I continued to feel its pull even as I went through high school and college and made other plans for my summers. After taking a few summers off, I went back as a counselor when I was twenty years old and the rest is history! Having spent every summer (except for one!) in downeast Maine the last five years, I’ve perfected my list of favorite food destinations. Being vegan in the middle of nowhere can be tough but I’ve also experienced many surprises over the years!

#1: El El Frijoles || Sargentville, Maine || http://www.elelfrijoles.com/

 

This place is my absolute FAVORITE. I started coming here a few years ago and it’s still one of the first places I go when I get back to Maine. It’s the closest thing to camp and Michael and Michele, the owners, are incredibly nice and take the time to chat and catch up with every customer. This normally involved me telling them crazy stories from camp while I ordered vegan tacos/burritos and the most delicious agua frescas. Their grilled veggies change every single day depending on what vegetables they have (they source so much produce locally) so it’s always a surprise what’s going to be in my tacos. I’ve also demolished entire tubs of their guacamole (no shame). The first time I ate here this past summer, I walked into the tiny space and Michele, who does the cooking, yelled to her husband Michael, who was at the register, “hey Michael, looks like we have a vegan in the house!” even though I hadn’t been there in a year. They’re awesome people and I love supporting their business any chance I get. Be warned though – this place gets SO BUSY in the summertime so parking spots/seats aren’t always guaranteed!

Also, their name means L.L. Bean in Spanish! Which is pretty much the cutest thing to name your restaurant in Maine.

#2: Shinbashi || Ellsworth, Maine || https://shinbashi.stamplayapp.com/

shinbashi

Okay so I know that I said that El El Frijoles is my favorite restaurant but it might have to be tied with Shinbashi. This is the first place that I really had sushi for the first time and it’s still the best sushi I’ve ever had! Now, I know that veggie sushi isn’t hard to make, but for whatever reason Shinbashi does something special. I always order some sort of avocado roll (peanut avocado rolls are my top pick) but they also do a really good mango/cucumber roll. The fresh vegetable roll appetizer is also SO good, with loads of sweet chili sauce on top. While the food is delicious I also love this place because I’ve had so many good memories here with my friends and my boyfriend over the past five years. They have two big rooms in the back of the restaurant that can fit big parties and I’ve spent so many nights in big groups, eating so much food and watching everyone drink a ton of cocktails (which are apparently A+). After a long day at camp wrangling a million small children, nothing is better than a giant plate of sushi and a few laughs.

#3: Barncastle || Blue Hill, Maine || http://barn-castle.com/

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I don’t know why I don’t have any pictures of the food I’ve had at Barncastle (because I’ve eaten here A LOT) but trust me when I say that the pizza here is really good. They offer vegan cheese for their pizzas so I always make my own with Daiya and veggies like basil, broccoli, and sun-dried tomatoes. They don’t have a gluten-free crust so I haven’t been there for a year or two but I always enjoyed whatever I got! This place, like El El Frijoles, gets PACKED in the summertime and it’s almost impossible to get a table without placing a reservation, so you better call ahead.

They also do live music some nights and it can be really cozy to sit in the bar area, play some cards, and listen to the band!

#4: Blue Hill Co-Op || Blue Hill, Maine || http://bluehill.coop/site/

 

This place has saved me so many times when I was on the brink of pure hangriness! It has everything you’d want from a cute little independent market and I really love supporting them because I know that the money is going somewhere good. They have a great selection of grocery items but where they really stand out is all of their house-made sandwiches, salads, and baked goods. Over the years their bakery has produced fewer vegan items in-house (they used to do these insanely good muffins and cupcakes!) but once in a while you can still find something. Their sandwiches are the perfect thing to grab when you’re in a hurry and you need something that’s going to fill you up and their kombucha selection is always great.

This past summer I was headed to Bar Harbor with some friends to see Finding Dory (YESSSSS) and I stopped here to load my bag with movie snacks. I ended up getting one of their vegan quesadillas (it has pumpkin in it and comes with vegan sour cream and is SOOOO good) and ate it, cold, during the movie. It sounds disgusting but it was amazing and a great decision on my part!

#5: Tradewinds Market || Blue Hill, Maine || http://www.tradewindsmarkets.com/

Now this is just your normal, run of the mill grocery store, but they have a huuuuuge selection of vegan packaged food. I can get almost anything here (pretty comparable to my Whole Foods runs at home) and I’ve even found some items here that I had never seen anywhere else before. Their vegan ice cream selection is SO GOOD which makes choosing a pint nearly impossible. This past summer I would get my normal items like veggies, beans, rice, and almond milk, but couldn’t say no to Daiya frozen pizzas, the aforementioned ice cream, and Lucy’s gluten free cookies. This summer was the first time I did all of my own cooking at camp (instead of relying on the dining hall) so it was really great having a normal grocery store nearby. The produce wasn’t amazing but for being in the middle of nowhere (five hours north of Boston) it was perfect.

Be sure to check out Little Lad’s products – this is a Maine company (based out of Portland) that produces a bunch of different vegan snacks but their popcorn is the absolute best! They use nutritional yeast and so many spices to build some amazing flavors. I’ve also had their granola and their hand pies and everything has been great.

 

#6: Side Street Cafe || Bar Harbor, Maine || http://sidestreetbarharbor.com/

 

When going to Bar Harbor (which you should ALWAYS do if you can) this is one of the easiest restaurants to go to with omnivores. There’s something for everyone here, and I always get the black bean wrap: a homemade black bean burger, lettuce, tomato, and avocado. I substitute the chipotle mayo for hummus which makes this wrap GIGANTIC and gives you so much food for not a lot of money. Their pub fries are always on point and I’ve been known to demolish an order of guacamole and chips without much help. It’s a cute place with outdoor seating and it’s slightly removed from the major tourist destinations which is key.

There’s also an adorable juice/smoothie bar next door (http://thrivebarharbor.com/) that I’ve wanted to check out but I’m always in Bar Harbor in the evening after they’ve closed. I’ve heard great things though, so check it out if you’re there in the afternoon!

#7: Paddy’s Irish Pub || Bar Harbor, Maine || http://www.theweststreethotel.com/paddys/

This place is SO not vegan friendly. Like at all. But randomly enough, while eating here with friends a couple years ago, I had them make me a custom sandwich that was really, really good. It’s incredibly simple: avocado, tomato, field greens, and rosemary tomato jam. With french fries on the side. Because duh. I had this sandwich three or four times and even though I had to convince my waiter each time that it was okay for me to do this, it worked out. Now, I haven’t been here in a couple years, so no guarantees, but it’s worth checking out and asking, especially if you’re with a group of meat-lovers!

#8: Walmart || Ellsworth, Maine || It’s Walmart. You don’t need their website.

Now hear me out: I am NOT a fan of Walmart and I will go out of my way to purchase things elsewhere when I’m up in Maine. HOWEVER: being so isolated, sometimes I found myself here and I think it’s important to note that their vegan food options are pretty good. From ice cream (including the vegan Ben & Jerry’s) to gluten-free bread that is also vegan (which is really hard to come by), to Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo, I was able to find plenty of grocery staples. And $1 avocados. So I’m not recommending you go there. They definitely do not need your business like so many smaller markets and grocery stores do in the area. But when you need food and you find yourself near Walmart, just know that you have options.

#9: Dunkin’ Donuts || Blue Hill, Maine || You definitely don’t need their website either.

dunkin

Similar to Walmart, I’m a fan of supporting smaller places when possible. However, a lot of small places in rural areas don’t have any nondairy milk options, which I always have with my coffee. And sometimes you’re just so isolated that this is your only option! SO. Get an iced coffee with almond milk (always my preferred milk for coffee) and enjoy it. Especially when you have homesick kids back at camp who cry for hours nonstop and teenagers who get caught smoking cigarettes. Enjoy the damn coffee, wherever you can get it!

#10: Wild Maine Blueberries

 

Now, a food post about rural Maine would not be complete without mentioning one of the coolest things to come from the area: wild blueberries. Check out Kathy Patalsky’s recent post on the value of this specific kind of blueberry, but long story short: they’ve never been genetically modified, they’re actually wild (i.e. not planted by man), and they taste SO GOOD. They’re smaller and have more flavor than typical blueberries and they pop up everywhere. Every summer, at the end of July or beginning of August, we take groups of campers up to Caterpillar Hill to pick blueberries and every summer it’s a scramble to sign up for this activity first. The kids love it and it’s really cool for them to be able to pick their own food. Wild blueberries are also a lot more affordable when you’re up in Maine so take advantage of that!

Let me know if YOU have any tips for vegan traveling or any must-visit cities or areas that are especially vegan-friendly. I’m always down to plan another food vacation!

Love, Brenna

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