On the surface, March doesn’t have much to offer, besides potholes, slush, Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day. But for Mainers, March happens to be one of the best months in which to sample some of the wide array of cuisines and special treats that our state’s restaurants have to offer.
Maine Restaurant Week began Tuesday. It spans 12 days, ending on March 12, and features more than 50 restaurants, mostly in southern Maine, all offering prix fixe meal deals. More on that later. In Hancock County, the annual Ellsworth Dine Around, an event independent of Maine Restaurant Week, occurs throughout the month of March. It features 30 restaurants from Bar Harbor to Dedham, all with specials designed to introduce potential diners to the wealth of culinary options available to Down Easters.
“We read about restaurant months and weeks in this and in other, larger communities, and we know that March is a long month. People are fed up with winter and bills and everything,” said Phyllis Young, assistant director of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce, who is sponsoring the Ellsworth Dine Around. “This is an event that we hope will entice people to get out and open their pocketbooks and support local businesses.”
Spurred by the success of last year’s event, Young had a relatively easy time recruiting area eateries to sign on. Most of the restaurants featured are in Ellsworth, but there are options in Blue Hill, Trenton and other Hancock County communities. Every day of the week throughout March, Mainers Down East can sample everything from classic diner breakfasts to four-course meals at high-end restaurants — all without breaking the bank.
“When you see events like this in bigger cities, it often really serves a very high-end market, something that not a lot of people can afford regularly,” said Young. “We love all our restaurants here, so we wanted to offer something ranging from quick and easy lunches for five bucks, to meals that are a real treat.”
Choices in Ellsworth include a four-course meal for $25 at the James Beard Award-nominated Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro, featuring a selected menu of appetizers, soup or salad, entree and dessert available Sunday-Thursday. Simone’s at 59 Franklin St. has a two-person special, featuring a three-course chef’s choice meal for $50, which includes appetizer, entree and dessert.
For quicker, lower-priced fare, try feeding the family with the special at Finelli Pizza in Ellsworth, which offers a Monday night deal that includes a free medium pizza with the purchase of an extra large pizza. Finn’s Irish Pub offers up a selection of gourmet wraps with a side of house-made potato chips or lime potato salad, all between $7.50 and $8.50. Helen’s Restaurant has a haddock sandwich with fries for just $3.99 on Mondays, and Karen’s Cafe offers a dollar off all their soups and chowders with the Ellsworth Dine Around deal.
In the morning, Sylvia’s Cafe in Ellsworth has a $3.69 breakfast special all month, with unlimited coffee. Rooster Brother offers a free oatmeal cranberry cookie with the purchase of a coffee, tea or espresso, every morning from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m.
In nearby communities, The Lucerne Inn in Dedham has a two for $50 dinner special, which includes two entrees and two desserts, and The Brooklin Inn in Brooklin has a number of great deals, including all-you-can-eat fresh baked haddock on Fridays, and half-priced bottles of wine on Saturday nights.
There are plenty more deals available during the Ellsworth Dine Around; visit ellsworthchamber.org for a full list.
There’s another way to eat locally and inexpensively in March, however, with Maine Restaurant Week, which started March 1 and runs through the 12th. It features restaurants throughout southern and midcoast Maine and is sponsored by the Portland-based Maine Restaurant Association. For 12 days, participating eateries offer specially priced three-course meals, set at either $20, $30 or $40. Now in its third year, more than 50 restaurants are involved.
Maine Restaurant Week features mostly Portland establishments, ranging from high-end Congress Street restaurant Five Fifty-Five’s $40 meal deal, to the $20 offer from Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro, also on Congress Street and one of Maine’s few meat-free eateries.
Other Portland choices include the laid-back Mexican restaurant El Rayo Taqueria, the farm-to-table restaurant Cinque Terre and the creative small plates offered at Salt Exchange. Further north, Fuel in Lewiston offers French-inspired choices in its $30 selection, and the Azure Cafe in Freeport has a $30 offer as well.
In midcoast and northern Maine, there are just a few options. In Camden, the new Italian eatery 40 Paper offers a $30 deal, as does the Hartstone Inn, which features an array of classic dishes. Paolina’s Way in Camden has a salad, pizza or pasta and dessert special for $20, Cappy’s Chowder House also has a $20 lunch special and Natalie’s at Camden Harbor Inn shows off the culinary wizardry of new chef Geoffrey Deconinck with its $40 three-course meal. The sole Rockland restaurant is Lily Bistro, with a $20 meal deal.
From Knox County north, eaters can try out all three Angler’s Restaurant locations, in Searsport, Newport and Hampden, which have an appetizer, entree and dessert special for $20. The Sea Dog in Bangor — along with Topsham and South Portland — also has a $20 deal. That’s it for the Bangor area, however. A full list of all participating Maine Restaurant Week establishments can be found at mainerestaurantweek.com.