New eastern Maine businesses cater to specialized diets, palates

In Ellsworth, lunch spot 86 This opened about two months ago near the corner of State and Maine streets.
In Ellsworth, lunch spot 86 This opened about two months ago near the corner of State and Maine streets.
Posted Aug. 09, 2011, at 12:42 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 09, 2011, at 9:26 p.m.

Three new businesses located in Ellsworth, the Bangor area and Belfast bring new food trends and needs to a hungry populace. One caters to a specific dietary concern, another offers ethnic cuisine previously unseen in eastern Maine and the third takes lunch to the next level.

In Ellsworth, lunch spot 86 This opened about two months ago near the corner of State and Maine streets. Jeff Kelly, former chef at now-defunct Blue Hill eatery Table, and his wife, Diane Kelly-Lokocz, originally had plans to open a dinner spot in Bar Harbor. Money was tight, however, and the couple realized soon into the process that they would be expecting a new family member.

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have a business where we could go home at night with the baby, and have very low overhead, and not a huge staff?’” said Kelly, who before Table worked at Cleonice in Ellsworth. “It’s a great starter business. And we got it together very quickly.”

86 This opened on June 13 — two weeks before baby Rye was born. The Kellys cook up serious wraps at their new lunch spot, inspired by cuisines from all over the world and named after the pair’s favorite indie rock and punk bands. You can order a Fugazi, featuring ham, mango salsa and avocado. Or The Clash, with roast beef, cheddar, caramelized onions and horseradish mayo. Maybe you want to get a little crazy with the Boss Hog, a messy, delicious sandwich featuring chipotle and citrus pulled pork, black beans, rice and slaw. Or maybe you’re feeling thoughtful and want the Mountain Goat, a vegetarian sandwich with black bean hummus, veggie tabouleh, ricotta and olives.

Jeff Kelly’s personal favorite is the Yam I Yam, with spicy roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, rice, pico de gallo, avocado, cheese and sour cream. All menu items are available on gluten-free wraps, in addition to gluten-containing wheat, white or spinach.

“It’s got a little bit of everything. It’s got all the flavors we’re into here,” he said. “We’ve built a little following already based solely on word of mouth. It’s nice to have a quick and easy lunch here in downtown Ellsworth that’s also very good and very filling. That’s what we’re going for.”

North of Ellsworth, another small business has made a name for itself providing food to a small but growing contingent of eaters: those with gluten-free diets. Irish Daisy Bakery, run by Sarah and Jake Campbell of Hermon, makes gluten-free, vegan cakes, cupcakes, scones and whoopie pies. Their foray into gluten-free baking came several years ago, when their son Elliot was diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis, a rare allergic disorder. Elliott is allergic to 25 kinds of food — so Mom and Dad threw themselves head-first into allergy-sensitive cooking and baking.

“It was just a big lifestyle change all around,” said Sarah Campbell. “We learned to cook with different flours, with coconut milk, with all kinds of different things. It’s second nature now.”

Inspired by their foray into alternative cooking and baking methods, the Campbells decided to turn their personal culinary experience into a business, as each had had a difficult time finding full-time employment in today’s tough job market. Over the winter, the couple invested in the equipment and set up their professional kitchen right in their home in Hermon. Every morning, Jake Campbell bakes the goodies and Sarah frosts them and makes them pretty, decorating cupcakes with flowers and stars and expertly assembling the dense, decadent whoopie pies into neat little treats.

“We named it Irish Daisy because that’s an old-fashioned name for dandelion,” said Jake Campbell. “We liked it because people think of dandelions as weeds, but they’re actually quite useful in many ways. People overlook them and just mow over them. We’re trying to let people know that gluten-free and vegan cooking can be just as good as traditional stuff.”

Lest anyone think that gluten-free means taste-free, you can rest assured that Irish Daisy’s whoopie pies are as decadent and delicious as regular whoopie pies. They come in three flavors — double chocolate, pumpkin chip and traditional — and they’ve been selling out at locations such as Hampden Natural Foods, and the Natural Living Center, Central Street Farmhouse and Giacomo’s in Bangor. They also sell their products at the farmers markets in Orono, Brewer and Hermon and will have a booth at this year’s American Folk Festival Taste of Maine Marketplace.

By this time next year, the Campbells hope to open a storefront, where they’ll focus entirely on gluten-free and vegan baking. They’re limited by their home kitchen — and if the response the couple has garnered on Facebook and elsewhere is any indication, there’s a definite need for food that caters to those with special diets.

“There are more and more people out there every day,” said Sarah Campbell. “It’s growing all the time.”

Finally, in Belfast, a new restaurant shines the spotlight on Laotian and Vietnamese cooking — two styles not often seen in this neck of the woods, in particular the food of Laos. Laan X ang Cafe, open since the winter, offers dishes ranging from the beloved Vietnamese soup Pho to traditional Laotian dishes.

Partners Salika and Dan Jones formerly operated a similar restaurant in Connecticut before trading that state for the coast of Maine. The pair opened Laan-Xang near Belfast Harbor, at the corner of Main and Front Streets. All menu items are available for takeout or eat-in on the cafe’s outside deck. Laotian specialties include Yarng-Kai Noi, a fragrant, savory, lemongrass-marinated Cornish game hen grilled and served with house-made chili sauce; and Mok Pla, a filet of sole with lemongrass, dill, coconut, vegetables and banana leaves, steamed in parchment paper.

Their sauces are all house-made, and many of the vegetables are harvested from the couple’s garden. On occasion, Laan Xang also serves one of the most beloved elements of Vietnamese cuisine: the Banh Mi sandwich, a true melding of Vietnamese and French traditions that has gained food-trend status in many cities across the country. Essentially, it’s a light baguette, layered with mayonnaise, soy sauce, cilantro, cucumbers, pickled carrots, daikon radish and a boldly flavored meat — often chicken, pork, pate or tofu. Tastewise, it’s a class unto its own. Laan Xang is among the only places north of Portland to serve the sandwich, including the Home Kitchen Cafe in Rockland and Chase’s Daily, also in Belfast, each of which also occasionally has them on special.

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