1. Craft beer continues to soar: Let’s look at the numbers. In 2013 alone, more than 10 new breweries launched in Maine, from the Sedgwick-based Strong Brewing to Kittery’s SoMe Brewing. According to a study from the Maine Beer and Wine Distributor’s Network, beer and wine distribution and sales contribute $19 million per year to Maine’s economy and employ more than 1,000 people. Breweries such as Maine Beer Co., Allagash and Oxbow continue to gain national accolades and expand their reach across the country. Travel and Leisure magazine even named Portland one of the best beer cities in the U.S.
2. Local, local, local: The big buzzword in Maine this year was local. Local food bought at the more than 60 farmers markets statewide. Local food served up at restaurants and by food artisans, be it a sandwich at a co-op deli, a pizza made with Maine flour at Tinder Hearth in Brooksville, veggies and meats, or an entire restaurant — Vinland in Portland — devoted to serving only dishes made with Maine-sourced ingredients. Food grown by the new crop of Maine farmers, who are young, energetic and devoted to sustainable agriculture. It’s trendy and happening nationwide, yes, but it’s also a delicious way to support Maine’s economy.
3. Food you can hold in your hands: Who doesn’t love tacos? Or cupcakes? Or ice cream sandwiches? What about the current trend for savory pies, full of meat and spices and other tasty fillings? Fast, easy-to-eat gourmet treats were hot this year, whether they were served out of a food truck or a storefront. Food trucks in particular continued their ascendency, with growing numbers congregating in Portland and Bangor — and with customers lining up on the street to buy treats, it behooves eateries to keep it simple and utensil-free.
4. Maine shrimp season canceled: Maine’s fishing industry was dealt a serious blow this year when the wild Maine shrimp season was canceled, the first shutdown in 35 years. After several years of overfishing, the shrimp stocks were deemed too imperiled to be fished again this year. Will this have reverberations across Maine’s economy, either at the fishing level or the restaurant level? Time will tell. In the meantime, we’ll just have to resign ourselves to any of the other beautiful, fresh seafood Maine’s waters produce.
5. Maine coffee kicks it up a notch: Coming up on the heels of Maine’s explosive craft beer industry are micro-roasters for excellent coffee. Tandem Coffee in Portland has spent the past year spreading its gospel of expertly roasted small batches of beans, while Coffee By Design moved this fall into its brand-new headquarters in Portland’s up-and-coming East Bayside neighborhood. Rock City Coffee in Rockland, 44 North in Deer Isle and Carpe Diem on North Berwick continue to excel. If Maine’s known for beer in 2013, in 2014 it might be known for coffee, too.
6. The fine art of the cocktail: Cocktails aren’t news. They’ve been around forever. What is news is the new emphasis this year on creative mixed drinks that are both forward-thinking and honoring the past. Between the high-end tipples at Portland Hunt & Alpine Club and Gingko Blue in Portland, the organic juice-centric cocktails at Roost House of Juice in Portland, and the ever-changing lineup of alcoholic treats at The Fiddlehead Restaurant in Bangor, you can have your pick of tipsy indulgences statewide.
7. Not your daddy’s pizza: For too long, pizza in Maine was a rather sorry state of affairs. Aside from a handful of restaurants, most pizza in Maine was doughy, swimming in cheese and sopping with grease. In the past few years, however, pizzerias such as the three Otto locations in Portland and South Portland, the soon-to-open Slab in Portland’s Public Market building, food trucks such as Pizza Pie on the Fly in southern Maine and Pompeii Pizza in Bangor, and standbys like Finelli’s in Ellsworth and Flatbread in Portland have produced some world-class pies that might even impress those pizza snobs in New York.
8. Lobster’s in, especially the roll: Lobster rolls are as commonplace as cheeseburgers in Maine, be it Eventide Oyster Co.’s sous vide brown butter roll in Portland, or a sandwich served out of a trailer at the town landing. In 2013, the lobster roll suddenly became the hot item in a number of eateries across the country. Places such as Luke’s Lobster and the Red Hook Lobster Pound in New York City, Acadia in Chicago, or the “Shark Tank”-approved Cousins Maine Lobster Truck in Los Angeles all have the iconic Maine treat in starring “rolls” on their menus. Lobster, Paul Bunyan, flannel and other Maine icons were very hip this year, though it’s worth nothing that in Maine, they are just facts of life.
9. Pretzel everything: Like the fads for bacon, cupcakes and salted caramel before it, 2013 was the year of pretzel everything. Pretzel buns at Wendy’s. Pretzel bagels at Dunkin’ Donuts. Pretzel burgers at LFK in Portland, house-made pretzels on the menu at Grace and the Portland and Rochester Public House, both in Portland, pretzel-crust pizza at In’finiti, once again in Portland. Pretzels were inescapable in 2013. Love it or hate it, it’ll probably be back in 2014.
10. Accentuate the healthy, eliminate the gluten: Time was, gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan, were all rare things. Now, most every restaurant worth their salt offers something to please anyone following diets that eliminate any of the above ingredients. And judging by the amount of media published about diets that eschew wheat, sugar, dairy, meat, fish, nuts, processed foods, white-colored things, nightshade plants or whatever other thing might be making you not feel great, it’s more than a fad. It’s a lifestyle choice.