We’re lucky, in that those of us here at the BDN whose job it is to write about food in Maine get to eat at a lot of great restaurants all over the state. So we can say without too much hesitation that we know what we’re talking about — it’s our job.
After a year’s worth of fabulous sit-down dinners, quick but delicious lunches, seaside seafood feasts and leisurely brunches, we’ve managed to narrow down the best food we’ve eaten in Maine in 2016. In addition to BDN senior features editor Sarah Walker Caron and feature writers Emily Burnham and Kathleen Pierce, we’ve enlisted the help of Sarah Gelber of the blog 207 Foodie (in the BDN network) and Maine travel and food writer Hilary Nangle, both of whom kindly offered their opinions.
What’s your favorite new restaurant in Maine?
Sarah Walker Caron: There were so many restaurant openings in Greater Bangor this year. Massimo’s Pizza Bar was only open from April until October, but while they were I tried their Rucola Pizza, which was piled high with arugula, parmesan and olive oil — delicious. Novio’s now occupies that space, and their Airline Chicken, served on a butternut squash puree with a maple balsamic glaze, is mouthwateringly good. But my favorite has to be just across the river. Mason’s Brewing Company in Brewer, which seemed to be built and open overnight, has great burgers, amazing fries, tasty beers and so much more. If you go, I highly recommend the Sweet Mess burger and a flight of beers. And don’t forget the Dirty Fries.
Emily Burnham: Serendib in Ellsworth makes some luscious Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine, while Sammy’s Deluxe in Rockland puts a delicious spin on classic Maine comfort food. I also got a chance to sample the fried goodness that is Big J’s Chicken Shack in Portland, and wow — best fried chicken I’ve ever had in Maine.
Kathleen Pierce: Scales in Portland is a modern update on a seafood shack. The open kitchen, high ceilings and harbor views feel posh, but its maritime setting on a working waterfront keeps it real. The oysters are fresh, the wine selection is top notch, and it’s the one place in Portland you’ll be sure to run into a Bostonian year-round. Is this the new DiMillo’s?
Hilary Nangle: A tossup between Nina June, Sara Jenkins’ Maine-meets-the-Mediterranean trattoria in Rockport — don’t miss the strata or shakshuka on the brunch menu — and Toroso Kitchen & Cocktails, Shannon Bard’s Spanish tapas bar and restaurant in Kennebunk.
Sarah Gelber: The pasta was really great at Rossobianco on Deering Avenue in Portland. I’m hoping the rumors are true that they are reopening in February.
What was your favorite food discovery of the year or the biggest surprise for you?
Sarah Walker Caron: I’ve been fortunate to eat a lot of really delicious things this year, and there were several that stuck out — fried pickles from Paddy Murphy’s, the Brussels sprouts appetizer at Blaze and the Irish Benedict special at Becky’s Diner in Portland. But my greatest discovery is how delicious spicy beers are. I’ve had several at bars all over Bangor and Portland, but Orono Brewing Co.’s Nitro Mexican Blackbird Stout most recently tingled my taste buds and excited me so much that I texted a co-worker to tell her about it mid-beer. For fans of spicy food — and I certainly am one — spicy beers are delightful.
Emily Burnham: There was a lot of buzz about Matthew Secich’s Charcuterie in Unity, but until I tried it myself I didn’t know it was really that good. Trust me, it is. The smoked cheddar and the pastrami are unreal. And I’m usually more of a chocolate person, but Hampden-based Wild Cow Creamery’s Lemon Heaven ice cream is divine — especially when sandwiched between ginger cookies.
Kathleen Pierce: The kelp iced coffee at the Sugarbird Food Truck in Portland was an instant obsession. Who knew that chaga, the cure-all fungus, could add pizzazz to coffee and beer? In short, algae from the sea and obscure tree warts never tasted so good.
Hilary Nangle: I had to cut myself off from hitting the seasonal Red Barn Bakery in Lincolnville too often, as it was detrimental to my waistline. Katie Capra’s breads, croissants, scones, pastries and cookies are perfection.
Sarah Gelber: Pho Co in the Portland Public Market has incredibly tasty pho that won’t break the bank.
What were your favorite cheap eats — under $15?
Sarah Walker Caron: Whenever I’m in Portland, I love to drop into OTTO for a slice of their mashed potato, bacon and scallion pizza. The salty, savory, creamy pizza is filling and a total bargain at $3.50 per slice. For a quick breakfast, the pastries at Fork & Spoon in Bangor are divine. But my favorite cheap eats has to be the cash-only Friar’s Bakehouse in Bangor. The big portions of comforting dishes like grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches and American chop suey are delicious, and the price can’t be beat — I don’t think there’s a lunch over $8 there. Most are less.
Emily Burnham: The pad thai at Yoshi Japanese Restaurant in Brewer is the best in the area, and you get enough for two meals. The sweet and savory baked goods created by Lee-Russell Dunn at Fork & Spoon in Bangor are the best in town. And speaking as a breakfast sandwich connoisseur, the ones at Tandem Coffee in Portland are darn near perfection.
Kathleen Pierce: The bento box sushi lunch at Yosaku or the seafood chowder at Gilbert’s Chowder House, both in Portland.
Hilary Nangle: The herbed goat cheese, egg and greens breakfast biscuit at Sea Biscuit, Rockport; the pizzas topped with Seal Cove goat cheese and farm-fresh produce at Seal Cove Farm, Lamoine; small plates and dim sum at Empire Chinese, Portland; the all-you-can-eat pizza buffet at Stutzman’s Farm, Sangerville; anything from Vazquez Mexican Takeout, Milbridge; comfort food with an international accent at the A1Diner, Gardiner; and crepes at Crepe Cafe, Freeport and, in the summer, in Greenville.
Sarah Gelber: Bubble Maineia on Temple Street in Portland has some delicious if completely awful for you pan-fried ramen that I just can’t get enough of. It’s under $10.
What’s the best overall meal you had in Maine this year?
Sarah Walker Caron: One Sunday morning, looking for a late breakfast, I ended up at the quaint, small Stone Sparrow Cafe in Veazie. It was my first time there. The stone building itself was so charming, but it was the food that’s brought me back. On that first visit, I had eggs Benedict, and they were the very best eggs Benedict I’ve ever had. The hollandaise sauce was perfectly creamy and lemony — a delight.
Emily Burnham: A selection from the raw bar followed by bucatini with mussels and chorizo, paired with a very tasty sangria, against a backdrop of the early evening sun sparkling on the water at The Slipway in Thomaston; a little La Dolce Vita in Maine. But after spending the day hiking in Acadia National Park, the scallop risotto and the lamb burger at McKay’s Public House in Bar Harbor was mighty satisfying. I’ve also eaten at Long Grain in Camden many times over the years, and it’s always been uniformly excellent. It’s my favorite restaurant in Maine.
Kathleen Pierce: Compressed watermelon salad followed by pan-seared halibut paired with with sunchoke-creamed basmati rice with citrus-infused beets at Pig + Poet in Camden. Great summer repast at Whitehall.
Hilary Nangle: Portland’s Tempo Dulu in the Danforth Inn is an immersion into the flavors of Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, with a Maine accent. Chef Michael McDonnell and mixologist Trevor Hutchins are a dynamite team. Each course is as gorgeous to look at as it is divine to eat, and the chic setting, with white-clothed tables, contemporary art and southeast Asian accents, complements the cuisine. Worth the splurge.
Sarah Gelber: I still have dreams about the lobster risotto I had at Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport. Just amazing.