Monday, April 5, 2010

Belfast, Maine: Where to Eat and What to Do

At the end of last summer we moved to a needy old house about 15 minutes south of Bangor. One of the best things about our new location (besides the absence of people napping in our entryway while waiting for the cigarette shop to open) is our proximity to Belfast. Now that Belfast's shops, cafes, and waterfront parks are only a 40-minute ride away, we visit a few times a month.

Belfast has a lot going on for a city of less than ten thousand residents, but unlike some of the coastal towns farther south, it doesn't feel like a show put on solely for tourists. Main Street runs downhill and dead ends at the dramatic waterfront, where the Passagassawakeag River (say that five times fast) empties into Belfast Bay. The parks along the water are a great place to picnic and watch sailboats, and all spring, summer, and fall, you will see locals doing this. Most of the city's nineteenth century commercial buildings still stand downtown, filled with eclectic small businesses that eschew the plastic lobsters and blueberry candles sold in many Maine gift shops in favor of thoughtful, handmade goods and local art.

I love browsing in The Green Store, which bills itself as a general store for the twenty-first century. From nontoxic cleaning solutions, to composting barrels, to wooden drying racks and organic cotton toys, The Green Store sells everything you need to pursue that quintessential Maine dream of living sustainably off the grid. I also get a kick out of Yo Mamma's Home, a home goods and gift shop selling fun, funky, one-of-a-kind items like bags, shower curtains, stationary, and jewelry. The Good Table sets my heart a-flutter, with every imaginable kitchen gadget on display. So far all I've bought are cookie cutters (they sell at least a hundred shapes), but I love to look and touch and drool. Heavenly Socks Yarns is just up the street; practically every yarn, needle, and button in existence is crammed into this tiny basement shop.

If you're hungry after all your shopping, Belfast boasts several vegan-friendly eateries. If it's breakfast or lunchtime, you must go to Chase's Daily (which I reviewed here). The menu is vegetarian, but at least a third of it is vegan, and many items can be prepared gluten-free. The produce comes from the Chase family farm, and during the growing season the back half of the restaurant doubles as a fruit and vegetable market.

If it's too late in the afternoon for Chase's, Bay Wrap, just a few doors up Main Street, offers many vegetarian and vegan sandwiches, and the coffee shop in the same building carries soy milk for lattes.

The Belfast Co-op Cafe is another great spot for breakfast or lunch. You can order a vegan deli sub, soup, or a tofu scramble (made with local tofu), and the bakery case carries several vegan items. Admire local artwork or play checkers while you eat, then shop for organic produce and herbal remedies in the Co-op Store. Remember to bring your own grocery bags and containers for bulk items, or you may receive scowls.

Here's a sampling of meals I've enjoyed in Belfast:

Clockwise from top left: tofu breakfast burrito (made gluten-free with corn tortillas) from Chase's Daily, black beans and rice with a side of kale from Chase's Daily, Dehli Deelite wrap from Bay Wrap, and scrambled tofu with home fries from the Belfast Co-op Cafe. Don't you feel hungry (and healthy) just looking at all that?

If you're planning to visit the coast of Maine, spend an afternoon in Belfast. It's one of my favorite little places, and because most tourists stop at Camden, it's still friendly and genuine. If it's a weekend morning, you may see me at brunch!

14 comments:

  1. This reminds me of where I live, sans the awesome veggie dining options and cool Green Store. And I like the name, Belfast, very sexy. Thanks for this post, maybe I'll get to visit some day.
    xo
    Eco Mama

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  2. Wow...I have never thought of visiting Maine before, but your description of Belfast makes it like it would be worth the trip! I wish we had a Green Store here in Georgia. Thanks for all the great info :)

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  3. What a cool post! The food looks really delicious. I really want to come to Maine. :)

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  4. Now you KNOW I loved this post! :-) We can't wait to visit Belfast! The shops sound (and look - I checked out the web sites) very fun, and the food is drooly. I'll pack some of my reusable shopping bags (actually, I use some as carry-on luggage!) - we certainly don't want to be scowled at! :-) It'll be a nice change of pace to not be looked at with suspicion or bafflement when I put my canvas bags on the counter!

    Btw, is that your pretty blue Prius in the foreground of the first photo? :-)

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  5. Great photo essay of what looks like a wonderful little town. I'd love to visit it one day. I hope your needy house is shaping up nicely, and welcomes you back from your jaunts with good cheer!

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  6. Aye, 'tis a good port, lest ye prefer gallies to galleries!

    Seriously, though, best Co-op in Maine, one of the best restaurants, even a hardware store still downtown. Too Bad Reny's is way out at the edge by McDonalds!

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  7. I grew up in Orland. Mary, I'm sure you're familiar but others may not know that means I grew up about 15 minutes away from this little gold mine. I'm so sorry I took the area for granted as a youngster and it's posts like this that really make me jealous. The next time I'm longing for home and make the trip back up to the Penobscot Bay, I'll be stopping in to the vegan food spots for some "road food".

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  8. Wow, great post! Looks like an adorable town.

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  9. What a cool little town! I love exploring the smaller areas (well, now I live in a rural, small town area so that's a given) and Belfast sounds fantastic.

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  10. Wow! I love this post, this town (including all the food)looks and sounds so amazing! I'll have to visit Maine one of these days!

    I know for sure you will be able to find local products for your 'Pay It Forward' Giveaway easily!

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  11. Glad I came across this we are heading through Belfast this weekend and I was curious as to what would be good to visit

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  12. Caryn Knudsen Grocery Manager Belfast Co-opJuly 26, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    Glad you included us in your blog. Thanks for the shout out, but I beg to differ with your comment that "you might receive scowls" if you do not bring your own bag. It's very offensive.
    We happily provide bags or boxes to our shoppers who do not bring their own.
    We are Maine's oldest & largest food Co-op and are very proud of our customer service. It's not mice to be accused of scowling at our shoppers.
    Thanks.

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  13. Whoa Caryn, calm down. It was a lighthearted comment in keeping with the rest of the post, not an indictment of your customer service. I've had nothing but good experiences at the co-op, though some staff (and customers) have looked undeniably disappointed the few times I've not brought my own bags. But if you read the entire paragraph, and even some of the other readers' comments, it's clear this emphasis on low-impact shopping is part of the co-op's charm. So really? "Very offensive?" I love the co-op and your customer service is terrific. I'm suggesting people visit. Please don't take such offense at a (true) comment that was meant to be humorous.

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  14. It's even better when you're a Mainer who loves to travel all over the state all four seasons. Been up Belfast way several times over the past few months....great way stop before stopping in S. Brooksville, Castine, and Port Clyde. Brunch at CHASES; a beer at Rollies; a public restroom at the C of C; a movie at the four screen theater downtown; the farmer's market; the 'art walk' on Friday and the Maine wood products association store.

    The COOP is def. an iconic experience; esp. during meals or just to read the bulletin boards....do bring a bag, and remember they carry the Sunday NYTIMES, Boston Globe and the W.S.J.

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