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!