Two new plant-based restaurants opened in Maine this summer, expanding the short list of vegan restaurants in the state.

In Brunswick, Farm Fresh Cafe opened as part of a medical center, and in the Mount Desert Island village of Northeast Harbor, a local restaurateur and a teacher opened Crudo. Both restaurants emphasize raw vegan food.

Not counting vegan juice bars, Maine is home to only two other vegan restaurants: Olive Branch Cafe in Lewiston and Taste of Eden in Norway. For the past two summers, celebrity chef Matthew Kenney operated a high-end plant-based restaurant in Belfast (under a different name each summer), but it didn’t re-open this season.

Portland used to have a long-running vegan lunch spot with Little Lad’s Bakery (first on Exchange Street and later Congress), but it closed last year to focus on its retail products (including health food store favorite Herbal Corn).

Meanwhile, plant-based restaurants have grown in prominence and number in major cities around the world, even in such notoriously meat-loving food capitals as Paris. In Maine, a handful of enduring all-vegetarian restaurants (including Chase’s Daily in Belfast, Cafe DiCocoa’s in Bethel, and Green Elephant in Portland) are scattered across the state. But plant-based restaurants remain a rarity.

“We both thought the town needed a healthy alternative,” said Katelyn Moore, who opened Crudo with her sister-in-law Whitney Ciancetta in Northeast Harbor. Moore owns Fork & Table, which has a traditional menu and is located around the corner. She said “business is starting to pick up” at Crudo as word spreads about the restaurant, which offers a juice and smoothie selection alongside sandwiches, salads and to-go items.

Dishes at Crudo include a tofu banh mi, raw vegan tacos, a coconut bacon BLT, and raw carrot cake cupcakes. Two menu items are vegetarian rather than vegan, and like many restaurants near Acadia National Park, the business is seasonal and will shutter in late fall.

“The feedback has been that people are excited to have us here,” said Moore.

The menu at Farm Fresh Cafe in Brunswick is also mostly raw, with a changing rotation of soups cooked in a clay pot, such as red lentil and corn chowder. The menu changes every day. Other dishes featured this summer have included spring rolls, watermelon-tomato gazpacho, pineapple-cucumber gazpacho, and a raw flatbread pizza topped with cashew-almond cheese, green olive tapenade, cucumbers, tomatoes and fennel.

Spring rolls with Thai peanut dipping sauce and raw flatbread pizza are featured on the summer menu at Farm Fresh Cafe, a new plant-based restaurant in Brunswick.

“I’m making crackers for this flatbread pizza with zucchini, flax seeds and walnuts,” said Faith Crooker, who oversees the cafe and is a nurse at the health center, Therapia, which opened last year. Therapia offers treatments for people with chronic illnesses, particularly Lyme disease, diabetes and heart disease. Therapia practitioners recommend a plant-based diet and since Maine has few restaurants that specialize in such food, the owners realized they needed a cafe to serve patients, and they decided to open it to the public.

“We are close to raw and all organic and all gluten-free,” said Crooker. “We stay away from the word vegan because we do use a little bit of honey.”

Organic, heirloom tomatoes from Five Colleges Farm in Hadley, Massachusetts, which Crooker owns with her husband, Ted Crooker, feature prominently on the Farm Fresh menu. Ted Crooker, a former owner of Crooker Construction in Topsham, is also an owner of Pulse Cafe, a 9,000-plus-square-foot vegan restaurant that opened earlier this month in Hadley, Massachusetts, near the college towns of Amherst and Northampton.

Farm Fresh Cafe is also in a college town, but far from campus in the Brunswick Industrial Park. Yet its out-of-the-way location is enhanced by an apple orchard and a kitchen garden. A picnic table allows for garden dining.

In contrast, Crudo is located on the tourist circuit in the Northeast Harbor village, where Moore sees potential for more plant-based restaurants.

“Maine is very geared toward a healthy lifestyle within most communities with hiking, farmers markets and even health education in the school systems,” Moore said. “People are becoming more aware of the benefits of a plant-based diet.”

At the Olive Branch Cafe in Lewiston, which was opened by the Auburn Seventh-day Adventist Church four years ago, kitchen manager Kim St. Clair said the state’s restaurant scene is lagging “behind the times,” judging by the demand she sees for vegan food.

She said the restaurant’s customers include a number of regulars “who will drive 40 minutes to come here because there just aren’t any options where they live.”

“People are constantly asking: ‘Are you going to put one in South Portland? In Augusta?’ ” St. Clair said. “I think there is a growing demand as people are learning that plant-based food can be delicious.”

Michael Tardif, who owns the Taste of Eden in Norway with his wife, Sonya Tardif, gets the same requests. The Tardifs ran the restaurant in Bethel for six years before moving the business to Norway nine years ago.

“People ask us to go everywhere,” Michael Tardif said. “They find us in this little town of Norway, Maine, and say, ‘I wish I had one of these in my hometown.’ ”

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

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