A new eatery in Brunswick with a vegan-strong menu has tied its opening to Maine Restaurant Week, the 12-day annual meal deal event kicking off Thursday.

“We’ve attracted a fair amount of plant-eaters,” said Oaks & Maple Cafe executive chef and owner David Barter. Oaks & Maple is located at Brunswick Landing in the space formerly occupied by New Beet Market, which Barter purchased in October and ran while developing the new concept.

“One of the complaints at New Beet was, ‘not enough vegan,’ ” Barter said.

In contrast during restaurant week, the Oaks & Maple lunch menu offers a three-course vegan meal for $16.95. It is part of Barter’s campaign to make the restaurant known for “really good vegan food.”

It is just one of many participating restaurants showing off their vegan skills during this year’s popular dine-out event.

While cities such as Baltimore and Portland, Oregon, now have dedicated vegan restaurant weeks, here in Maine our statewide event has included vegan and vegetarian food since it began 10 years ago.

During the 2018 event, at least 40 of the 68 participating restaurants that had signed up by press time are offering vegan dishes and at least 56 are offering vegetarian options. These menus are easy to spot since the event website has a search feature for both.

Barter is hoping his vegan kumara cakes, which are the size of a small crab cake and made from sweet potatoes and spices (Kumara is a New Zealand word for sweet potatoes), will help him win the hearts of plant-based diners.

“Everything in them is trying to offset the sweetness of the sweet potato,” Barter said. “Away from pumpkin-ey.”

The cakes come with a bright dipping sauce made with cashews and coconut milk and flavored with basil.

Potatoes of another kind are highlighted on the restaurant week menu at Emilitsa in Portland’s Arts District. Its special event menu features two vegan potato dishes: skorthalia and fassolakia meh patates. The first is a classic Greek dip made from potatoes and garlic (one of three vegan appetizer choices), and the second is the vegan entree choice.

“A lot of people in Greece eat this on a daily basis,” Emilitsa executive chef Niko Regas said about the fassolakia. “It is very straightforward. It’s organic green beans and new potatoes. There’s a little wine as well to give it sweetness.”

Emilitsa’s meal deal costs $35 for a three-course dinner.

At Evo Kitchen + Bar in the Old Port, the restaurant week menu allows diners to try any three items from the regular menu, which features 10 vegan dishes. These plant-based options include lentil soup, stuffed grape leaves and root vegetable hummus. According to manager Karina Richardson, many of the restaurant’s vegan dishes are best-sellers.

“Chickpea fries are very popular, and the falafel is always really popular,” Richardson said. “The muhammara is a really good choice if people are into hummus. It is made with roasted peppers and walnuts and pomegranate molasses. It’s totally vegan and approachable like hummus.”

But if you plan to order all plant-based during restaurant week, take note that Evo’s $45 meal deal price assumes diners will order at least some of the higher cost meat and fish dishes, rather than all lower-cost vegan options. As a result, it’s less expensive to pay the regular a la carte price for vegan dishes. Richardson told me via email that vegan patrons should tell the server they want to “order off the regular rather than the MRW menu.”

Oatmeal pudding brûlée will be Sue Lie’s vegan dessert during Maine Restaurant Week.

Sur Lie on Free Street in Portland faced a similar pricing dilemma with its restaurant week menu that also assumes customers will order the expensive meat-based dishes. At press time, the tapas restaurant was working on options to ensure patrons who order all-vegan still get a deal.

For restaurant week, Sur Lie offers four dishes for $35 from a menu that includes four vegan dishes and a number of vegetarian dishes that can be converted to plant-based. One unique vegan dish is their oatmeal pudding brûlée, where the sugar is burned as it would be on a crème brûlée.

“The oatmeal pudding is an homage to my maternal grandmother’s go-to breakfast for us,” Sur Lie chef Emil Rivera told me. “The original recipe uses milk and cinnamon but we substitute the milk with coconut milk and we add cardamom in addition to the cinnamon. The profile is pretty aromatic and comfortable.”

Oaks & Maple in Brunswick is offering another notable vegan dessert during restaurant week. The individual tarts showcases the restaurant’s ground-in-house peanut butter, which is mixed with coconut milk and thickeners, and rests on a crust of dates, peanuts, walnuts and pistachios, “and then it’s straight-up chocolate ganache,” Barter said. The tarts are “not very big but they’re very rich.”

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

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