A sign on a window at the former Silly’s restaurant. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

A is for au revoir. Portlanders said goodbye this year to a slew of eateries and bars: Silly’s, Lolita’s, Walter’s, Vignola Cinque Terre, Local Sprouts Cafe, Brian Boru and Andy’s Old Port Pub, although that last got a last-minute reprieve. Biddeford bagel lovers learned they were losing Rover Bagels, which the owners hope to re-open in Massachusetts.

B is for bowls, specifically “lifestyle”bowls. Filled with healthful ingredients, they’ve become “a thing” nationwide, and have caught on in Maine, too. Portland’s new Copper Branch restaurant fills its “power bowls” with items like quinoa, smoked tofu, and beet hummus. Among the “LB Bowls” at LB Kitchen in Portland is “The Kale Caesar,” made with kale, romaine, cashew “cheese,” chickpea croutons, sweet potato, and vegan Caesar dressing. At Blake Orchard Juicery’s two Portland locations, you can order “Smoothie Bowls” made with healthful ingredients like “mylk” (almond, cashew or coconut), spinach, cacao nibs, chia seeds and bee pollen.

C is for cannabis. Maine legalized recreational pot way back in 2016, but implementation of the law has been slow. This December, the state started accepting business licenses. Expect THC-infused cakes and candies, and even a few savory foods, to start showing up this spring.

D is for doors open. Out with the old (see A), in with the new, including, in Portland, Flood’s, a restaurant from Greg Mitchell, co-owner of The Palace Diner in Biddeford; Gross Confection Bar, a desserts-only restaurant from sweets wizard Brandt Dadaleares; CBG, a makeover of Congress Bar & Grill from Jason Loring and Michael Fraser; Other Side Diner, a Greek-inspired diner from Jessica Sueltenfuss; Royale Lunch Bar from co-owner and executive chef Joe Farr; and second locations for Maiz  and Quiero Cafe. Throw in two cider houses, a whiskey bar, a cocktail bar, a bubble tea shop and a few smaller restaurants, and we won’t go hungry anytime soon.

Kelp ready for harvesting from a seaweed farm in Saco Bay. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

E is for expansion, of the culinary seaweed business, this is. Whole Foods listed seaweed foods — beyond snacks (think kelp noodles and seaweed butter) — among its top 10 trends of 2019. And speaking of snacks, Akua company’s kelp jerky – made from “regeneratively ocean-farmed kelp from the pristine waters of Maine” – earned a “special mention” on Time magazine’s Best Inventions 2019 list. Meanwhile, Seraphina Erhart of the Hancock-based Maine Sea Coast Vegetables said the company had “a lovely year, with sales outgrowing the wild harvest.” And President/CEO Briana Warner of Maine-based Atlantic Sea Farms reports that her company is growing by leaps and bounds, growing and harvesting 40,000 pounds of kelp in 2018, then 250,000 pounds this year; Warner expects the numbers to more than double in 2020. The company’s social mission (help fishermen diversify, help fight climate change), its local provenance, and the accessibility of its products add up to food “people are excited about eating,” Warner said, adding “Maine can be the epicenter of clean seaweed.” We second that: Check out how our state dominates this April, 2019 New York Times article on “Seaweed Products to Sample.”

F is for finance.  Dying to share your cupcakes with the world? Need to replace an expensive piece of farm equipment? Hope to start a dairy and make those goats earn their keep? Maine Harvest Credit Union to the rescue. The credit union, which opened in October, is the first in the state to provide financing exclusively to small farms and food businesses.

G is for kitchen gadgets. Instant Pots have staying power. WalMart named them the “Best Gift of 2019” and lots of retailers offered deals on them during the holidays. Also trending: air fryers and spiralizers. Just for fun, we’ll throw in the new Darth Vader toaster; Star Wars fans are probably also dreaming of the kitchenware that the movie franchise and Le Creuset collaborated on (yes, you read that right). Personally, we find the image of Han Solo, frozen in carbonite, as he tries to escape from the lid of a Le Creuset roaster a little creepy. Chef Damian Sansonetti  (probably the biggest Star Wars fan in local restaurant circles), are you getting this?

Let’s hear it for hard cider, shown here at The Cider House in Portland. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

H is for hard cider. Though the fermented beverage has a long history in the state, Mainers began to rediscover it only a few years ago. This year, hard cider really took off with the opening of three cider bars: the Basque-inspired Anoche on Portland’s Washington Avenue; The Cider House on Brackett Street in Portland; and Perennial Cider Bar + Farm Kitchen in Belfast.

I is for innovation. Under a label called “Farmer’s First,” Green Thumb Farm in Fryeburg has joined forces with retailers to introduce new potato varieties to the Maine marketplace. The farm asks retailers which potatoes have market appeal, then experiments with growing those varieties to sell under its specialty label. This year’s potato was the Queen Anne. The program is designed to cultivate new potato varieties in the state and drive innovation in our potato industry.

J is for just desserts: Hey, is it just us and our rampant sweet tooth or did you notice the proliferation of food trucks and carts scooting around Portland this year hawking marshmallows, macarons, cannolis, doughnuts and more? Given that the 21st century iteration of food trucks — we’re talking the gourmet/artisanal sort — has been around for more than a decade now, small wonder would-be food truckers (and carts) needed a new niche. They certainly found a sweet one.

K is for kvetching.  In 2018, we ran a story about excessive noise in restaurants — and we are still hearing about it. Here’s one of many complaints from diners that landed in my inbox this year: “I am one of those who considers being able to carry on a conversation on a par in importance with that of the food on the plate. If that cannot be accomplished in reasonable comfort, I’m not going back.” Add in the rising cost of both restaurant meals and parking in the Old Port, and some say local restaurants give diners plenty of ammunition for complaints.

L is for lobster landings, down 40 percent this year, partly because of a late molt, thus a late arrival of soft-shell lobsters. The impact of climate change on the Gulf of Maine may also share blame, though; scientists warn that warming waters could soon bring the state’s lobster boom to an abrupt end.

Bartender Dan Purcell garnishes an Island Breeze mocktail at Vena’s Fizz House. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

M is for mocktails. Drinkers of all ages – especially millennials –  have embraced non-alcoholic beverages in place of the traditional happy hour. Some drinkers like to pace themselves, alternating Bloody Marys with Virgin Marys. Others want to avoid hangovers. Whatever their reasons, the “sober curious” have never had it so good, with local bars and restaurants developing mocktails that are as sophisticated and creative as their cocktails.

N is for no-shows. If you’re tempted to ditch the restaurant reservation you made a couple of weeks ago, don’t be surprised if you pay a price, literally. Some Portland restaurants have begun charging for no-shows or last-minute cancellations. Empty tables are especially hard on smaller restaurants, restaurateurs say.

O is for oat milk. Alternative milks – soy, almond, coconut – are everywhere, with oat milk fast becoming the front runner. It appeals to people with nut allergies, with environmental concerns about dairy, and with personal concerns about saturated fats. Oat milk sales soared more than 600 percent in the past year, according to Nielsen. Coffee shops like it because it froths like dairy milk. Locally, find it at Bard Coffee and Coffee By Design in Portland, and Elements in Biddeford.

P is for Popeye’s fried chicken sandwich stampede, which caused the national chain to run out of the item. Locally, only the Popeye’s in South Portland sold the sandwiches. After a resupply, the drive-through wait there stretched to 30 minutes-plus, and in our experience, it hasn’t improved. The last time we tried to snag a sandwich, the wait was 45 minutes! Is it worth it? The sandwich is good, but we suggest you park and wait inside to avoid idling your car and polluting Maine’s air.

A Woodford Food & Beverage server holds new paper straws, left, and the last of the plastic straws at the Portland restaurant. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Q is for quitting our disposable habits. Maine restaurants, diners and drinkers led the way in just saying no to plastic straws and other non-recyclables in 2019. Suzie Rephan, manager at Portland’s LeRoux Kitchen, says reusable, collapsible metal straws (complete with cleaning brush and carrying case) flew off the shelves, as did reusable beeswax wraps and silicone bags for packing lunch and storing food. In April, Tandem Coffee Roasters started charging a quarter for all single-use coffee cups. That same month, Maine became one of the first states to ban single-use food and drink containers made from polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam. In October, Portland became the first Maine city to ban the sale and distribution of plastic straws, single-use stirrers and splash sticks. Both state and city bans begin on Jan. 1, 2021.

R is for the return of Maine shrimp. We hope, anyhow. But we’ll be waiting until at least 2022 to find out, since regulators have closed the fishery until then. The fishery has been decimated by warming waters caused by … you know this … climate change. Meanwhile, restaurants that serve northern shrimp are ordering the crustacean from Canada.

S is for spice. What’s hot? Spice leanings can offer a window into what we’re cooking. Christine Pistole, owner of Litchfield-based Gryffon Ridge Spices, says a top seller this year has been sumac, a tart Middle Eastern spice. She attributes the demand to Yotam Ottolenghi’s wildly popular cookbooks. Jessica Moore, owner of Regina Spices in Portland, says jalapeno lime salt and lapsang pepper were her best sellers. She’s carried the specialty salt “forever,” but as Mainers discover Latin food, sales have gone up. Meanwhile, her lapsang pepper (lapsang souchong/black pepper/garlic/salt) “has been really big with vegans and vegetarians,” she said. “It’s a good way to get naturally smoky, rich flavor without bacon.”

T is for tariffs. China’s initial 25 percent tariff on imported U.S. lobster in 2018 sent lobster sales to China tumbling by nearly 50 percent. This year, China upped the tariff on U.S. lobster to 35 percent. And thanks to China’s whopping 80 percent tariff on frozen wild blueberry imports, the berries have fared no better, with exports to China dropping from 2 million pounds in 2017 to 75,000 pounds last year, according to statements this summer from the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine.

Ben Marcus carries out a hemp plant that a customer selected at a pick-your-own-hemp day at his Sheepscot Farm in Whitefield in September.  Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

U is for U-pick hemp. Or not. In September a Whitefield couple opened Maine’s first pick-your-own hemp operation. The harvested hemp was intended for a wide range of products, including CBD-infused food and drink. Then, although hemp-derived CBD won’t get you high, the FDA labeled it a regulated drug, and forbade its addition to foods without regulatory approval. In turn, the state ordered retailers to stop selling CBD-infused foods. Confused? So was everyone else, and the Whitefield couple’s bank and insurance agency canceled their accounts, putting their home and farm at risk. Dirigo, indeed.

V is for vegan, a movement that is practically mainstream. In 2019, Maine welcomed Lovebirds, a vegan doughnut shop in Kittery; Nura, a mostly-vegan hummusiya in Portland; and Copper Branch, an outpost of a vegan chain restaurant that opened in Portland. Many of the state’s omnivorous spots began offering more vegan options. Monte’s Fine Foods in Portland, for instance, sells vegan pizza, vegan Italians, and many prepared vegan foods.

W is for wines, natural and biodynamic. Produced by small, independent vineyards with organic, sustainably grown grapes and no chemicals, additives or added yeasts, biodynamic wines have taken off both nationally and in Maine. Sample them in Portland at Drifter’s Wife, Vinland, Rosemont markets, Bow Street Beverage, the Portland Food Co-op, and Lois’ Natural Marketplace, and at many other locations around the state.

X is for Xota and Extrava, two new craft breweries marked by an X. Xota Brewing Co. in Waterboro is named for the owners’ Australian terriers, Xavier and Otis. Extrava‘s name means “out of a journey,” according to the owners of the new Portland brewery, and represents “life’s journey and the memories created along the way.”

Y is for YouTube. Thanks in large part to Portland’s reputation as a great food town, outsiders galore assessed our town on video. Many of the productions look and sound similar, since all that travel vloggers “from away” seem to care about are lobster rolls and Duckfat fries. Still, these mini critiques of our food scene invoke a fresh sense of gratitude for all that we have. And it’s fun to hear the YouTubers mispronounce the names of local haunts.

Z is for zombielike restaurant workforce. We jest, of course, but the industry’s continuing labor shortage means many cooks and servers racked up many hours of overtime this year, especially during the busy summer season, and we suspect that on really long days they felt like zombies.

Press Herald Food Editor Peggy Grodinsky contributed to this story.

 

 

 

Comments are not available on this story.