According to my smartphone, I’ve walked more this year than in the past four years combined. The two threadbare pairs of sneakers I’ve worn out since March tell the same story. With all that walking, you’d think that this year, I might be inclined to skip my annual Christmas Day tradition of bundling up and spending the afternoon window shopping. Instead, I’m already scouting locations for the not-so-big event.

This year, I’ve got Biddeford on the brain.

My plan is to start at Mechanics Park, along the banks of the Saco River. Here, on a spur-of-the-moment trip last September (was it really just 15 months ago?), serendipity deposited me in the middle of the bustle of the River Jam Festival, where I was introduced to the pleasures of maple cotton candy ($2) and makeshift waterslides.

Across Water Street, there’s Magnus on Water, a cocktail-centric restaurant that opened just shy of a year ago. Outdoor patio dining service ended in November, but they continue to offer a terse selection of to-go beer, wine and bottled craft cocktails, like a Negroni funked up with a tincture brewed from local hops ($10).

Time & Tide Coffee in Biddeford is a hidden gem. Photo by Dan Konigsburg

Up the hill along Main Street, I’ll stop to peek in at the pastel geometric doodles that decorate the walls of hidden gem Time & Tide Coffee – one of the finest small-batch roasters in New England. Owners Jon Phillips and Briana Campbell bypass the contemporary obsession with single-source beans, instead focusing on concocting blends whose components harmonize. Perhaps the best example is The Commodore, their fudgy, dark-roasted signature blend of Colombian and Brazilian beans ($14 for a 12-ounce bag).

When everything isn’t closed for a holiday, my Biddeford routine always involves a stop at the corner of Foss Street, where I pick up at least one bottle from Lorne Wine. With its outdoor patio also recently closed, the shop has started operating a monthly wine club ($40-$100/month, delivery or curbside pickup) as well as hosting Zoom wine tastings and conversations with winemakers.

The goat-cheese-topped roast beef sandwich, loaded with caramelized onions and greens from Dizzy Birds Rotisserie.

While I’m on the corner, I’m certain I’ll daydream about the goat-cheese-topped roast beef sandwich, loaded with caramelized onions and greens from Dizzy Birds Rotisserie ($11.99), then turn onto Alfred Street, where I’ll secretly be happy that Part & Parcel is shut.

On any other day, I’d be tempted by their panini. I always am when I stock up on Deer Isle’s 44 North coffee (go for the Royal Tar if you’re an espresso fan) and Maine Homestead’s spicy, dilly-bean-esque pickled asparagus spears ($7.95) at this half-grocery, half-deli. My vice is the KSO: a melty, vegetarian sandwich loaded with smoked gouda, tomato chutney and candied jalapenos ($9). (Don’t ask me about the day when I devoured two on my way back from a doctor’s appointment.)

Back to Main Street, I’ll wander around the rabbit-warren-like grounds of the Pepperell Mill complex. This enormous mixed-use campus is home to some of my favorite local food and beverage businesses.

There’s Round Turn Distilling, home of Bimini Gin, a knockout of a citrusy base spirit, as well as BR1, a more savory, warm-spice-toned overproof that ages in bourbon barrels. Both are used in to-go cocktails ($8-$10) that you can order online or purchase in the distillery’s Building 13W shop.

Over in Building 10 (if you can find it), you’ll find Big Tree Hospitality’s mostly wholesale Little Spruce Baking Co. and their phenomenal sticky buns, as well as Night Moves Bread, which was just lauded by Food & Wine magazine as one of the 10 best bakeries in the country. Night Moves’ CSA-like weekly bread subscription ($7.50/week for a gigantic country levain loaf) would make a superb last-minute holiday gift for any local carbophile.

Jackrabbit is a bakery and cafe from Elda’s Bowman Brown. Photo by Anna Brown

Perhaps the most exciting thing going on in the mill compound these days is the buildout and renovation of part of Building 19A, where Jackrabbit, chef Bowman Brown’s counter-service bakery/café looks on target to open this January or February. Plans to reopen his celebrated Nordic-Japanese mashup Elda – an intimate, upscale restaurant where pandemic limitations on capacity make the business model temporarily untenable – remain on hold until late spring or summer.

On the way out, I’ll be faced with a choice: Pass by SoPo Seafood, one of the few fish markets in the area that sell the trays of fresh uni (sea urchin roe) necessary for the recipe Ben Jackson shared with me a few weeks back ($28/tray), or head back to Main Street and wander through skinny-but-charming Shevenell Park. This latter option also allows for a crowd-free detour to check out the new curbside pickup window in Palace Diner’s 93-year-old railcar (and a little wistful reminiscing about their sea-salt-sprinkled banana bread, $4).

Heading this direction also means I can continue along Main Street, to the site of one of the best-kept secrets in the area. Bagel fans have long known that Elements Books, Coffee, and Beer sells Rose Foods bagels in its café. You can still order one with butter ($3.30) or cream cheese ($4.10) to accompany a cup of the bookstore’s house-roasted coffee ($2.30). But without much fanfare, the shop has been selling frozen packages of Rose Foods bagels ($10 for a mixed half-dozen) – something you can’t even purchase in the Portland bagel shop itself.

Before I turn around to head back to my car, I’ll have to wander past Yeto’s and its sweetly kooky interior. In March, right before we all started staying at home to protect one another, this was where I ate my final indoor restaurant meal of 2020. Looking back now, comfort food was exactly what I needed. And the portions were so large, I still feel full.

These days, the restaurant has opened again for limited indoor service. But if you’re not quite up for that yet, they’re ready to help with their Layin’ Low Country Christmas Dinner, a five-course meal featuring prime rib, black-eyed peas cocotte, and a South Carolina-inspired “boil” of smoked sausage, potatoes and corn on the cob ($28/person). A dinner like this leaves you with just one decision: Walk first, then feast, or vice versa?

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of three recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.
Contact him at: [email protected]
Twitter: @AndrewRossME


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