This summer’s rainy weather failed to dampen activity in Maine’s red-hot plant-based food sector, with accolades, openings and new product launches continuing apace. Among the biggest news is that a vegan doughnut shop is set to open in Orono; Dexter now has a vegan scoop shop; and nut milk maker The Whole Almond recently launched a vegan butter. Before we dive into details, let’s look at some other happenings this season in Maine’s vegan and vegetarian food scene.
When Portland Public Schools welcome back students in three days, the cafeterias will be serving some new daily vegan hot lunches, including taco boats, rice and bean bowls, and a pulled BBQ sandwich, all of which are made with jackfruit. In three weeks when the Common Ground Country Fair returns to Unity, its two organic food courts will once again be jammed with plant-based eats. New this year are vendors offering vegan Belgian waffles, vegetarian empanadas, vegan vegetable sambusas, grilled tofu skewers, and pickled veggie sandwiches on sourdough bagels.
Baristas + bites, shuttered since March 2020, reopened this summer at 469 Fore Street in the Old Port as the vegan and gluten-free b+b bakery. Vegan baker Korren Gnass is in the kitchen. While the pre-pandemic shop offered lunch, the new iteration is a bakery selling cupcakes, whoopie pies and cookies. Husband-and-wife team Andrew and Danielle Camarata bought the business and reopened the retail spot, which continued to ship its baked goods through national retailers while the shop was closed.
In July, Biddeford-based Atlantic Sea Farms launched a new flavor of its small-batch, barrel-fermented jarred seaweed salads: spicy gochujang. It’s made with Maine kelp, daikon, ginger, sesame and gochujang. Atlantic Sea Farms products, including its signature veggie burgers, are sold at Whole Foods and in other health food stores.
All summer long, both Salt + Pepper Social in Newcastle and Frinklepod Farm in Arundel have been hosting ticketed, multi-course, vegan dinners at their beautiful outdoor venues. And in mid-August, the California-based traveling restaurant Southern Fried Vegan returned to Maine, selling its signature fried chicken and smoked BBQ beef to a long line of customers at Lovebirds in Kittery.
Up Route 1 in Saco, Funtown/Splashtown added a vegan veggie burger to the amusement park’s concession stands for the first time. The burger is sold at Mainely Fries, located next to the amusement park’s new Haunted Hotel ride.
During all my years in Maine, I’ve never sampled vegan Anadama bread, until recently. I found it at the new Stone Broke Bread & Books in Gardiner. While most recipes call for animal-based milk or butter, this loaf was moist, rich and entirely plant-based. It is one of many loaves baked at the shop’s community-supported bakery (customers can support the bakery through six-month bakery shares, similar to a CSA), which offers weekly drop-offs in Portland and Augusta.
Decadent vegan cookies, such as s’more sesh, cosmic brownie and cookies’ n creme, are the new items at the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck this summer, while its classic Rad Dawg was named a Top 10 Vegan Dog in the U.S. by animal rights group PETA in July. Meanwhile in Freeport, the all-organic, vegan snack food company Mom’s Organic Munchies was crowned the Maine Small Business Administration’s small business manufacturer of the year for 2023.
Organic, vegan doughnut shop opens in Orono
Assuming all goes according to plan, by the time you read this, or shortly thereafter, the vegan Donut GroVe will be open on busy Park Street in the college town of Orono.
Tiffany Harris and Tracy Vassiliev launched Donut GroVe in 2021. It moved to several spaces in Bangor and Brewer, selling vegan, organic doughnuts, while the pair looked for their own space. They eventually found it in Orono.
Each day, the shop will offer eight to 10 flavors, such as The County Donut (made with potatoes), molasses, hibiscus, pumpkin with dark chocolate glaze, and blueberry cream. Donut GroVe will also sell tea, specialty drinks and coffee.
“We make the blueberry filling with Maine blueberries,” Harris said. “Everything is handmade.”
For now, the shop is open weekends. Once Harris and Vassiliev can hire and train staff, they hope to be open every day. And while the pair is focused on opening its first shop, “we do hope to be in the Portland area eventually,” Harris said.
Vegan ice cream window scooping in Dexter
The by-donation vegetarian restaurant and community center Gatherings 4 Main Street in Dexter has opened a vegan ice cream window. The bases for the housemade ice creams are made from cashews, bananas or coconut. The ice creams are sweetened with maple syrup or agave nectar.
“We will have new flavors every month, but vanilla, chocolate and mint chocolate chip will be a staple,” said chef Tiffany Wright, who added that the restaurant is asking for flavor suggestions from customers.
The scoop shop, which is run by volunteers, is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. The suggested donation for an 8-ounce serving in either a cone or a bowl is $4.
Plant-based, vegan butter launches in South Portland
Known for its freshly made almond and cashew milks, The Whole Almond is now selling a plant-based butter in glass jars. This is not a traditional nut butter, but rather a creamy spread intended to mimic cow’s milk butter.
“I created it through trial and error,” said owner Myranda McGowan, who works out of the Fork Food Lab in South Portland. “The result is pale yellow, spreadable and easy to use.”
The butter is made from cashews, coconut oil, canola oil, sunflower lecithin, nutritional yeast and sea salt. “I spent a lot of time debating canola versus sunflower oil,” McGowan said. “I couldn’t get any in Maine and now, with the war in the Ukraine, a lot of sunflower oils are hard to get. I might revisit the recipe at some point if I can get local sunflower oil.”
Find the plant-based butter the third Saturday of the month at the Crystal Springs Farmers Market in Brunswick, and every Sunday at the Scarborough Farmers Market. Soon, it should be available in local markets and health food stores where the company’s plant-based milks are sold.
Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. Reach her at email@example.com.