BRUNSWICK — There was a time, 20-plus years ago, when I resented Wild Oats a little. I’d come home from California for visits and feel a pang when I opened the bread drawer and saw those loaves of Wild Oats honey oat or Anadama my father liked so much. My mother had been a great baker of bread until she developed dementia, and he was rightfully gleeful about the new bakery in town supplying him with the next best thing to her oatmeal or her Cuban or her whole wheat bread.
But it made me sad and hypercritical. What was so great about Wild Oats anyway? It wasn’t her oatmeal bread. There was nothing like a hunk of that spread with butter.
But now I live five minutes from Brunswick’s busy bakery/lunch spot and I have come around in a big way. Over the years Wild Oats, owned and operated by Becky and David Shepherd, who started it in 1991, has grown to encompass a cafe and seating area that always seems well populated, whatever the hour.
The place is so popular that this winter my vegan carpenter took lunch early so he could be sure to get a bowl of whatever vegan soup the cooks there had that day (maybe minestrone, split pea or West African peanut) before the rest of the virtuous-eating Midcoasters got there. It’s possible he just wanted to leave the ruin of my bathroom remodel, but he did look genuinely excited about that soup.
Everything is homemade. On any given day there might be 15 soups or chilis on offer at the soup bar, virtually all of them enticing. After sampling (I ladle a bit into a tiny plastic cup to taste and no one has ever scolded me), I was torn between the fish chowder (always a favorite) and a crab and corn chowder, but went with the latter since the fish chowder is available every Friday. A cup, which was really a small bowl, is $4.25 and comes with a slice of bread from a tub full of whatever the day’s selections are.
I took a piece of potato bread, which was ridiculously greedy since I also ordered a half sandwich of the always delicious curried chicken salad and hardly need more bread. But it’s too nice to pass up. With tip, this brought me exactly up to the Eat and Run budget of $10.
I make good soup and I make good sandwiches, so I could have done the same at home for a little cheaper. I also could have taken it all to go, and have done so when I’ve been in a rush. But what I love about Wild Oats is both that variety and the sense of community. It’s a warm place, perpetually smelling of bread and a hint of coffee and chocolate. I’ve never gone in there without running into someone I know.
It’s clean and homey. I like the chunky dishes the sandwiches come on, the thick-rimmed bowls they use for the soup, all so bland as to be almost institutional. They reinforce how simple and unpretentious Wild Oats is. But the place is also somehow forward thinking. I mean, they make a tofu and sweet potato stew, vegan, for that carpenter of mine.
There are also grilled panini sandwiches, gardenburgers, quiches and a display case full of salads, including the curry chicken salad and its regular rival (in my mind), the equally delicious tarragon chicken salad, which can be ordered served on top of greens.
And then there is the matter of dessert. Despite the budgetary considerations of Eat and Run, I went and stood in front of what I like to think of as the Library of Outrageous Decadence, well-lit glass shelves lined with cookies, bars and brownies. My son would have gone for a basic chocolate chip cookie if he’d been there, or maybe he would have dragged me over to look at the fat, full cupcakes with their perfect frostings or the basket full of whoopie pies.
But left to my own devices, I decided to try something more exotic, a chocolate peanut butter cookie topped with a generous smear of salted caramel, smashed flat and spreading across the middle of the cookie. Like the other cookies, it cost $1.95. I took it home and placed it on the counter, telling myself I’d have it with my afternoon tea, in a few hours. At 4 p.m., when chocolate is so often required.
Five minutes later, it was gone.
Contact Mary Pols at 791-6456 or at:[email protected]Twitter: @marypols