Most tourists love Maine’s clam shacks and lobster restaurants. Vegetarian travelers? Not so much.
With little more than fries or an iceberg salad to offer, these menus provide scant fare to satisfy the traveling vegetable-eater.
But there’s at least one major exception.
For the past four years, The Taste of Maine Restaurant on Route 1 in Woolwich has been serving a selection of vegan dishes.
“(T)hey have a whole vegan menu!” Adrianne D. of San Diego, California wrote on the Yelp.com page for the restaurant. “Shocking for a seafood restaurant in a small town in Maine.”
The iconic Maine restaurant – with its giant red lobster, osprey cam, souvenir shop, sweeping views and campy interior – is known for its lobster rolls and entrées such as baked stuffed scallops and haddock supreme. But right next to those on the menu these days are such items as vegan nachos, walnut-oat burgers, vegan cheese pizza, mushroom stroganoff and soy cheese ravioli. Raw cucumber cashew dressing is house-made and vegan. The prices for these items range from $8.99 to $15.99.
“We said ‘let’s put a few items on our menu,’ and surprisingly, a number of people come back here because of the vegan menu,” said Candy Gregory, who owns the family restaurant with her husband, Scott.
The Gregorys bought the business from Candy’s brother Larry Crooker in 1995. Crooker, who owns Estes Lobster House in Harpswell, built the restaurant in 1978.
On a recent rainy Wednesday when I visited the Taste of Maine with my parents and my toddler, I asked the waitress about the walnut-oat burger. She said it was made from scratch and admitted it was her go-to meal during most of her shifts. She recommended topping it with salsa, and added that she was a fan of the mushroom stroganoff, too.
While my parents ordered off the traditional menu, my son and I started out with the vegan potato skins with broccoli. The potatoes were crispy and the broccoli was cooked al dente. The potatoes were topped with a gooey layer of melted vegan cheese. I’ve never been a big fan of vegan cheese shreds, but someone who likes them would really enjoy this appetizer.
For an entrée, I ordered the walnut-oat burger. It was pleasingly chewy and had a sage-scented flavor reminiscent of Thanksgiving stuffing. I swapped out the tomato slices for salsa, chopped up my pickle, added the lettuce and was pleased with the results. So was my little guy. I would definitely order it again.
I asked Candy why she decided to add the vegan menu. It all began, she said, when a brother was diagnosed with cancer. Coming from a big family, Candy said all her siblings wanted to do whatever they could to help him fight the disease.
“We so support him,” Candy said.
So much so that a group of 10 siblings and spouses joined him for a 10-day, all-vegan, Christ-centered retreat at The Voice in the Wilderness Mission in western Massachusetts. Along with cooking classes, Candy said the experience featured “saunas with cold showers, praising Jesus and eating vegan.”
“We enjoyed it and felt better when we ate that way,” said Candy, who recalls that they all prepared a big vegan family dinner when they returned. She then admits: “Not that we stayed that way.”
But her brother, whose cancer is in remission, continues to eat vegetarian, she said. And the vegan offerings continue in their prominent spot next to the lobster rolls on the Taste of Maine menu.
“The (vegan) menu was (originally) a lot bigger, with ice cream and soups,” Candy said of its evolution over the past four years. “But we weren’t getting a big enough turnover for those items, so we just keep it manageable.”
No matter. Traveling vegetarians will continue to find the length of the menu and its contents both surprising and satisfying.
Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be contacted at: