No doubt, the new year will bring plenty of fresh food news. But before we ring in 2019, let’s hit the pause button and review the biggest Maine food news, events and trends of 2018. What restaurants opened this year? Which closed? Which foods captured our hearts, minds and taste buds? Here’s a recap, from A to Z:

A is for AQUACULTURE AND AQUAPONICS. If there’s a limit to the demand for Maine-grown oysters, we’re not aware of it, and some argue that farming fish and shellfish could help the ocean’s depleted wild fisheries recover. (Wild fisheries in serious trouble in Maine include mussels, salmon, shrimp and cod.) Nonetheless, proposed aquaculture projects in Maine ran up against local opposition in communities such as Belfast, Brunswick and Kittery, where neighbors fear that proposed fish farms will be too big and threaten their quality of life. Meanwhile, chef Cara Stadler has been dabbling in aquaponics, which combines aquaculture with hydroponics; she is building a giant aquaponics greenhouse in Brunswick next to her restaurant Tao Yuan, hoping it will eventually supply food to her three restaurants.

The Lost Kitchen restaurant in Freedom

B is for BOOKING. Booking a table at the 45-seat, one-seating per night Lost Kitchen in Freedom. In 2018, chef/proprietor Erin French did it again. Last spring, she declined to accept telephone reservations for her insanely popular and highly regarded seasonal restaurant; the previous year, the call volume had been so heavy, it had blocked emergency lines to the town’s fire department. Instead, would-be Lost Kitchen diners had to send in a postcard asking, or in some cases begging, to book the coveted tables. The restaurant got some 20,000 postcards from all over the United States – and the world (and a lot of publicity, too).

C is for CURTAINS UP. Just when we think Maine can’t possibly support yet another restaurant, we hear of yet another opening. (Not a complaint.) Among the newcomers, Cara Stadler opened her third restaurant, Lio, in Portland’s Old Port. Earth at Hidden Pond veterans Justin Walker and his wife/manager Danielle opened their own place, Walkers of Maine, in Cape Neddick. Chef Max Brody opened Buxton Common, where he serves all manner of smoked food and “the best biscuits north of the Mason-Dixon Line,” according to Dine Out reviewer Andrew Ross. We welcomed Forage Bakery to Portland – more good bagels? bring ’em! – and Eaux, serving New Orleans-style food. (They had us at pimiento grilled cheese.) Portland got its first whiskey bar in Independent Ice Co. And if you needed proof that we never tire of oysters, Maine Oyster Co. opened on Portland Street.

D is for DELIVERY. For a few years now, if you wanted to eat pad Thai from your favorite Thai restaurant at home, you’d either call the restaurant or order from, the only big delivery service in the Portland area. But in the past year (or two), third-party apps like UberEats, Grubhub and, most recently, DoorDash have swept into the city. Is this good or bad for restaurants? The question is being debated in kitchens everywhere. As consumers, though, we’re fans – especially in summer when locals have to fight tourists for parking and seats at their favorite restaurants.

Elderberry varieties are being tested to see which might grow best in Maine.

E is for ELDERBERRIES. These tiny purple-black berries are having their moment as natural immune-system boosters. The worldwide elderberry market is expected to grow more than 7 percent by 2022, according to a report from international market research firm Technavio. Pinterest included use of elderberry as one of its top emerging trends for 2019. Elderberries are being grown right here in Maine, including on farms in Freeport and Belgrade. Maine Medicinals in Dresden, which makes elderberry syrup, is the largest producer of certified organic American elderberries in the country, according to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, which is experimenting with a dozen different varieties on its own farm. Sales at Maine Medicinals are soaring, says Geo Johnston, the company’s director of operations. Syrup is just one option – or nurture yourself with elderberry vinegar, wine, tea, or Portland’s Urban Farm Fermentory’s elderberry kombucha.


Noble Barbecue on outer Forest Avenue

F is for FOREST AVENUE in Portland. Woodford Food & Beverage, which opened here in 2016, appears to be as popular as ever. A spiffy new coffee shop, Little Woodfords, opened nearby last fall. An expansive Bow Street Beverage followed on the avenue in February, and Juiced – a juice and smoothie cafe – in May. Rose Foods and Noble BBQ are proving to be solid anchors for bagels and barbecue, respectively, at either end of Forest Avenue. All these new options lead us to ask: is Forest Avenue the new Washington Avenue? In recent years, a stretch of inner Washington Avenue has filled up with trendy restaurants, bars, distilleries, breweries, cheese shops and curated grocers. As space becomes scarcer on Washington, will food-and-drink entrepreneurs shift their focus off the peninsula? Our Magic 8 Ball says “Signs point to yes.” So does Nate Stevens, an associate broker with The Boulos Co. who works with many restaurant owners. Stevens told the Press Herald last year that he considers Forest Avenue a future hot spot for the expansion of Portland’s restaurant scene.

Holding the menu is Lawrence Klang, when he was chef at Portland’s Tempo Dulu. Klang died unexpectedly in his sleep in Florida. A cause of death was not given.

G is for GOODBYE. Around the country, 2018 may be remembered as the year we lost Anthony Bourdain, who took his own life in June while on location in France filming his TV show “Parts Unknown.” The year also saw the loss of acclaimed French chefs Joël Robuchon and Paul Bocuse. Closer to home, we said sad goodbyes to several chefs with ties to Maine’s restaurant community. In March, Lawrence Klang, former executive chef at Natalie’s in Camden and Tempo Dulu in Portland, died unexpectedly at just 47 at his new home in Florida. He had planned to return to Maine for the summer to work at the Blair Hill Inn on Moosehead Lake. Katsuaki Suzuki, co-owner of Ramen Suzukiya in Portland and maker of the restaurant’s superlative noodles, died of cancer in November at age 67. The restaurant closed soon after. David Allen Brown (“Brownie”), kitchen manager at the Muddy Rudder in Yarmouth for 10 years, then executive chef at Unum for 22 years, died in September at age 58. Rest in peace.

H is for HISTORY. Maine’s food history, that is, which the Maine Historical Society celebrated in a year-long exhibit called Maine Eats. From a life-sized ham Italian soft sculpture, in which visitors could take a #sandwichselfie, to serious discussions about food policy, the exhibition explored Mainers’ deep connections to food and farms, and the significance of food to the state’s economy. The exhibit closes on Feb. 9. Its counterpart, “Maine Brews,” which relates the history of Maine beer from Prohibition through the current explosion of craft brewing, closes on Jan. 26.

Sam Di Pietro, owner of Di Pietro’s Market in South Portland, adds to his section of 144 feet worth of Maine Italian sandwiches in Monument Square on Sept. 20.

I is for ITALIAN. And speaking of ham Italians…Fans of the famous Maine sandwich flocked to Monument Square Sept. 20 to watch 11 local sandwich shops spend 25 minutes building a 160-foot sandwich in an attempt to beat the Guinness World Record. Turns out there was no record for an Italian sandwich because there’s no category for it. Oops. Next year, the group plans to try again, if the Guinness folks create a category and can send a representative to document the feat.

J is for JAVA. At a time when hipster-friendly coffee shops are on every corner, serving beans from around the world in every preparation imaginable (French press, cold brew, nitro, affogato), Dunkin’ Donuts has been like the spinster aunt whose wardrobe hasn’t changed in 30 years.

Well, now Aunt Dee Dee is undergoing a big makeover. First came the announcement that the New England-based chain will drop “Donuts” from its name. In September, Dunkin’ launched its first “Next Generation Concept” store in Maine, in Manchester. The store touted its modern design, drive-thru mobile ordering lanes, tap system for nitro cold brew and increased energy efficiency – all changes designed to lure younger customers.


In November, a pop-up espresso shop in Portland turned out to be Dunkin’ testing out new espresso drinks on unsuspecting customers who wandered in, thinking they were visiting the city’s newest coffee shop. It reminded us of the 1980s-era commercials where the coffee in fancy restaurants was replaced with “mountain-grown Folgers crystals.” (In the commercials, shocked diners claim to prefer the instant coffee. We’d bet modern coffee drinkers are more sophisticated.) In December, Dunkin’ opened a second Next Generation store, this one in Westbrook. The updated Maine restaurants are two of 50 nationwide intended to test various new designs; the chain will pick a winning design next year.

K is for KINDNESS. Mainers are beginning to embrace the nationwide burger-that’s-not-really-a-burger trend. According to the company that makes Impossible Burgers, 19 Maine restaurants and pubs now serve the “meat,” which is actually made from wheat and potato proteins, binders, non-animal fats and heme – that last the red substance that makes the burger appear to bleed. Similar products are in the pipeline, some of which “grow” meat in the laboratory from a few cells plucked from a live animal. All are meant to reduce our reliance on killing animals for our food, a trend that is not only kind but also good for our own health, and the planet’s.

Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound in Southwest Harbor decided to sedate lobsters with marijuana before they got cooked.

The lobster emoji, missing a pair of legs.

L is for LOBSTER. L will probably always be for lobster. This is Maine, after all. This year, after lobbying by lobster entrepreneur Luke Holden and Maine Sen. Angus King, the world got a lobster emoji. About time! Holden made more lobster news when he announced a plan to open a wholesale seafood buying and shipping operation on the Portland Pier, then a plan to open a 200-seat lobster restaurant in the same spot. In September, Southwest Harbor lobster pound owner Charlotte Gill sedated a lobster named Roscoe by infusing its water with marijuana smoke. Gill said she was experimenting to find a more humane way to kill lobsters (See K). In the end, Roscoe (we’d have gone with Mary Jane for a name) was released back into the ocean, and Gill found herself under investigation by the state for possible violation of Maine laws or codes.

M is for MARKETS, specifically small neighborhood markets focused on local and specialty foods. Rosemont, the granddaddy of such grocers locally, announced plans to open a new market in Falmouth (and to close its Commercial Street market in Portland). Chef Steven Quattrucci started construction on Monte’s, an Italian market on Washington Avenue in Portland. A cheese shop opened on inner Washington Avenue, and a chocolate shop in the city’s West End. Part & Parcel opened in June, joining Biddeford’s fast-growing food community. In Westbrook, Montecito Market opened on Route 302. And Miccuci’s in Portland celebrated 67 years – admitted, we just threw that in because we love the place. We like to think that all these markets indicate that home cooking in Maine is flourishing every bit as much as our restaurant scene is.

N is for NEIGHBORHOOD BREWERIES. The boom goes on, and not just in Portland. Bath Brewing Co., Black Pug Brewing in Brunswick and Corner Point Brewing Co. in Berwick all opened in 2018. So did Brickyard Hollow in Yarmouth and Odd Alewives in Waldoboro, right on the heels of other breweries that opened around the state in late 2017. (Odd Alewives set itself apart from the get-go by brewing a sauerkraut beer in collaboration with Maine’s famous Morse’s Sauerkraut & European Deli.) How to keep up? Grab a Maine Beer Trail map and hit the road (but please bring a designated driver).

O is for OLD FASHIONEDs, which are back in fashion. Invented by a Kentucky bartender in the late 19th century, the Old Fashioned became the official cocktail of Louisville in 2015, and is showing up on menus everywhere, including in Maine. According to the magazine Drinks International, in 2018 the Old Fashioned was, for the fourth straight year, the world’s best-selling classic cocktail. Andrew and Briana Volk, owners of the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, offer a traditional Old Fashioned at their bar and include a classic version in their new cookbook, “Northern Hospitality.” Portland’s new whiskey bar, Independent Ice Co., serves a Rufus Page Black Walnut Old Fashioned, made with Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, sugar, black walnut bitters and orange peel.


We may have Don Draper, the lead character in the TV series “Mad: Men, to thank for the resurgence. It was his favorite drink.

P is for PORTLAND. And THE BIGGEST FOOD NEWS OF 2018 was… the designation of our fair city as Bon Appetit magazine’s Restaurant City of the Year. Portland beat out great food towns like New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles, the other Portland (ha!) and plenty of others, too. Sure, there were downsides. Announced at the height of the tourist season, this honor led to restaurants being immediately overrun by magazine-toting crowds and tourists going nuts trying to sample every dish mentioned in the magazine’s two-page spread. But hooray for us!

Q is for QUICK, SURRENDER THAT STRAW! What started as a wave of concern over single-use plastics in the environment became a tsunami of straws as dozens of restaurants in Maine and throughout the nation pledged to eliminate plastic straws and cocktail stirrers from their drinks. Next up: Single-use plastic cups? Here’s hoping so!

R is for RESURRECTION. July was a dark month for Portland food and drink fans. First, the owners of Fork Food Lab in Portland told the food entrepreneurs who use the well-equipped commercial kitchen that they were closing shop and everyone needed to be out by September. Then, beloved pub Three Dollar Deweys announced it was closing its doors after 40 years serving craft beer in the Old Port. Fortunately, before we could even dry our tears, we got good news: The owners of the Fork Food Lab building on Parris Street reached an agreement with the Sustainability Lab in Yarmouth to partner up and keep the place running as a non-profit. And a Maine entrepreneur announced he’d purchased Three Dollar Deweys and hopes to be serving pints again by March.

S is for SECOND LOCATIONS. Are two eateries better than one? A number of Maine proprietors will soon be able to tell us. After more than 50 years in Kittery, Bob’s Clam Hut chose inner Washington Avenue for its second spot this year, taking over the former Three Buoys location on the corner of Washington and Cumberland avenues. Duckfat’s Rob Evans gave fry-craving diners a second option, when he opened his long-dreamed-of Duckfat Frites Shack on Washington Avenue, in partnership with Oxbow Blending and Bottling. Also on Washington Avenue, if your foraging doesn’t range as far as Lewiston, you can now enjoy Forage bagels in their beautiful new home here. Meanwhile, Elsmere, the popular South Portland barbecue restaurant, picked Deering Center in Portland for its second home of wood-smoked food, and Two Fat Cats ventured into South Portland (does that make it Four Fat Cats?)

T is for TABLEWARE. Gone are the days of square white plates that acted as a blank canvas for chefs with a squeeze bottle and swirls of colorful sauces. These days, walking into many restaurants can feel like walking into Grandma’s house, where the plates and utensils have old-fashioned patterns – often floral – and are charmingly mismatched (though never chipped). We’re talking to you, Chaval (Portland), Sammy’s Deluxe (Rockland), Milk & Honey Cafe (Portland), Walkers Maine (Cape Neddick), Chase’s Daily (Belfast) and many more that we just can’t think of right now.


U is for UNUSUALLY HOT. The hot pot trend hitting other parts of the country has arrived in Portland in the form of occasional hot pot nights at Sichuan Kitchen on Congress Street. In 2019, will hot pot be the new poké?

V is for VORACIOUS. A mast year in 2016 and 2017, meaning abundant acorns, beechnuts and the like, led to a squirrel population explosion in Maine in 2018 (remember all the roadkill? Squirrels zig and zag as an evasive maneuver; it serves them very poorly when the predator is an automobile). But the hordes of hungry squirrels were bad news for Maine’s orchardists. MOFGA’s Winter 2018-2019 newsletter referenced the critters in discussing many reports of “vanishing apples” and “missing peaches,” while the September 27 Maine Tree Fruit Newsletter from UMaine Cooperative Extension included an image of unsightly apples with squirrel damage. It also offered this advice: “Numerous apple growers are reporting damage from red and gray squirrels biting into apples. Unfortunately, after talking with wildlife control specialists and growers, there are not any simple, effective solutions beyond shooting them. If you are looking for good recommendations, you can stop reading, because that is all I have.” Toward the end of the same report, it was noted that squirrel meat “is considered a delicacy in Southern states for its nutty flavor.”


W is for WINE WEEK. Further illustrating our maturation as a food city, in 2018 Portland hosted its first Wine Week. Organized by local sommelier Erica Archer, the celebration of all things vinous included sunset wine sails, wine dinners, a look at historical wine lists and about 40 other events that may be just the start for a festival that wine lovers hope will be here for years to come.

X is for X’ED OUT. Good night and good luck to a number of restaurants that shuttered this year. In Portland Abilene, Babylon, Big J’s Chicken Shack, Bolster Snow, Crooners and Cocktails, and Tempo Dulu closed their doors, while Grace is to close at the end of the year. The Pop-up Uncle Billy’s BBQ came and went in about four months, while Aurora Provisions, a popular cafe and market on the West End, had a good long run of over 20 years before the new owners announced its closure this year. The building on Pine Street is scheduled to be auctioned off in January; here’s hoping some new food entrepreneur will nab this prime neighborhood location and bring it back to life (see R). Statewide, we’re still mourning 15-year-old Francine Bistro in Camden, which never re-opened after the holidays last year. Former chef/owner Brian Hill now works at Paley Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Y is for YOUNG’UNS. Maine’s population is aging, but look into restaurant windows, and many of the faces you see are Millennials. We asked several of our younger friends what they’d add to our A to Z. A partial list: Fermentation, Instant Pots, shishito peppers and sour beer. Young people have also discovered cheese and charcuterie boards, a timeless pleasure that we hope never goes out of style.

The verdict’s in on Lay’s lobster roll-flavored potato chips: They don’t taste like lobster.

Z  is for ZANY. When Lay’s Potato Chips began producing regional flavors, we favored the Southern Biscuits and Gravy because the chips actually delivered on the promise of their name. So when we heard they’d dared to tackle another regional source of pride – New England lobster rolls – in potato chip form we kept an open mind. Until we tasted them. We asked a panel of local experts – a chef, a potato chip maker and the owner of a lobster roll business – to taste them, too, and we passed bags of chips around the newsroom. The verdict? Lay’s failed to trap that real lobster flavor. But ask us if we care. We lucky Mainers have the real thing.

Food Editor Peggy Grodinsky contributed to this report.

Correction: This story was updated at 5 p.m. Friday Dec. 28, 2018, to remove Artemesia from the list of restaurants that closed in 2018. Artemesia remains open.

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