Word last month that the posh menu at Michelin 3-star restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York City would become 100 percent plant-based after its planned June 10 reopening sent shock waves through the food world. Then, just weeks after the announcement, the Nasdaq listed popular oat milk brand Oatly – known for its sassy ads and ability to foam and froth – and share prices jumped 18 percent on the first day of trading.

Meanwhile, after a pandemic hiatus, vegan celebrity chef and Maine native Matthew Kenney is opening plant-based restaurants again, including two more of his upscale Double Zero pizzerias set to welcome customers in Boston and Baltimore in July. The first Double Zero opened in 2016 in New York’s East Village, and other locations include Philadelphia and Venice Beach. (I keep hoping he’ll open one in Portland.)

In May, Frinklepod Farm in Arundel began offering vegan cooking classes in its new outdoor kitchen. The next one is scheduled for June 22. In Portland, weekly plant-based takeout kitchen S+P is hosting a series of all-vegan, five-course dinners at The Public Works, an event space next to Bayside Bowl, including one planned for July 15. Since Gaia’s Plant-Based Kitchen is now working out of the Merrymeeting Kitchen, Brunswick residents have a new spot to pick up its weekly vegan eats.

Finally, as the newspaper was going to press, the Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro in Portland, which has been takeout only for much of the pandemic, was advertising for wait staff.

But that’s not all. A new vegan food truck has hit the road, a vegan restaurant has reopened, a new company is making vegan dog treats and vegan doughnuts are taking over Bangor. Here’s the latest in Maine’s vegan food news.

The columnist’s son, Alden, grins while holding two vegan ice cream cones in front of the Curbside Comforts food truck in Portland. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

Curbside Comforts food truck hits the road

The all-vegan, family-run food truck Curbside Comforts rolled into action with an unannounced soft launch the sunny Friday leading into Memorial Day weekend on Portland’s Eastern Prom – a major food truck hot spot. The next day, the truck (technically a food trailer) was joined on the Prom by both the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck and the Falafel Mafia truck, marking the largest ever gathering of vegan food trucks in Portland.

Curbside Comforts offers online ordering and posts its schedule on social media.

Behind the wheel and the grill are Suzanne and Trent Grace, with help from daughters Kira and Kimberly Cook. Son Cody Cook flew to Maine from Austin, Texas, ahead of the truck’s launch to help organize procedures and production, but his real job is opening new restaurants for the national vegan-friendly brand Chipotle.

Daughter Kristin Cook, who works as an executive producer for the ABC affiliate in St. Petersburg, Florida, manages the truck’s social media, while daughter Kaylin Tracy, an artist, helped with the company’s design aesthetic. Son Corey Grace helps clean and sanitize the truck, while son Cameron Cook has been the food truck’s chief taste-tester.

“This has truly been a family affair,” said Suzanne Grace, who is a long-time vegetarian, vegan since 2011, and who raised her children on plant-based food.

Already one of the truck’s top fans is my 8-year-old son, Alden, a vegan mac and cheese connoisseur who gives the Curbside Comforts mac and cheese two thumbs up. Their version is made with cavatappi pasta and offered with classic cheese sauce, cheeseburger sauce or Buffalo chicken sauce. The truck wins additional points from my son and others his age for its fresh-cut, crispy fries; chocolate and vanilla soft serve ice cream; candy bars; and vegan doughnuts from Peace of Mind Baking in Conway, New Hampshire.

For more grown-up appetites, the Curbside Comforts menu offers burgers (classic and comfort), chicken patty sandwiches (classic and Buffalo) and fries smothered in cheese sauce or gravy. Curbside Comforts cooks with plant-based meats from Gardein and Beyond Meat and plant-based dairy from Violife and Follow Your Heart.

Owner Suzanne Grace says one meal at a time, she hopes “to make a positive impact on the animals we share this world with and open more minds to living a plant-based, vegan lifestyle.”

Robin’s Table reopens

Family also proved key to reopening the long-shut Robin’s Table in Biddeford. The new vegan restaurant launched just 12 days before the pandemic shuttered it for more than a year. But at the end of April, the homestyle restaurant at 420 Elm Street held a soft (re)opening and began serving its blueberry pancakes, sausage and cheese biscuits, chuna salad sandwiches, Italian sausage subs and tofu, lettuce and tomato sandwiches again.

Vegan restaurant Robin’s Table in Biddeford reopened in April after being closed for more than a year. Photo courtesy of Robin’s Table

“A lot has changed since Robin’s Table has become Robin’s Table 2.0,” owner Robin Adams said. The biggest change: Hours and staffing.

“I have no staff, so my family are working weekends with me,” Adams said. The restaurant is only open Saturdays and Sundays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., until Adams can hire help, which is a major struggle for almost all restaurants in Maine right now.

“My daughter and her husband, who both work full time and live in Somerville, Massachusetts, drive up every Friday and go back home every Sunday so I can be open,” Adams explained. Her youngest daughter, who lives in Maine, has her hands full with a 1-year-old, so this daughter’s husband, News Center Maine anchor Chris Costa, is manning the kitchen’s grill in her place.

Adams credits Costa with the popular new breakfast burrito, stuffed with home fries, black beans, spinach and sautéed peppers and onions. Another new item is a grilled biscuit served with avocado and house-made tomato jam. Adams also makes vegan baked goods, including cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, whoopie pies and cakes.

Last May, as the pandemic dragged on, Adams gave up her Biddeford apartment and returned to her house in San Diego. But she continued to pay rent on the closed restaurant. She came back in September to assess the situation.

“I knew that was not the time to reopen,” Adams said. “I had a lot to think about. I returned to San Diego and did a lot of soul searching. I made the decision to sell my home in California and come back to Maine.”

Adams held her first vegan class at Robin’s Table on June 2. Once she can hire staff, Adams anticipates offering more classes. Robin’s Table offers catering, online ordering and indoor and outdoor seating.

After launching in Bangor in January, Donut GroVe has been swamped with demand for its vegan doughnuts. Photo courtesy of Donut GroVe

Donut GroVe opens with ‘lines out the door’

One unanticipated consequence of the pandemic is an upsurge in vegan doughnuts in Bangor. In 2020, Bangor resident Tiffany Harris started making vegan doughnuts to share with family members and friends from Old Town High, class of 1988.

The pandemic had cleared schedules and reduced work loads, and one day while eating the doughnuts and chatting, Harris asked her cousin Helen Curran and friends Tracy Nason-Vassiliev and RJ Boyer, “What do you think if we sold these at a farmers market?” Everyone was on board.

In January, after taking five months to perfect the recipes and work out a business plan, Donut GroVe opened a stall at Bangor’s European Market, a year-round food market held every Saturday. The customer response was instant and intense.

“It was crazy,” Harris said. “Immediately people reacted and wanted them. We’d have a line out the door every weekend.”

It’s easy to see why with flavors that include molasses, s’mores, chocolate coconut, orange creamsicle, strawberries and cream and lemon with an organic blueberry glaze. Donut GroVe makes both cake doughnuts and yeast-raised.

Despite upping its production every weekend, the bakery has continued to run out of doughnuts before the close of each market. Donut GroVe takes pre-orders online for pick-up at the market, and in May moved to the larger Bangor Farmers’ Market, held on Sundays. Donut GroVe rents kitchen space from Fork & Spoon, where its doughnuts can also be found.

In May, Mediterranean Cuisine by TS began selling vegan doughnuts at weekly markets in Bangor, Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Blue Hill. Photo courtesy of Mediterranean Cuisine by TS

More vegan doughnuts

Meanwhile, back at Bangor’s European Market, the departure of Donut GroVe created an opening for long-time, all-vegetarian market vendor Mediterranean Cuisine by TS, which began making and selling vegan doughnuts in May. Mediterranean Cuisine by TS also sells vegan doughnuts at the Bar Harbor Eden Farmer’s Market on Sundays, the Northeast Harbor Farmer’s Market on Thursdays and the Blue Hill Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.

Lebanese dishes, including green goddess hummus, baba ganoush, a gluten-free cauliflower tabouli, pita bread, stuffed grape leaves and rose water-glazed pita topped with toasted sesame seeds are the mainstay of the Mediterranean food made by owner Terri Sleeper.

Sleeper learned to make these Lebanese foods from her Slavic mother-in-law, Florence Sleeper, who learned them from her grandmother-in-law, Alma Sleeper, who immigrated to Caribou from Lebanon in 1913. In addition to learning Lebanese cooking alongside her mother-in-law, Terri Sleeper also learned from her Canadian grandmother, Bernice Gallant, who cooked for Brewer’s Catholic parish and was known for her doughnuts.

“I took her doughnut recipes and converted them to vegan,” Sleeper told me. Flavors include lemon, chocolate glazed, sweet potato with pecans, and Maine blueberry. Mediterranean Cuisine by TS takes online pre-orders for each of the markets.

Plant-based dog treats

New Maine company Wagamuffin makes vegan, gluten-free dog treats. Photo courtesy of Wagamuffin

When the plant-based store at Frinklepod Farm in Arundel had a hard time getting vegan dog treats from a national supplier during the pandemic, Kristin Burgess, who works on the organic farm and is the former longtime manager of Planet Dog in Portland, came up with a solution: She’d make them herself.

The result is Wagamuffin, selling three varieties of treats: Peanut Butter Ginger Snaps, Carob Chip Cookie and Maine Blueberry Biscuit. All the ingredients are vegan and gluten-free, and Burgess uses local and organic suppliers when available, such as apple cider vinegar from Eden Acres Farm in Waterboro and flour from Aurora Mills in Linneus. The ginger is grown at Frinklepod Farm and the wild blueberries are hand-picked by Burgess’ father. Burgess is planning a pumpkin spice flavor for the fall and holiday flavors later in the year.

In addition to the Frinklepod store, the treats can be found at Copper Branch in Portland, Robin’s Table in Biddeford, Reigning Cats and Dogs in Kennebunk, Waggerstown in Wells and on Etsy.

Maine link

The inventor of the Vegg line of plant-based egg products grew up in Greenville. Photo courtesy of Vegg

This final vegan product is not new – it was created in 2012 – but I only recently learned of its Maine connection. Like all plant-based foods, the market for vegan eggs is growing rapidly and one of the players is Vegg, which makes powdered mixes that can create egg yolks, scrambled eggs and French toast. Vegg also sells a baking mix. It turns out the inventor of Vegg is Greenville native Rocky Shepheard, who graduated Greenville High in 1971. Shepheard sold Vegg to a group of investors in 2017 but still consults for the company. Vegg products can be purchased online at thevegg.com. Shepheard recently launched a new product: EcoWave vegan, silicone lids for canning jars that can be fitted with a straw and turned into to-go cups. Shepheard lives in Las Vegas but is planning a return to Maine.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]

Twitter:AveryYaleKamila


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