For weeks, I’d been thinking about a scrumptious-sounding beef stew with potatoes and parsnips that I noticed on the menu at Terrarium when I’d briefly checked the place out early in the new year. On a bright 21-degree day (that was the high) in early February, I decided the time was right for something homey and warming.

But when I got to Terrarium, a combination bar/cafe/tropical plant store at the edge of the Old Port in Portland, the stew had vanished. I asked the fellow working there, who turned out to be owner Rob Sinnott, what happened. He explained that I was the first person who has ever asked for it and it had been taken off the menu. He did add that his wife, Anna, who is the cafe’s cook, would be thrilled to hear of my interest.

My luck didn’t improve. The two daily soups (one is always vegetarian) and the guacamole were also temporarily absent from the small array of snacks that day, the reduced menu because Anna and the couple’s daughter were both home sick. (Recent options have included Portuguese kale soup, tomato soup, and vegan three-bean chili.)

So, I chose among the hummus with pita ($6), mac & cheese ($4), crackers ($3), housemade Chex mix ($4), and garlic bread ($3). It wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind, but at the moment the menu tilts in the direction of the drinking/snacking crowd. Terrarium also offers wine, cold and hot drinks and local beer. The place, which opened last summer, is figuring out the right mix of ingredients.

The Sweet & Spicy Hummus at Terrarium in Portland. Photo by Peggy Grodinsky

I was tempted by the garlic bread, or rather its description on the menu, “cheesy, garlicky deliciousness,” but in the end I went for the Sweet & Spicy Hummus, which is made with the unconventional additions of curry, turmeric, ginger and maple syrup. Sinnott took a break from preparing for a make-your-own terrarium class — the store offers scheduled and customized workshops — to handle my order.

The hummus, which was mild, tasty and really more of a bean dip than a classic hummus, arrived with soft, puffy pita, which Sinnott had warmed up. A nice touch. But my favorite thing may have been the red carrot sticks, which were attractive and earthy sweet, more like summer carrots than storage ones. The jolly, chatty Sinnott said the farmer from Stonecipher Farm, in Bowdoinham, had just dropped off a big bag with an admonition, “Do NOT peel these carrots.” Smartly, Sinnott listened.

I ordered some Chex Mix to go for my partner, but please do not tell him as I ate the entire carton before he came home. The British have a word for foods like this that are hard to stop eating — moreish. The mix is made with Miyoko’s vegan butter, a highly regarded cultured vegan butter from California. Although the menu is limited and quirky, Terrarium seems to take the items on it seriously.

You can snack at Terrarium, a combination plant store/bar/cafe, among the tropical plants. Photo by Peggy Grodinsky

On a cold winter’s day, with reports of an arctic blast headed toward Portland, it was pleasant to linger over lunch in the warm, humus-smelling air in the roomy, brick-walled space surrounded by orchids, philodendrons, anthuriums, coffee, pineapple and Swiss cheese plants. As I sat at a bamboo, glass-topped table, I felt as though I’d alighted in a warm, tropical terrarium myself. Sinnott, whose enthusiasm for (and expertise about) plants is catching, brought a vanilla bean orchid to my table and tried to talk me into attempting bonsai.

While I nibbled, admittedly at the irregular lunch hour of 2 p.m., only one other person showed up looking for a meal. What did he ask for? Soup.

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