Chalk it up to the adventurous culinary ethos radiating from Portland or to the influence of the back-to-the-landers who reshaped the state’s cultural environment in the 1970s, but knockout vegetarian cuisine isn’t hard to come by in Maine. And I don’t mean skipping the meat dishes at one of Portland’s small-plate emporiums. All along the coast (and, to a lesser extent, inland) are chefs treating vegetarian as a cuisine to dabble in rather than as a restriction. Some of the state’s most talked about restaurants avoid meat altogether, while others split their menu more or less down the middle. And if you’re tired of corn dogs and turkey legs, there’s even a whole country agricultural fair with a vegetarian bent — more than a quarter of the 40+ food vendors at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s Common Ground Country Fair are all-vegetarian or veg-friendly, and vegetarian cooking demonstrations abound.
The Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro
Chef and owner Dan Sriprasert’s veggie Thai restaurant has all the curries, stir fry, and noodle dishes you’d expect, and Sriprasert goes in heavy on soy meats, ginger, lemongrass, and tamari. Everything is farmers-market fresh and artfully plated, and with its stone walls and leather booths, the mod-rustic room has a cool factor you won’t find at your corner takeout joint.
The New England outpost of lauded chef and plant-food evangelist Matthew Kenney, The Gothic puts a smart, contemporary spin on vegetarian cuisine. Small plates let locally grown and foraged morsels speak for themselves. A simple dish of something like cabbage and beets with cashew yogurt has never looked so good or seemed so hearty.
She Doesn’t Like Guthrie’s
Lifted out of Greenwich Village in 1960 and plunked down in working-class Lewiston, Guthrie’s is a bohemian café with a menu that skews southwestern. Omnivores will find a few meat options, but the burrito list is dominated by creative vegetarian varieties: sweet potato-and-spinach, kale-and-brown-rice, pineapple-and-BBQ-tofu, and more.
Part farmstand and part restaurant, Chase’s Daily is owned and operated by Penny Chase and her family. The restaurant, housed inside a refurbished 1888 building, has polished wood floors, a handful of tables, and a counter with red leather stools. The menu incorporates produce from the Chase family farm, and the bounty can also be found for sale in small tin wash tubs. Offerings encompass a variety of cuisines and may include everything from pizzas to Thai-inspired fried rice and Latin-infused black beans and rice.
Not every dish is vegetarian-friendly at this eclectic Bayside hole-in-the-wall, but the multi-page menu is so vast and varied, vegetarians end up with some two-dozen entrees to choose from. When Silly’s opened in 1988, most people thought a “vegan” was an alien from Star Trek. Today, the Silly’s brass brags that everything but the tortillas are made in-house.