Health food stores and natural foods groceries, along with Asian, Indian, and Mexican restaurants, are the usual go-tos for on-the-road vegetarians and vegans. While many of Maine’s restaurants, especially those specializing in farm-to-table fare, offer at least one vegetarian entree, only a handful of restaurants in the state deliver menus catering to vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets.
“Food that loves you back” is the slogan for Frankie and Johnny’s Natural Foods (1594 Route 1, Cape Neddick, 207-363-1909, frankie-johnnys
.com, $23-$36). Inside the shingled restaurant, wood floors and pine-colored walls provide the background for Culinary Institute of America-trained chef John Shaw’s vibrant, internationally seasoned fare. Vegetarian and vegan choices are always on the menu, along with fish, seafood, and chicken options, and many dishes can be modified for the gluten-sensitive. Portions are generous, breads and pastas are made in house, and everything is cooked to order, so plan on a leisurely meal. All entrees come with a soup or salad. Bring your own booze, but leave your credit cards behind since “plastic is not natural.”
It’s the addictive herbal popcorn that first wins over many customers to Little Lad’s (482 Congress St., Portland, 207-871-1636, www.littlelads.com, $4.99), a no-frills vegan cafe, but it’s the affordable lunch buffet at the dineresque spot that keeps them returning. The spread includes soups, salads, entrees, veggies, grains, dessert, and sandwiches, with rotating options such as lasagna, whole-wheat pastas, shepherd’s pie, “chick-in cacciatore,” “linguini and meet sauce” [sic], and bean stroganoff. Fill your plate and bowl once for $4.99, and if by some chance you are still hungry, return to the buffet for $1.
The Asian-inspired fare at Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro (608 Congress St., Portland, 207-347-3111, www
.greenelephantmaine.com, $10-$16) has persuaded many carnivores that going veggie does not mean sacrificing flavor. Every menu item, including wine, is labeled as vegan, gluten free, wheat free, and/or organic. Regulars know to begin with the roti canai, an Indian flatbread paired with a curry dip. After that, favorites include char guayteow, Siamese dream curry noodle, citrus spare ribs, and tofu tikka masala. One taste and you’ll see the light. This place is extremely popular, and does not take reservations.
Since opening on a side street a block away from L.L. Bean’s mothership back in 1986, the unfussy Corsican Restaurant (9 Mechanic St., Freeport, 207-865-9421, corsi
canrestaurant.com, $9-$18) has wooed vegetarians and families with hearty salads and pizzas, vegetable stroganoff, pesto pasta, and easy-on-the-budget favorites such as the lentil burger and Pedro’s burrito with avocado. If you’re craving a taste of Maine, start with a chowder and end with the blueberry crumb pie. Children’s vegetarian choices include PB&J, a veggie and cheese sandwich, and a veggie cracker plate.
No matter when hunger strikes or what your dietary preference, the Salt Bay Cafe (88 Main St., Damariscotta, 207-563-3302, www.saltbayca
fe.com, $8-$24) has you covered. This comfy, casual intown spot has been a local favorite for more than a quarter century, yet its menu never gets tiresome — perhaps because it’s so broad. In addition to the main menu, there are separate menus for vegetarians-vegans, and kids, each with dishes for all appetites. Craving a lighter meal? Opt for a sandwich or salad. Famished? Try the Greek pasta, the char-grilled vegetable plate, or the Caribbean bean cakes. All entrees come with a soup or salad.
Even the culinary poobahs at the James Beard Foundation have discovered Chase’s Daily (96 Main St., Belfast, 207-338-0555, $15-$22), which has twice been nominated for Best Chef Northeast. The daily changing menu is built upon seasonal fresh vegetarian fare, with much of it sourced from the Chase family’s farm in nearby Freedom. It’s a restaurant, but it’s also an art gallery, bakery, and farmers market. (Enjoyed those salad greens or peas? You might be able to take some home.) Breakfast and lunch daily except Monday; alas, dinner is served only on Friday nights.
Despite changes in ownership and location, the no-longer-riverside Riverside Cafe (151 Main St., Ellsworth, 207-667-7220, www.insideriverside
cafe.com, $7-$11) remains an extremely popular downtown restaurant among both locals and those passing through en route to Mount Desert Island or farther Down East. Breakfast is served until 2 p.m., and the vegetarian sections of the breakfast and lunch menus include choices such as veggie Benedict, vegan French toast, veggie burger, and homemade quiche. Pair it with a fresh fruit smoothie, and you’re good to go. Dinner is served on Friday and Saturday evenings, and veggie choices might include eggplant Parmesan and pastas.
Eden Vegetarian Cafe (321 Main St., Bar Harbor, 207-288-4422, www.barharborvegetari
an.com, $16-$21) could turn even the most committed cowboy into a veggie-eating happy hipster. This seasonal restaurant (opens May 21) has been earning raves since Mark and Lynn Rampacek opened it on West Street in 2003. The menu, which changes daily, gives a vibrant, internationally flavored twist to seasonal ingredients, most of which are organic and whenever possible sourced on Mount Desert Island. The Eden bento box is a menu stalwart, but other appetizers and entrees might include a Persian tomato tartlet, split pea soup with house-made smoked seitan sausage, French country tempeh, coconut crimson lentil dahl, or spicy jungle noodles. Don’t miss the iced hibiscus tea or the organic bog jooce, made with cranberry juice sweetened with maple syrup.
Eco-conscious, urban bohemians: She Doesn’t Like Guthries (115 Middle St., Lewiston, 207-376-3344, www.guthriesplace.com, $6-$10) is your happy place. Heather and Randy Letourneau’s Maine-certified green restaurant pairs healthful fare, including veggie, vegan, and wheat-free choices, with local art and eclectic music. Feast on wheat-free fiesta bowls, wheat-free tacos, veggie and vegan burritos, BBQ smoked tofu quesadillas, hearty soups, serious salads, and veggie-rich panini. Now add frequent live jazz or bluegrass.
Michael and Sonya Tardiff, owners of Taste of Eden Vegan Cafe (238 Main St., Norway, 207-739-6090, www.tasteofed
encafe.com, $4-$8) believe a plant-based diet can get rid of many illnesses, and their pleasant cafe doubles as a source for vegan groceries and information. Daily specials, including chickpea Alfredo, vegetable potpie, and harvest nut roast, augment the homemade soups, salads, and sandwiches. Gluten-free and other dietary restrictions usually can be accommodated.
Hilary Nangle can be reached at www.mainetravelmaven