Pulling into Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood, you first notice the earthy aroma of roasted arabica beans mingling with hearty hops. Far from the salty air of the bustling Old Port, this former trucker alley is attracting a new kind of tourist — coffee pilgrims and those seeking craft beer and community.
Located on the downslope of Munjoy Hill bounded by Washington and Franklin streets, East Bayside is an emerging nexus of food producers, brewers, artisans, and eco-entrepreneurs.
There are no signs to indicate that you’ve arrived in this newly minted enclave, but as Portland becomes known for handcrafted everything, far-flung areas like East Bayside won’t be kept under wraps for long.
Because it is still off the trammeled track, you won’t be hanging your cap in East Bayside for the night. But Portland is a small city, and moving from one neighborhood to the next is a breeze.
You can easily traverse back roads to the cozy Wild Iris Inn (272 State St., 800-600-1557, www.wildirisinn.com, $89-$185), where just-baked delights like biscotti, bread, and coffeecake pair with organic granola, fruit, and coffee for a perfect Maine morning. If you are lucky enough to score a complimentary bike, you can zip down to East Bayside in minutes. Another option is the Hampton Inn (209 Fore St., 207-775-1454, www.hamptoninn.hilton.com, $169-$199), with Maine’s Sebago Brewing Co. pub and restaurant off the lobby. The hotel’s free shuttle is a fine perk.
The 3 Buoys Seafood Shanty and Grille (111 Cumberland Ave., 207-619-7565) is a friendly corner spot on the edge of East Bayside. This modern shanty has an exhaustive menu of seafood options. Fish and chips ($11.99) may be the house darling, but my money’s on Captain Willy’s famous fish tacos ($15.99). Grilled or fried haddock wrapped in corn tortillas with pico de gallo and fresh guacamole is optimal traveling fuel. Breakfast dishes such as corned beef hash and lobster and cheddar omelets are served all day.
At Silly’s (40 Washington Ave., 207-772-0369, www.sillys.com), a five-minute walk from East Bayside, a waitress describes the scene as “fast, loud, and fun.” This is a diner that feels like a bar. Or is it the reverse? It doesn’t matter when the burritos, pizza, and gourmet vegan meals are this good. The outdoor patio opens at the end of the month.
Start at Tandem Coffee Roasters (122 Anderson St., 207-899-0235, www.tandemcoffee.com). This small-batch roastery, opened by disciples of New York’s Blue Bottle Coffee, is reason enough to visit the neighborhood. Primarily a wholesale company, Tandem has a nano cafe anchored by a La Marzocca espresso machine. Like iced coffee? Try the malted iced coffee ($3.27). This cold brew, sweetened with malt extract and cut with milk, is a balanced refresher with a subtle kick. Owned by Brooklyn transplants Kathleen and Will Pratt, Tandem is the preferred hangout for a cross section of urban creatives.
When the coffee buzz wears off, you don’t have to venture far to switch to beer. East Bayside has two breweries with tasting rooms, Bunker Brewing Co. (122 Anderson St., 207-450-5014) and Rising Tide Brewing Company (103 Fox St., 207-370-2337, www.risingtidebrewing.com). These newcomers to the Portland ale scene draw beer fans looking for a change. Want coffee IPA brewed with java roasted a bean’s throw away? They’ve got that.
If you’re looking for a bar scene you’re in the wrong place. East Bayside, also known as Yeast Bayside, is about craft and camaraderie. We arrived on a Monday when tasting hours were not in effect, but we stumbled into a Maine moment. Inside Bunker Brewing, the team from Eventide Oyster Co., chef Andrew Taylor and owner Arlin Smith, were dropping just-harvested oysters into a vat of stout. The mood was giddy and inclusive. “I had no idea this neighborhood was going to turn into something,” said Bunker Brewing owner Chresten Sorensen, who opened less than a year ago in an industrial brick building that was a former truck weigh station. “Everyone’s rooting for everybody else,” he said.
Around the corner Rising Tide is working on a new tasting room that will be open by June. Both breweries are stops on Maine Beer Tours (207-553-0898, www.mainebeertours.com). The limousine transports beer lovers from the Old Port to the best breweries in the city. The tour now includes East Bayside. “It’s come a long way in a short time,” said Mark Stevens, tour operator, who has trips booked into July.
Running With Scissors (54 Cove St.) is an artists collective, studio, and gallery that’s also on the rise. This summer the painters, sculptors, and potters relocate to a new building at 250 Anderson St. The move will double the size and pave the way for a new fiber studio, A Gathering of Stitches.
While not the kind of place most day-trippers flock to, Indoor Plant Kingdom (200 Anderson St. Unit No. 9, 207-332-7988, www.indoorplantkingdom.com), a splashy indoor gardening center, is vintage Portland. Specializing in hydroponic supplies, which allow plants to grow without soil, the center is one part art gallery, one part botanical inspiration, and worth a visit, green thumb or not.
Urban Farm Fermentory (200 Anderson St., 207-773-8331, www.urbanfarmfermentory.com), a prototypical winery that makes cider, kombucha, and mead, this June opens its doors on weekend nights for tastings. For $1-$1.50 a glass, patrons can sample tea, honey, and apples fermented a few hours before. Mix and match flavors such as dandelion root, rhubarb, and ginger in growlers to go. The fermentory, whose elixirs are now on tap at Portland hot spots like In’finiti Fermentation and Distillation, embodies the pioneering East Bayside ethos. Occupying a series of former truck bays, the spot is the place to rub shoulders with CEOs of the latest food start-ups like Pure Pops and Swallowtail Farm and Creamery.
A few blocks west, Bayside Bowl (207-791-2695, 58 Alder St, www.baysidebowl.com) is where many of these producers spend time after hours. Music, food, bowling, and beers make the perfect way to cap off a day of capturing Portland’s indie spirit.
Kathleen Pierce can be reached at www.kathleen-pierce.com.