Maine’s James Beard Foundation Award Winners Itinerary
It’s no secret that Maine is home to some of the country’s best cuisine – ever since Sam Hayward of Fore Street in Portland won the Best Chef: Northeast award from the James Beard Foundation in 2004, Maine’s culinary scene has simply exploded with creativity and well-deserved recognition.
Why not come to Maine and eat your way through the state as you visit the award winners (and nominees)? You will get to experience an expertly curated sample of the many kinds of foods loved by locals and visitors alike.
Our tour begins in Biddeford, which is fast becoming the “new” Portland with restaurants drawing upon the wealth of talent one city alone can’t contain. Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell of the Palace Diner have both been nominated twice for Best Chef: Northeast so grab a seat in the barrel-roofed diner built in 1927 and see what’s fresh that day. Nominated in 2022 are other Biddeford spots: Magnus on Water (check out the relaxed outdoor dining area) and Elda – for a fine dining experience and tasting menu.
Heading north to Portland, Fore Street is in good company with seemingly endless nominees and winners; Eventide’s chefs Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley won Best Chef: Northeast in 2017 and the Old Port’s fusion seafood joint always draws crowds with their fantastic selection of fresh Maine oysters and the brown butter lobster roll. Other winners include Rob Tod from Allagash Brewing Co. who in 2019 won in the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Producer category.
The list of nominees and semifinalists in Portland is epic and you are sure to delight in the innovative meals these chefs and their establishments create each day. Recent James Beard award nominees include Vien Dobui of the hip noodle house CÔNG TỬ BỘT, Courtney Loreg’s farm-to-table Woodford Food and Beverage, and Damian Sansonetti of Chaval – a casual French and Spanish café on the West End. The fresh pasta spot Leeward was a 2022 semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, and its chef, Kate Fisher Hamm, was named a semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Norimoto Bakery’s European pastries placed Atsuko Fujimoto on the semifinalist list for Outstanding Baker. The Jewel Box, cute speakeasy bar, was a semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program. BaoBao Dumpling House, owned by culinary visionary Cara Stadler, was a semifinalist for the Outstanding Hospitality award. In 2018, Allison Pray was a semifinalist for the Outstanding Baker award for the inestimable Standard Baking Co.
Portland has so many restaurants that leave people saying, “That was the best meal of my life,” that if one place is booked, you know another amazing dining option is just a block away.
Another stop could be at a two-time finalists’ latest venture: ice cream. Krista Kern Desjarlais was nominated as Best Chef for her restaurants Bresca and The Purple House, but in the summer, you are more likely to find her at her lakeside ice cream shack Bresca & The Honeybee, dishing out unbelievable flavors.
It’s time to loosen your belt and head to MidCoast Maine to our two final James Beard award winners. In the MidCoast town of Rockland (home of the Maine Lobster Festival, another wonderful reason to visit) you will find Melissa Kelly’s Primo. Primo uses its own five-acre farm to provide produce and meats for the ever-changing menu which earned Chef Kelly multiple James Beard award nominations and the Best Chef: Northeast award in 2013.
The last winner on this itinerary is a modest take-out stand in Penobscot. Bagaduce Lunch is a summertime favorite for fried clams, scallops, onion rings and lobster rolls. It earned the American Classic award from the James Beard Foundation in 2008 for its commitment to the classic Maine lunch so come and grab a picnic table and enjoy your meal watching the reversing falls of the Bagaduce River.
Some of Maine’s beloved James Beard award-winning restaurants have closed, making way for the next generation, as it should be. But one thing won’t change and that’s the certainty you can come to Maine and have one heck of a meal.