Where to stay, where to go, where to eat and drink

24 hours in Belfast for the locavore

The vacation-staycation locals' guide to the Midcoast
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Monday, July 15, 2013 - 3:45pm
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Belfast Maine has so many hidden gems for travelers who want the freshest, most local experience. (Courtesy nationalgardenmonth.org)

Welcome to our new summer series that provides a 24-hour guide to the Midcoast for a variety of personalities, crafted by locals who know this place inside and out. You're not going to see the most expensive and the most obvious choices here. What you will find is the best of real Maine — where to stay, where to go, where to eat and drink.

BELFAST — You have your own garden, you own a CSA share and you're not afraid to ask the waiter 20 questions on where it was grown, if it's local and in season. When the locavore goes on vacation, it's all about the food and drink. Belfast has always had the earthy, artsy vibe, but like its Midcoast siblings Camden and Rockland, this bohemian town has been steadily gaining a hip reputation over the last 10 years, largely due to the artists and new eateries moving in. So come to Belfast where cool meets collectivism and get ready to spend 24 hours in locavore heaven.

Morning: Rise And Shine Darlin'

Our in-the-know sources tell us that The Alden House Inn (63 Church St.), an 1840 house owned by innkeepers Rose Cyr and Larry Marshall, offer affordable rooms, an expansive garden and fresh, homemade breakfasts featuring local ingredients. They use top quality products from local farms and artisan suppliers such as New Beat Farms in Knox for their greens and seedlings, Orwin's Eggs in Belfast for their eggs and and Aurora Mills flour and cornmeal from Songbird Farm in Starks for their Maine grown grains. Some of their specialties include shirred eggs with herbs, chevre and Virginia ham, scones, blueberry pancakes served with Maine maple syrup and smoked bacon, vegetable strata and Rose's fresh-baked popovers with maple butter that people go absolutely bonzo over. They also offer on-site therapeutic massages and to-go lunches (including vegetarian) for your day's excursion.

Mid-morning Activity

July is peak growing season in Maine and if you happen to be up for a weekend, and every Friday Belfast Garden Club chooses a local garden with the "wow" factor and arranges with the owner to have an Open Garden Days tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The various types of gardens (from Japanese to edible to four-season with meandering stone paths) can be found at their website. (Note: gardens with past dates are now closed to the public). But you can simply walk right up to the owner's property and you will be warmly welcomed. All they ask is a $4 donation, which benefits the Club's civic beautification projects.

If you're up any other day of the week, Good Karma Farm and Spinning Co. (67 Perkins Road) is a full-time working farm in Belfast that welcomes tours by appointment. They're like the flippin' Martha Stewart of agriculture. They raise alpacas for fiber and breeding stock; they spin their own yarn on location at the farm and they make their own soap. Good Karma Farm is also the home of Carrabassett Soap Company, now in its 14th year of soapmaking.

Lunch Time, And You're Starvin' Like Marvin

By the time you come back from your pokin' around adventures, it's lunch time and there is no better place for the locavore to have lunch than Belfast's own jewel, the Belfast Co-op, a community-owned health store, deli and café since 1976. Take your time sussing out the entire store first, which offers a locally grown produce department, free-range and organic meats, fresh-caught seafood, Maine-made cheeses, gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian selections, as well as all-natural Asian, Indian, Thai, and Mexican foods and ingredients. (They're one of the only places in town offering craft beer and organic wine selections too—so if you're a fan of Maine made libations, stock up.) And bonus: one of their own staff has his own award-winning beer for sale. Every first Friday of the month, they even hold a free art opening/wine and cheese tasting, featuring seasonal wines and gourmet cheeses from 7 to 9 p.m. But oh, we almost forgot lunch! Sit down at their self-serve cafe after ordering something delicious from their deli, which changes up its specials and offerings daily. For example, Buffalo Chicken Wrap with a side of Asian Slaw for $7.50 or the Mini Huevos Rancheros, an egg with black beans and cheese served in a mini toast bowl served with salsa, sour cream and homefries for $4.95. On a cool day, their homemade hearty soups and chowders also hit the spot.

Mid-Afternoon Activity

When we write another column on Belfast, we'll cover the art scene, but for the locavore up in Belfast for a summer day, it's all about the outdoors. Belfast has a lot of hidden gems of preserves, easements and walking trails, thanks in part to Coastal Mountain Land Trust. We recommend you strap on those hiking boots and hit the Stover Preserve Trail in Belfast (1.5 mile loop), which takes you right to the edge of the Passagassawakeag River, through dense white pine forest. Click here for a map and directions. It's long enough that you get to get back to nature, yet short enough to allow you to enjoy the rest of what Belfast has to offer.

For Kicks, Try This

This one's a two-fer because we're trying to cram every awesome Belfast experience we possibly can into this article. First stop, get your local cheese on (err, is that even an expression?) with one of Belfast's latest tasting shops, Eat More Cheese, "where cheese freaks may worship on the altar of locally produced cheese." (Check out our Penobscot Bay Pilot article on them.) They offer about 40 cheeses from all over the world—but definitely try the samples of locally made varieties. After you've taken two samples of every kind (when you've tried to make it look like you've only taken one), thank owners Tony and Natalia Rose and walk on up the street to Chase's Daily, a vegetarian restaurant that doubles as an art gallery and local farm stand. Enjoy the art while you wander to the back of the building for some of the most affordable and fresh produce, like heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, squash, turnips, and beets. Grab a homemade cookie or scone from their in-house bakery to take back with you. But next, it's just a hop up the street to...

Happy Hour Activity

It would be impossible not to mention Belfast's newest restaurant, The Gothic (108 Main St.), headed up by raw/vegan chef Matthew Kenney. There's plenty of talk about in the raw food vegan and non-vegan lunch and dinner category, but this is happy hour so we'll focus on their artisianal cocktails, such as the popular Cape Aviation (lavender-infused Beefeater 24 gin with Contratto vermouth bianco, lemon, orange bitters and thyme) and locally harvested Pemaquid oysters on the half shell over champagne ice — six for $12 or a dozen for $24.  Doors open at 5 p.m. for the dinner crowd, but they can happily accommodate drinks and small plates.

Dinner Time

This suggestion is going to throw you a bit; and that's the purpose of the "24 Hours in Midcoast" series; not to be predictable or to assume everyone is working off a large budget when they visit. For this reason, we're going to tell you that if you've had on some fancy outfit for happy hour, you'd better bring a change of clothes. You can't get any more locavore than an eat-in-the-rough lobster dinner at Young's Lobster Shore Pound (4 Mitchell St.) sitting at a long picnic table overlooking the sunset on Belfast harbor. Seriously, this is why people live in Maine and live for Maine. Inside the no-frills building at Young's you pre-order your lobster, which comes right off the boat and is held in large salt-water tanks. They also serve up fresh clams, shrimp, fish and crabs, corn on the cob and you can bring your own booze for the table. (Now, you understand why you need to get some of those Maine craft beers or wines from The Belfast Co-op!) This is as authentic as it gets. The price is $24.99 for dinner and includes a 1-1/2-pound softshell lobster with steamed clams. A 1-1/18-pound softshell lobster is only $15.95.

What To Do After

After dinner if you're looking for a chil scene, try Three Tides (2 Pinchy Lane), Belfast's modernist bar and lounge with the funky layout and sweet outdoor deck. They have a brewery on site and the locavore will want to sample their Marshall Wharf craft brews (we recommend the Cant Dog or the Toughcats, after their favorite Maine band). Or for the cocktail lover, every Friday and Saturday night they make a special juice cocktail from fruit they get from local farmer's markets. They just created a strawberry margarita for the Lincolnville Strawberry Festival; they've done a blueberry infused Cosmopolitan and when peaches are fully in season, they have plans to make some kind of peach concoction that will no doubt blow your doors out. Weekends are usually accompanied with music from local DJs, who bring a sophisticated sound to the waterfront.

Hey, you still up for a little adventure?  Belfast Paddle Sports, (15 Front St. at Heritage Park)  just opened this summer and if you happen to be around for their next full moon paddle (July 22), or fireworks paddle during Celtic Festival (July 20) or meteor showers (Aug. 12) this is the supreme way to cap off your 24 hours. Owner April Lawrence will lead a group of six-eight people out in the harbor around 8 p.m. "That gives people who haven't paddleboarded before a chance to get comfortable on the water," she said. "Then we head out to a good spot and watch the sky." Price is $49 per person and you'll be able to enjoy being out on the water for a couple of hours, depending on the group.

The Morning After

Time to clear out, but there are two more "to-go" places you need to check out to complete your 24 hours and that is Belfast's latest juice and smoothie bar, The Juice Cellar (9 Beaver St.) for a raw juice to get your engines running. We recommend the Running on Sunshine (cucumber, romaine, apple, kale, cilantro, parsley and lemon). These energy boosters are reasonably priced at $5 for 12 ounces and $6 for 16 ounces. Owner Chris Roberts also makes his own raw granola, raw tortilla chips, raw donuts and raw chocolates. And finally (phew, don't blame us for the weight gain this weekend), stop by another place for locally sourced food, Scallions (In Reny's Plaza; see Penobscot Bay Pilot's story on them) for restaurant-quality, pre-made, grab-and-go lunch items for your trip back home. Scallions caters to local ingredients, smaller portions and affordable ($10 or less) good, quality food in containers that can be popped into the microwave or oven.

Stay tuned for our next series and enjoy your summer!

Follow other suggestions in our Vacation - Staycation: The locals' Guide to the Midcoast on Pinterest.

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Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com.