Farm stands, local bakeries, village natural food shops, farmers' markets, and off-the-beaten-path seafood purveyors - these are the spots that can really make you feel you've discovered a place.
Finding what's best locally takes you from being a tourist to a traveler. And from Bar Harbor to Bass Harbor, Mount Desert Island's villages offer the best of Maine's local produce, seafood, and artisanal food.
If you're renting, it's essential to figure out where to shop. I usually start my vacation by stocking up on the basics at the Hannaford supermarket in Ellsworth or Bar Harbor. Then I supplement with what's local. Frankly, sometimes the experience of going to these small markets is as much the reason for patronizing them as the products.
When we started visiting Mount Desert Island, we were lucky enough to have two friends with the collective wisdom of almost 80 years of island experience. They shared some of their "favorites" with us - and, interestingly, most of those places are still in business today.
In addition, we've added our own discoveries. I'd love to hear yours.
101 Cottage Street, Bar Harbor, 207-288-8480
It was my good luck that the Hannaford supermarket on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor did not have fresh ginger root because they referred me across the street to A&B Naturals. What a discovery! There I found an appealing array of organic produce representing a number of local farms and orchards, including College of the Atlantic’s Beech Hill Farm, where I love to shop, but which closes at 4pm. In addition to fresh produce, A&B Naturals stocks groceries, eco-friendly household goods, supplements and natural body care items. There is an organic juice, smoothie, and espresso bar and a little café with organic soup, sandwich, and salad options. If you are renting and want to cook at home, it is easy to find wonderful fresh seafood on Mount Desert Island. Now, thanks to Kathryn Arbach, you can also easily source the best of local farms.
Beech Hill Farm
Beech Hill Road, Mount Desert, 207-244-5204
Farm stands are hard to find on Mount Desert Island and that’s one reason we’re thankful for Beech Hill Farm, a project of College of the Atlantic. As part of their hands-on teaching mission, they produce certified organic food for sale to the community. From their gardens you’ll find fresh herbs, salad mixes, heirloom tomatoes, spinach, rhubarb, and kale, as well as cut flowers and honey. They also offer the wonderful Seal Cove goat cheeses and Smith Family Farm milk, as well as organic jams, coffee, and cereal from local purveyors. I’ve found their supplies can deplete, so go early – they open at 9am. Check the Web site for the days they operate. We always bring them our plastic grocery bags so that they can recycle them for their customers.
C.H. Rich & Co.
Bass Harbor, 207-244-3485
My parents lived on Nantucket for years and always lamented the fact that it was hard to get fresh, appropriately priced seafood at retail there. That’s not the case on Mount Desert Island. Our friend who was born on nearby Swan’s Island recommends C.H. Rich in Bass Harbor. They’re open 365 days a year and sell crab, lobster, whatever they’re catching. Last October I phoned to ask if they had any fresh crab. “Nope, not until the spring.” Trying to plan my afternoon, I asked what time they close. “When all my boats are in.” And there you have it.
Eden Farmers' Market
YMCA Parking Lot, Main Street, Bar Harbor, 207-223-2293
I love going to local markets when I travel. They impart as much about a place as do the edifices and monuments. Bar Harbor’s farmers’ market is no exception. It puts on display a luscious array of fresh vegetables, fruits, and flowers, as well as the unique seafood and smoked meats of Downeast Maine. And the local talent with goat cheese and wild blueberry jams is really something to remember. My friends now request those jams for gifts! The artisanal soaps and bath products are lovely, too. Season: Mothers’ Day to Halloween, Sundays 9am to noon.
Fiore Artisan Olive Oils & Vinegars
8 Rodick Place, Bar Harbor, 801-2580
A relative newcomer to Bar Harbor, Fiore is as much of a tasting room as a shop. It is lined with mini stainless steel canisters of extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegars from which you sample blends and infusions of different flavors. Then they pour and bottle it for you. Other specialty foods include imported pestos, balsamic jams, dipping sauces, and gourmet peanut brittle. Although the traditional 18-year balsamic vinegar is most popular, I couldn’t pass up a fig-flavored balsamic. As I was leaving, I bumped into James Lindquist, the chef of Red Sky, who was stocking up on the restaurant’s pantry.
Little Notch Bread Company
340 Main Street, Southwest Harbor, 207-244-3357; 52 Cottage Street, Bar Harbor, 207-288-0712
An innkeeper I know worked in the Little Notch bakery one winter and
told me they used truly outstanding ingredients. You know this
immediately when you try their sourdough, focaccia, walnut raisin
rounds, or baguettes. If you are also looking for a quick, tasty
lunch, you can enjoy pizza specialties, sandwiches, pasta, and chowder
here. Be prepared for some tough decisions – say, deciding between a
sandwich of prosciutto with asiago and roasted peppers on a Little
Notch onion roll vs. hearth- baked fresh pizza featuring ricotta and
garlic, sun dried tomatoes and mushrooms. And be further warned, Little
Notch also offers all of the delicious traditional sweets you may be
trying to avoid – cookies, brownies, sticky buns, and scones. (But,
you have been hiking every day since you’ve been on Mount Desert
Island, haven’t you?)
344 Main St., Southwest Harbor, 207-244-3315
Sawyer’s has been a neighborhood grocer on Mount Desert Island since 1946. It still has the same hardwood floors and a patterned tin ceiling, but it features all of the gourmet fare of this century. The friendly butcher will get you fresh meats and seafood, but you can also find fresh local vegetables, herbs, gourmet chicken sausages, freshly baked pies, cheese, and basic groceries. A licensed liquor store, Sawyer’s offers wine, micro-brew beers, and spirits. They will handle full provisioning for all boats docking in Southwest Harbor and, if you’re off to hike, they have pre-made sandwiches for your pack. Some complain about the prices, but it’s convenient, high-quality, friendly and charming.
353 Main Street, Southwest Harbor, 207-244-3317
Diagonally across the street from Sawyer’s Market is this shop featuring a wide array of cheese, specialty foods, and wine. To help you with your selections, owner/buyer Scott Worcester and his staff offer relaxed, expert advice that can yield some interesting, well-priced “finds.” But don’t take my word for it. The Executive Wine Editor of Food and Wine wrote: “I walked into this place the other day and was pretty much blown away by the selection–not just a lot of wine, but a lot of really terrific wine, from the kind of interesting, artisanal producers that are hard enough to track down in NYC, much less the far northeastern reaches of Maine.”
Triple Chick Farm
Route 102, Town Hill, 207-288-2888
Thanks to Amy and Hartley Rogers of New York, New York, almost 90 acres of open fields and woods on Route 102 have been preserved for the very best agricultural use. In addition, we all now have a new farm stand in Town Hill named Triple Chick, after their three young daughters, offering the wonderful results of their efforts in organic, sustainable farming. When Martha Stewart toured the raised beds of Triple Chick Farm's greenhouses, she marveled at the tomato plants, beets, and carrots. On our visits to the farm stand we've bought flowers, lettuce mixes, onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and bunches of mint, parsley, basil, and oregano. We hope you join us in applauding the contributions the Rogers family is making to Mount Desert Island by visiting their farm stand.