Words by Susan Grisanti | Photos by Lauryn Hottinger
How this town experiments (and why you must visit)
There’s a new guard of food and drink makers in Brunswick that are bringing not only some fresh energy downtown but also a sense of renewed creativity and community. Spots like Vessel and Vine, Moderation Brewing, and Dog Bar Jim have sprouted up within the last year or two and have formed a camaraderie that Ben Gatchell, owner of Dog Bar Jim: The coffee shop on Union Street, calls “building a scene.” From the connection among these new business owners (several of whom are Brunswick natives) a plan was concocted to create ever-changing recipes from their products—something that morphs into something new with each iteration. Some coffee to be part of a Moderation brew, the resulting coffee stout then passed to Nikaline Iancono of the wine shop and bar Vessel and Vine to be made into a cocktail or a baked good, which is then passed to chef Ali Waks Adams (the creator of beautiful feasts every Tuesday night at The Brunswick Inn) to be formed into a new delicacy. These folks are testing their ingenuity within the confines of the challenge, and the resulting energy is palpable on and around Maine Street.
The outcome of each iteration is the starting point of the next... just as the spirit of well-established favorites like Frontier, a restaurant, theater, and event venue, and the singular ICON Contemporary Art gallery influenced and inspired this new wave of businesses and community. I certainly recommend taking a drive to visit this charming town anchored by the grand buildings of the esteemed Bowdoin College, the Fort Andross Mill, home to countless creative spaces, Cabot Mill Antiques, and every week: a lush farmers market and a treasure hunt of a flea market. In the middle of it all is Maine Street, lined with shops and restaurants. There are also, of course, the tried-and-true favorites: Tao Yuan for chef Cara Stadler’s reimagined and perfected Asian dishes, the colorful institution El Camino, tucked just off the beaten path for Mexican, the ever popular Enoteca Athena for a mix of Italian and Greek comfort foods, and somewhat newer to the scene, Taverna Khione for authentic Greek and an extensive all-Greek wine list.
So, on our monthly assignment, photographer Lauryn Hottinger and I come to town to discover new, and share some old, Brunswick favorites.
We begin our tour on Saturday night, at Vessel and Vine, Nikaline Iancono’s debut venture as owner and creator after many years behind the bar at Enoteca Athena and as a wine sales rep, where she became an authority on Greek and Italian wines. Stepping into her space, part wine shop, part wine-and-cocktail bar—stylish vintage glass and barware for sale dotted throughout, and a small space at the back filled with vintage finds—I immediately know that I will return again and again, and this thought is only reinforced when Iancono describes her plan to finish patio space out back for warm-weather dining and imbibing. With big plans to eat our way through the evening, we instead fill ourselves at one stop on Iancono’s tasty mix of small plates. We stick to wine but will return soon enough to sample the cocktail menu, or perhaps take part in classes offered on cocktail construction, pasta making, and wine tasting ... or better yet to feast on one of Iancono’s special multicourse dinners.
A short walk away, Moderation Brewing’s (and Maine State Representative) Mattie Daughtry and Philip Welsh are reviving the experience of a small neighborhood establishment where locals gather to enjoy conversation and a rotating lineup of six beers on tap. Bring in your own food or takeout, or in summer months enjoy food carts and food trucks hosted in the outdoor beer garden. Check Moderation’s website for a schedule of trivia and game nights. Also part of the ever-changing recipe collaboration, and also very much worth checking out: Black Pug Brewing Company on Bath Road and Flight Deck Brewing’s tasting room in the old Naval Air Station (now Brunswick Landing.)
In every town there’s a pivotal spot: despite how known it is, it remains essential, integral, a reliable refuge. Frontier is Brunswick’s such place: a restaurant and bar, theater, and event venue where folks gather around food, film, music, and art. And so, the next day after coffee at Dog Bar Jim, we join a lively brunch crowd and mosey up to the bar to split an order of vegan nachos. Afterward, we pass by Eveningstar Cinema, a charming classic movie theater showing select films, serving beer and wine, and real butter on always freshly popped popcorn. If we didn’t have a full schedule, almost nothing would make me happier than to settle right in for a matinee.
Well, almost nothing could make me happier, but a trip to ICON Contemporary Art is the exception. Today, we catch the gallery preseason and are treated to a tour of gallery owners and artists Duane Paluska’s and Ellen Golden’s own elegant, precise paintings, sculpture, and drawings. Maine’s only gallery to focus exclusively on abstract art, it is one of our state’s not-to-be-missed treasures.
A trip down Maine Street is highlighted by the Frank Brockman Gallery, up in the lovely third-floor space of 68 Maine Street; Hatch, an eclectic mix of antiques, accessories, and baby items, plus one of Maine’s largest selections of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint; and the landmark since 1979, Gulf of Maine Books shop.
Our last stop is a walk through the Bowdoin College campus, to gape at the amazingly beautiful architecture and to take in the Museum of Art, home to one of the earliest collegiate art collections in the nation which has grown to 20,000 works of art and artifacts. Today, we find a striking show with items drawn deeply from the rich collection of original objects. There’s also the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, named after Bowdoin College graduates and Arctic explorers Robert E. Peary and Donald B. MacMillan, and is one of only two museums in the United States dedicated completely to Arctic studies.
Both museums are open to the public and free of charge, and on a Sunday (despite competition from a pro football playoff on TV), we join a surprisingly robust crowd of curious souls taking in the works. Visitors from near and far mixing with the college culture ... one starting point mixing with another to form yet another facet of Brunswick’s tangible sense of community and engagement.
Vessel and Vine, 4 Pleasant Street, vesselandvine.com Taverna Khione, 25 Mill Street, tavernakhione.com Tao Yuan, 22 Pleasant Street, tao-yuan.me Moderation Brewing, 103 Maine Street, moderationbrewery.com ICON Contemporary Art, 19 Mason Street Hatch, 96 Maine Street, hatchonmaine.com Gulf of Maine Books, 134 Maine Street, gulfofmainebooks.blogspot.com Frontier, 14 Maine Street, explorefrontier.com Frank Brockman Gallery, 68 Maine Street, frankbrockmangallery.com Flight Deck Brewing, 11 Atlantic Avenue, flightdeckbrewing.com Eveningstar Cinema, 149 Maine Street, eveningstarcinema.com Enoteca Athena, 97 Maine Street, enotecaathena.com El Camino, 15 Cushing Street, elcaminomaine.com Dog Bar Jim, 90 Union Street, dogbarjim.com Cabot Mill Antiques, 14 Maine Street, cabotiques.com The Brunswick Inn, 165 Park Row, thebrunswickinn.com Brunswick Farmers Market, Maine Street on the Mall, brunswickfarmersmarket.com & Brunswick Winter Market, 14 Maine Street, brunswickfarmersmarket.com Bowdoin College Museum of Art & Arctic Museum, 9400 College Station, bowdoin.edu Black Pug Brewing Company, 30 Bath Road, blackpugbeer.com