Sunday, November 9, 2014

Maine is Veg Friendly! Say What????


     When you think Maine, you think lobster!!!  I mean, you can't help but think about this bright red crustacean when it's symbol is plastered just about everywhere you look, especially on Mt. Desert Island, the third largest island on the eastern seaboard, where my running partner and I recently ran the MDI Marathon.  My partner in crime, Dr. Mark Shachner, is a seasoned marathon runner who had the pleasure (or nightmare) of running this particular marathon 2 years ago and fell in love with the course, extreme challenges and all, which starts at Main Street in Bal Harbor and finishes in Southwest Harbor.
This lobster-lovin' runner couldn't wait to take me there to experience the natural beauty MDI has to offer but was concerned with the limited dining options available to vegans.  During his stay, he checked out the local establishments in search of hearty, healthy, plant-based cuisine but was disappointed with what he found.  Fortunately, he ate at The Burning Tree, in Otter Creek, the night before they closed for the season, and was pleased to discover locally-grown vegan fare on the menu.
     Fast forward 2 years later, there we were, staying at his friend's beautiful home in Somesville, excited to tackle the MDI Marathon together!

MDI has enchanted visitors throughout the ages from the mountains/trails/lakes/wildlife of Acadia National Park to the magical marine mammals and abundant sea creatures. The island essentially lends itself to nature-loving folks so it makes sense to provide patrons with plant-based cuisine, right?
Mark was determined to drive me by the Burning Tree to make dinner reservations.  Unfortunately, when we got there, they had already closed its doors for the winter, which can be the case for many places so better check before you go. Upon reviewing menus for both familiar as well as brand new joints, Mark was delighted to see that vegan options were ample enough for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Much has changed over the last few years, in a positive way...very representative of society in general!                                  
     Our first night there, we drove into touristy yet charming downtown Bar Harbor to grab some dinner at the Side Street Cafe.  We ordered the homemade hummus & olive tapenade served with warm pita wedges and brushed with olive oil as an appetizer. I absolutely LOVED this very generous portion of wholesome goodness.  For dinner, I had a large salad with fresh roasted veggies that was very satisfying.  And of course there was draft beer to wash it all down with...An organic Peak IPA.
And as I ask at every, there were NO VEGAN CUPCAKES for dessert!!!  Aside from that, the SSC was so accommodating that we found ourselves there 2 more times, once for lunch where they make a homemade vegan black bean patty served either in a wrap or ciabatta spicy, hearty and savory which we both thoroughly enjoyed!!!  Then, we rewarded ourselves (a promise I keep) with some homemade skins-on fries accompanied by a coffee stout chaser post race! A little Sunday football to boot! Although Mark enjoys plant-based meals, he finally indulged in what Bar Harbor is famous for...a lobster roll!    After all, he is NOT a veg but VERY veg friendly! It's important to be both accepting and supportive of one another!
     On the same street, we stumbled upon Gringo's, the locals' hang out, where they offer casual fresh mex!  There are many healthy choices, all satisfying, topped with homemade salsa.  I created my own burrito which was very filling, I actually left some over which is rare, especially before a race!!!  
We had actually attempted to grab some breakfast earlier that day at This Way Cafe but missed the boat by 10 minutes, NO EXCEPTIONS!  There they offer "The Vegan," soy seasoned scrambled tofu with mushrooms, onions, peppers, broccoli, potatoes with unbuttered toast.  Tofu is NOT exactly my chosen protein source but once in a while, I'll have some if it sounds appetizing.  TWC is also open for dinner where there are a few creative veg-friendly items on the menu that sound delish!  I Will have to wait for next time.
     Another restaurant we have on our short list to try is China Joy, which seems like typical fare but I did notice that Sawyer's Market in Southwest Harbor sold pre-cooked, packaged vegan dumplings and noodles prepared by China Joy which looked very fresh and appetizing.  That market also offered a homemade vegan potato soup but unfortunately it wasn't ready yet when we had stopped in.  By the way, I love the idea of these little grab-n-go boxed vegan delights (chinese, sushi, sandwiches) which are becoming increasingly popular in either grocer's/convenient story fridges or airports but sometimes they can be a bit soggy or taste like they have expired, even though the date shown is not. Eat a Pita, also in Southwest Harbor, is another one we wanted to check out but didn't have time, as they offer casual mediterranean pitas/burgers/salads/sandwiches with lots of veg option.  I especially like the sound of their spicy vegetarian chili, where they say, "you'll wonder where the beef went!"
     The biggest disappointed was at McKay's Public House, where we actually made reservations. The restaurant was so charming, the air so crisp and inviting, that we chose to sit in their outdoor patio area under a big heater.  The salads were tasty enough, as were the crispy sweet potato fries, but the curried vegetable dish I ordered consisted of what appeared to be frozen vegetables over very bland rice.  The worst part was the piece of paper I found in the dish... must have been from the box of frozen veggies lol.  Our server apologized, quickly removed the dish and scratched it from the bill. Oh well... at least I filled up on the warm bread with dipping oil when we sat down.  They all can't be winners.  Next time, we will try Lompac Cafe, with their many plant-based options on the menu PLUS dessert...bittersweet chocolate mousse made vegan and gluten free with almond milk!  They have sorbet as well. I can't believe I missed that one!!!  I'm always in search of vegan desserts to sample other than FRUIT!!!
     One last place, I promise!  Reel Pizza Cinerama, a stone's throw from SSC, is where you can catch a flick and customize your vegan pizza with either white or wheat crust and lots of interesting sauces/toppings/soy cheese.  I lied...there's The Friar's Pub, at the Black Friar Inn, where they have vegan pancakes for breakfast and make their own granola, served with fresh fruit.
       I would be remiss not to mention how impressed I was with the pre-race pasta dinner organized by many friendly and welcoming race volunteers at Mt. Desert High School.  As I walked up to get my mound of plain white penne pasta, (who needs fiber before a race?) I couldn't believe my eyes as I saw a sign that read "Marinara Vegan!"  Rather than top the pasta, I ate it like tomato soup!  Yum! Since the race was sponsored by Fiore olive oil, bottles were presented like salt and pepper on the tables so I feasted on lotsa pasta topped with olive oil and nutritional yeast that I brought from home. Attention vegans:  NEVER leave home without your NY to ensure your RDA of B12- it goes with everything!!!
     I think I have fed you enough info about vegan-friendly dining establishments for now.  I'm sure I'm missing a few but hopefully, you have an idea of how surprisingly accommodating Bar Harbor and MDI has become for us plant lovers!  If you happen to be a runner interested in participating in the MDI Marathon, Half Marathon or Relay Event, spoiler alert:  stop reading!  Continue on if you are just curious since I will say that this race is probably the most difficult I have ever run and I have completed 33 full marathons!!!  The cold temps, strong head/tail winds and undulating hills proved extremely challenging, to say the least.  I will say this, though, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking throughout, minus the last 5 miles in Southwest Harbor due to traffic and construction.
     Although I fell in love with MDI, it was no love affair between me and the marathon!  I look forward to returning to this spectacular island as long as there are no races on the calendar!  Can't wait to check out those places we didn't get to as well as the new ones that I'm sure will pop up between now and then.  Since Bal Harbor is generally very seasonal, check operating hours beforehand. For now I will pray that upon my return, I will be able to find a vegan cupcake, rising out from above the plethora of local blueberry pies, popovers, moon pies, salt-water taffy and fudge.  I can hear the harps now...."laaaaaa."   Then perhaps I will run the MDI Marathon again!!!

Training with a conscience; staying firmly planted...VeganGirlAthLetes

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