Known for world-class seafood and delicious sweets, Maine is an excellent destination for foodies. When traveling through the Pine Tree State, you won’t want to miss the most famous dishes from the area.
While some meals focus on freshly-sourced local ingredients, others are indulgent treats that are so good you may end up not wanting to share them with others. In no particular order, here are ten of the most famous foods in Maine:
Now a worldwide delicacy, lobster wasn’t always known for being a luxurious treat. In fact, in the early Americas, shellfish were so plentiful and inexpensive that it was derisively known as a “poor person’s food.” In the 1700s, lobsters could be caught by hand– they would wash up on shore in piles up to two feet high.
Besides baking them for consumption, Native Americans have also used lobsters as fertilizer and bait for fishhooks. By 1875, the first lobster pound opened in Vinalhaven, Maine, where the creatures were stored in tanks with running seawater. Finally, in the late 1800s, lobster began to gain a reputation as a delicacy, rather than a last resort.
Today, lobster pounds exist on just about every corner of Maine, with the best locations situated near the sea so they can cycle fresh seater into the tanks. Those along the shore also provide great ocean views while you eat. Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard has nearly 1,500 rave reviews praising the food, service, and scenery.
Clam chowder is classic New England fare with an entertaining history in Maine. In 1939, a State Representative for Maine, Cleveland Sleeper, attempted to criminalize making clam chowder with tomatoes. Any restauranteur who dared include tomatoes in their chowder would be punished with the task of digging up a barrel of clams at high tide– a virtually impossible job.
Later that year, the Maine Hotel Association organized a cookoff where classic Maine clam chowder was pitted against tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder. Upon tasting the Manhattan chowder, Sleeper proclaimed that the soup wasn’t chowder, it was vegetable stew. The judges agreed with him, and Maine clam chowder was declared the winner.
Fortunately for tomato lovers, the bill to criminalize Manhattan clam chowder was never filed. However, when visiting Maine, you’re most likely to find milk- or cream-based chowder. This version of the dish has a distinct white hue and typically includes oyster crackers and potatoes.
Baked beans are another dish iconic in the Northeast region of the United States. Many popular modern-day foods in New England were Indigenous staples before European settlers ate them. Beans are no exception.
Algonquin-speaking tribes taught colonists how to bake beans using maple sugar and bear fat. Some areas, like Vermont, still use maple as a sweetener for their beans, but others turned to molasses, creating a thicker mixture.
Maine baked beans are typically made with yellow-eye, Marifax, or soldier beans, as opposed to the navy or pea beans used in Massachusetts. The beans are usually cooked in a ceramic or brick oven. Many barbecue joints in Maine include baked beans as a side dish. Buck’s Naked BBQ is a popular local restaurant with large portions and great reviews.
In 1876, Dr. Augustin Thompson of Union, Maine, invented Moxie, a drink marketed as a medicinal “Nerve Food.” For many years, the drink claimed to cure a number of ailments, including softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia. It was also said to give the drinker “spunk.”
In 1884, Thompson began selling the drink in bottles and as a soda fountain syrup, making it the first bottled carbonated beverage sold in the United States. Moxie is said to taste similar to root beer, with a bitter aftertaste. In 2005, it was named the official state soft drink of Maine.
The Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage in Union features a Moxie wing where visitors can view a collection of Moxie memorabilia, purchase Moxie merchandise, and learn about the history of the drink.
The exact origin of whoopie pies is disputed, with Maine, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire all claiming to have invented the snack. However, it’s generally accepted that the place to ever sell whoopie pies is Labadie’s Bakery in Lewiston, Maine.
Whoopie pies are a dessert sandwich consisting of two large, soft chocolate cookies surrounding a fluffy cream filling. They are often very large, closer in size to a cheeseburger than a cookie. It’s believed they originated with the Amish– legend says that when Amish men found the cookies in the lunches their wives packed, they would shout “whoopie!”
Labadie’s Bakery, which began selling whoopie pies in 1925, is still open in its original location. They now ship their pastries throughout the country, so anyone can try an original whoopie pie. If you’re in the area, though, swing by to try one freshly baked.
At one point, Maine was the largest producer of potatoes in the US. In 1872, a candymaker at Seavey’s Sweets in Maine had the idea to use potatoes as a key ingredient in chocolate candy, and Needhams were born. Before long, Mainers were making the sweet in their own kitchens, even after Seavey’s recipe stopped including spuds in the filling.
Named for George C. Needham, a popular preacher from the state, Needhams have a soft, sweet filling of coconut and potatoes. They’re traditionally square-shaped truffles, hand-dipped in chocolate. Some compare them to Mounds bars, claiming that you can’t taste the potatoes at all. Seavey’s closed its doors for good in 2013, but you can still find Needhams chocolates.
The Maine Needham Company sells the confections wholesale to retailers throughout Maine, including Reny’s department stores and Hannaford supermarkets. You can also have them shipped to you by ordering on their website.
Lowbush blueberries are native to New England and are plentiful in mountain fields and plains. The area used to be covered in glaciers, and as they receded thousands of years ago, blueberries fought to survive in the washes left behind. Indigenous tribes used them for food, medicine, and dye for many years before European settlers arrived.
Today, wild blueberries are the official state berry of Maine. They are an important feature in many local dishes, like pies, smoothies, and even ales. Blueberries Food, a cafe in Topsham, offers a number of blueberry-centric menu items. Their Blueberry Sunrise is an egg, cheese, and sausage sandwich surrounded by blueberry muffin tops.
Blueberry season in Maine is from late July into early September. Some farms allow you to pick your own. You can also often find them at farmer’s markets in late summer.
Red Snapper Hot Dogs
In Maine, “red snapper” doesn’t refer to fish native to the southeastern coast of the United States. Instead, the name belongs to brightly colored hot dogs. The beef and pork franks are surrounded by natural casing and dyed red. When you bite into them, the casing snaps open and releases the hot dog’s flavors.
Red snappers are so common in Maine that the state holds a Red Hot Dog Festival every year. The festival includes live entertainment, a hot dog eating contest, a 5k, food vendors, beer and wine tents, and children’s activities.
You’re more likely to find red snappers at backyard barbecues than at concession stands or food trucks. However, there are a few restaurants offering the dish. Simone’s Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston lists two steamed hot dogs as a menu item, alongside cheeseburgers, french fries, and onion rings.
To many, the phrase “brown bread” probably conjured up images of loaves of wheat bread, fresh from the bakery. For many New Englanders, it refers to canned food. B&M canned bread is a convenient alternative to homemade steamed bread and is a staple of northeastern cuisine in the United States. The company operates out of Portland, Maine.
B&M started selling canned foods in 1867. When they released their version of canned baked beans in 1927, it made steamed bread and baked beans an easy, delicious dish for anyone to enjoy.
Brown bread is made from molasses, cornmeal, and flour (some versions also include raisins). It’s slightly sweet and can be eaten with butter or jam for breakfast. For a savory dish, top it with baked beans and add a hot dog on the side.
Italian subs are not uncommon in most of the United States and they often include salami, sliced vegetables, oil, herbs, and spices. However, to Mainers, there is no Italian sandwich like theirs. Maine Italian sandwiches are said to have been invented in Portland in 1899 by an Italian baker named Giovanni Amato.
Amato hoped to create a convenient, inexpensive lunch option for construction workers. The sandwich became wildly popular and can be found in restaurants all over the state today. Typically, Maine Italian sandwiches are served on long bread rolls. They are piled high with ham, cheese, tomatoes, onions, and peppers. They are then topped with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Amato’s is now a popular sandwich chain with locations throughout northern New England. They operate around 20 sandwich shops in the state of Maine alone, so it’s easy to find a location when you have a hankering for an authentic Maine Italian sub.
Maine is home to unique and delicious local foods that you won’t soon forget. When visiting the area, do yourself a favor and make time to enjoy their most iconic dishes!