October 19th, 2020
Biddeford on the Map
Maine’s new ‘It’ city takes the throne
Since its earliest days as a European settlement in the 1600s, Biddeford has bustled with industry, fuelled by the relentless surge of the Saco River that snakes through the heart of the town. These days, designers and distillers have replaced the textile workers and shipbuilders throughout the redbrick mill district that defines the cityscape. The Pepperell Mill building now houses more than 100 small businesses, and this creativity spills out through the streets, where new talent mingles with familiar faces among the city’s cozy restaurants, bars, and boutiques that are sure to entice you in from the snowy sidewalk.
So whether you’re a first-time visitor or a staycationer looking to explore a new corner of Maine, Biddeford is a feast of experiences.
Before you declare Portland to be Maine’s unrivaled gastronomic star, take a tour of its southern cousin, a newly minted foodie destination in its own right. Suddenly, we’re spoiled with choices. Begin your day with breakfast at Palace Diner. The city’s worst-kept secret, the train-car diner, is a magnet for brunch hunters even on weekdays. Any wait you endure will be worth it though, once you bite into that crunchy fried chicken or syrup-smothered French toast at the long counter. Bring cash and an empty stomach. If you’re looking for something a little more on-the-go, Rover Bagels serves fire-blistered bagels and pizza fresh from its wood-fired oven to enjoy on a cold day as you wander around the corner to Main Street. If you cross the street, you might spot a pink- and yellow-hued mural covering an exterior wall. That’s the first clue that you’ve stumbled across Elements, a quirky coffee shop specializing in coffee, books and beer. Is there a better trio out there? It’s easy to lose an hour browsing titles and sipping your brew of choice within its buttercream-colored walls.
Foodies can find pages of inspiration at the city’s dedicated cookbook store, Rabelais. If that kick-starts your appetite again, Elda on Main Street has national critics clamouring over its seasonal Maine-inspired dishes. If you’re looking to treat yourself to a special meal, this is the place to do it. And for an authentic Maine Italian, make a beeline for George’s Sandwich Shop, a Biddeford institution that can whip up a classic sub for you in minutes.
But to truly appreciate Biddeford’s recent appeal, one need only look to the burgeoning scene of brewers and distillers, many of whom are earning national recognition for their creations. For a glimpse of the city’s growing momentum, visit its creative engine: the Pepperell Mill, the 35-acre mill district in the heart of Biddeford downtown. Amid the local business, artisans and even glassblowers, you can enjoy a pint at Banded Brewing’s lively taproom. The winter seasonal stout – the Jolly Woodsman, made with Portland’s Speckled Ax coffee – will give you a boost as you play arcade and board games. If you prefer the harder stuff, Round Turn Distilling is just next door, offering award-winning Bimini Gin in a selection of winter cocktails. Sample straight or enjoy blended up in a Hot Toddy or with spiced syrup and pineapple juice in a Pacific Rim cocktail. Additionally, Dirigo Brewing on Pearl Street in the mill district and Run of the Mill brewpub on Factory Island, are both excellent spots to nurse a drink or a small plate while watching the icy currents of the Saco River churn past the window.
Work off all this indulgence with a visit to the shorefront; Biddeford Pool is the area’s exclusive oceanfront zip code. Parking on Gilbert Place is mercifully quiet during the winter, allowing you to access the wide, sandy beach for a bracing walk beside the icy surf. Or visit the Rachel Carson Wildlife Center and walk 2.5-mile out-and-back trail from Timber Point Trailhead out to the ocean. Along the way you might spot the wild residents who call this little pocket of natural splendor home.
— Text & photos: Saisie Moore. Saisie has worked at Portland Monthly and The Daily Telegraph in London. When she’s not writing, she explores Maine and beyond in a converted camper van with mountain bike in tow.