Travel

This Maine Town Near Portland Has its Own Blossoming Food Scene

Biddeford's exciting restaurants and bars are perfect for a weekend getaway from Boston.

DenisTangneyJr/E+/Getty Images
DenisTangneyJr/E+/Getty Images
DenisTangneyJr/E+/Getty Images

While the charming coastal city of Portland is often considered Maine’s top culinary destination (it slays on the fine-dining, cocktail, and brewery fronts), a mere 20-minute jaunt down south lands you in Biddeford, a dining up-and-comer that demands your full gastronomical attention.

The longtime mill town is blossoming as a food-lover’s haven, with higher-end gems going toe-to-toe with quality lunch spots, cocktail lairs, and breweries galore. Small wonder that the city got its first boutique hotel last year and even smaller wonder that out-of-town diners are now mixing it up with locals and students from the nearby University of New England. Before you book your dining road trip, just one caveat: a lot of businesses are only open Thursdays through Sundays during the coldest months, and some take brief wintertime siestas to get ready for the high season (so do your due diligence).

Here are 9 reasons to drive to Biddeford, Maine for a weekend getaway from Boston.

Photo courtesy of Palace Diner
Photo courtesy of Palace Diner
Photo courtesy of Palace Diner

It’s home to the best diner in Maine

Places don’t get much more intimate than Palace Diner-just 15 seats at the counter of a revamped train dining car. But that only partly explains the endless wait times. People flock from all over the region to get their hands on the diner’s Cheeseburger or Tuna Melt, as well as its many delectable breakfast offerings, especially the Deluxe Sandwich (bacon or sausage, egg, cheddar, jalapenos, mayo) and the Buttermilk Flapjacks. In fact, Palace Diner gets a lot of credit for putting Biddeford on the larger Maine dining map-and now is the most coveted seat in town.

Photo courtesy of Magnus on Water
Photo courtesy of Magnus on Water
Photo courtesy of Magnus on Water

A burgeoning fine-dining scene showcases both edge and invention

When chef Bowman Brown first opened Elda at the end of 2017, many heads were scratched. Was downtown Biddeford ready for an edgy, prix-fixe dining experience on the second floor of a revamped mill building? But naysayers were quickly silenced by Brown’s inventive cooking that celebrated the state’s bounty in exciting new ways (there’s a reason the New York Times took early notice.) Biddeford has since added a second fine-dining spot to its dance card: Magnus on Water, a chic, intimate tapas spot with a seafood focus-chef Ben Jackson earned his stellar reputation at Portland’s late, lamented Drifter’s Wife-and an aesthetic straight out of Scandinavia.

Photo courtesy of Fish & Whistle
Photo courtesy of Fish & Whistle
Photo courtesy of Fish & Whistle

Take your pick from casual eateries showcasing seafood, sandwiches, and pho

You don’t have to pony up for a fancy meal to bask in the downtown dining scene.

Fish & Whistle-from married Portland restaurant expats Jason Eckerson and Kate Hamm-lures in lunchtime regulars with its Smoked Fish Dip, Fish & Chips, and the Marinara Squidwich featuring fried local squid. Dizzy Bird Rotisserie sources its organic, Halal-certified chickens from a single farm in Canada, which translates to an incredibly juicy bird (the BBQ Ribs are worth a return visit). At Rover Bagel inside the Pepperell Mill, the Classic Salmon smoked salmon bagel sandwich is fantastic-just get there early because their wood-fired bagel beauts sell out quickly. Those in search of authentic pho should beeline it to Que Huong for a no-frills but satiating meal. And the Italian sub at Part & Parcel rivals anything found in New York City-though older locals will argue that nothing beats the Classic Italian at George’s Sandwich Shop, open since 1948 and recently saved from closure thanks to new owners. On Saturday mornings, don’t miss brunch at Jack Rabbit. The Scandinavian bakery is Bowman Brown’s latest venture and the Soft-Scrambled Eggs are a must-try.

Photo courtesy of Batson River Brewing & Distilling
Photo courtesy of Batson River Brewing & Distilling
Photo courtesy of Batson River Brewing & Distilling

The steller brewery scene serves suds of all kinds

Biddeford boasts an embarrassment of beer riches. Start out at Run of the Mill (technically over the border in Saco), where you can enjoy one of 30 on-site brewed ales along with your pub lunch. Happy hour at Batson River is an ideal time to try their black lager, Schwarzbier; and Barreled Souls also opens its tasting room early enough to entice afternoon imbibers with its stouts and sours. Sacred Profane only makes lager (Dark, a dark brew and Pale, a light brew), but rest assured it’ll be one of the best you’ve ever tasted. End up at Banded Brewery, Biddeford’s very first brewery, for a Cocoa and Peppermint Stout, some pinball, and a sausage sandwich. There’s even good news for those with dietary restrictions: Lucky Pigeon only brews gluten-free beers, the first brewery in all of Maine to do so.

Photo courtesy of Round Turn Distilling
Photo courtesy of Round Turn Distilling
Photo courtesy of Round Turn Distilling

Craft cocktail spots and local distilleries offer stunning concoctions

While Biddeford might be more of a beer town, its commitment to wine and craft cocktails is steadily growing. Lorne is a both wine bar and shop, a serene respite serving curated wines by the glass including its Treat of the Day, a rare gem served at or near cost. Magnus on Water actually began as a straight-up cocktail bar, and beverage director Brian Catapang remains committed to whipping up stunning, outré craft concoctions served in next-level glassware. Round Turn Distilling focuses all its energies on gin, which you can try in various cocktail iterations inside its tasting room. Find the evening drinking party at The Lobby Bar inside the Lincoln Hotel, which rocks a moody supper club vibe and does delightful elixirs alongside its curated beer and wine lists; continue the party downstairs at Batson, which is also a distillery. And how can you not love Martini’s on Main, a martini and dessert bar that stays open until 1am on Friday and Saturday nights? (Biddeford, it must be noted, is otherwise an early-to-bed town.)

Photo courtesy of Elements: Books Coffee Beer
Photo courtesy of Elements: Books Coffee Beer
Photo courtesy of Elements: Books Coffee Beer

Local bookstores serve drinks with their page-turners

We reserve a special place in our hearts for indie bookstores that also serve drinks. Elements offers a little bit of everything: pour-over coffee, craft beer, wines by the glass, and homemade pastries alongside its curated book selection (little surprise that UNE students hole up here for the day). And if you’re feeling inspired, head down the street to Rabelais, a hidden gem that specializes in out-of-print cookbooks and other rare food and drink writings.

Photo courtesy of White Door Home Store
Photo courtesy of White Door Home Store
Photo courtesy of White Door Home Store

Indie boutiques dot the up-coming-downtown

As befits an up-and-coming downtown with a collegiate element, Biddeford is starting to amass a charming collection of indie boutiques. Dapper & Co. caters to the well-appointed dude, while Suger features the dresses and separates of Biddeford textile company Angelrox. Part & Parcel also sells a capsule collection of kitchen accessories, and White Door Home Store mixes it up with both new and restored furniture and home accessories.

Photo courtesy of The Lincoln Hotel
Photo courtesy of The Lincoln Hotel
Photo courtesy of The Lincoln Hotel

A new hotel inside a converted mill space offers gorgeous lodgings

No need to day-trip and split: Have we mentioned that Biddeford now has a glamorous new hotel? The Lincoln Hotel is in another converted mill space, and the rooms reflect that history: huge, brickwalled spaces retrofitted with sumptuous king beds, remote-controlled fireplaces, and massive glass showers that give you an in-room spa experience. And just tuck this knowledge away for a later date: the rooftop pool reopens in May.

Local souvenirs can be nibbled on at home (or drive back)

It’s impossible to hit all of Biddeford’s culinary gems in one go-around, so plan to fill your back seat with take-away vittles. The Chocolate-Hazelnut Croissants at Jack Rabbit are an absolute must, as are the Hot Cross Buns and Butter Cookies at Reilly’s Bakery, an old-school joint straight out of Little Italy. And Nibblesford Cheese Shop is another food haven that invites you to go home with a stash of native Maine cheeses.

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Meaghan Agnew is a contributor to Thrillist. 

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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