I’m often suspicious of businesses with ‘Maine’ in the name. Often they’re not much more than tourist traps, putting a ‘Buy Local’ veneer on shoddily-made, mass-produced products. Maine’s Pantry, however, is a notable exception to that rule.
On of the founding businesses of the original Portland Public Market, Maine’s Pantry moved to it’s current Commercial Street location in 2001, where they continue to offer an astonishing array of Maine-made foods. If you need a reminder that there is more to Maine food than blueberries, potatoes, and lobsters, this is the place to stop. They currently carry products from over 150 Maine based businesses, large and small, and even for a devoted Buy Local buyer like myself, the shop holds a number of delicious surprises.
I’m a sucker for pickles. Not only are they a tasty way to keep garden veggies in your diet over the cold winter, but – if done correctly – they’re also a beautiful reminder of summer bounty. Just looking into the jar can warm you up a bit. At Maine’s Pantry I discovered Mike’s Maine Pickles, which go far beyond the traditional dills or bread and butter pickles. Ever had a pickled brussel sprout? Pickled cauliflower? Pickled garlic? Give it a try.
Infused honey was another unexpected pleasure. Eli Cayer has started Urban Farm Fermentory right here in Portland, where he produces pickles and beverages. His facility also hosts a ‘micro apiary’ where he produces astonishing flavor-infused honeys. Once you’ve had a lavender honey, I promise you, your life will never be the same.
Maine’s Pantry has also made a name for itself with it’s candy. The store features two large candy cases, one for a large selection of hand-made fudge, and the other overflowing with assorted truffles and treats. They also carry traditional ‘general store’ style candies, including Boston Baked Beans (ie: candy coated peanuts), chocolate pebbles, and old fashioned stick candy. Also, if you’re in the market for something maple-flavored, this is your stop. Maple drops, maple sugar candy, maple mustard, maple coffee, and maple syrup from Foss Hill Farms – they have anything maple you could imagine, and quite a few things you wouldn’t have imagined.
If you’re looking for a gift, they will make gift baskets from any products in the store (or you can choose from their wide selection of pre-made baskets), and they’ll ship anywhere – a great service if you don’t want to risk your maple syrup or hand-crafted beer breaking open in your luggage. They also have a small selection of books, tote bags, candles, soaps, and other gift-type items. (Including balsam pillows!)
All in all, Maine’s Pantry pleasantly surprised me. I was, honestly, expecting something of a tourist trap, but they are far from that. Instead, owner Elena Morrow-Spitzer is clearly passionate about supporting local food and local businesses, and has done a tremendous job gathering the best of Maine’s bounty and showcasing it on the shelves of this tiny shop. Even if you are local — actually, particularly if you’re a local – I encourage you to stop in and get introduced, as I did, to something new and delicous made right in your own back yard.
Maine’s Pantry is located at 111 Commercial Street in Portland. They are open seven days a week; Monday – Thursday 9 am – 7 pm, Friday and Saturday 9 am – 9 pm, and Sunday 9 am – 6 pm. You can visit their website (and buy from them on-line – it seems like their entire inventory is featured on their website), or like them on Facebook.
Still having trouble finding them. Here’s a map!