11 allergy-friendly dishes in 12 days of Maine Restaurant Week
We tried 11 different allergy-friendly meals across the state in 12 days during Maine Restaurant Week 2019. Here's where we went, what we ate and tips for Mainers with food allergies looking to dine out.
11 allergy-friendly dishes in 12 days of Maine Restaurant Week
Photo: NEWS CENTER Maine
Author: Cameron O'Brien, Liam Nee
Published: 11:28 AM EST March 7, 2019
Updated: 7:36 PM EDT March 12, 2019
FOOD 12 Articles

Maine Restaurant Week runs from March 1-12. It's a 12-day celebration of the Pine Tree State's commercial culinary offerings which was started in 2008 as a way to liven up the winter season for restaurants across the state.

A majority of Maine Restaurant Week-goers are locals, but tons of people fly in to stay the whole week, just to get familiar with Maine's food scene.

Cameron O’Brien is the resident foodie of NEWS CENTER Maine's "NOW," and as you all know by now, she also has food allergies. So Cam is tackling Maine Restaurant Week head on by finding different allergy-free plates across the state each day — hopefully helping others discover new options.

Cam is specifically allergic to gluten, dairy and soy; so she’s controlling for those allergies in this series during Maine Restaurant Week.

When we write "allergy-friendly dishes," we mean that they are gluten, dairy and soy free. That being said. We always suggest you inform the restaurant of your specific allergies, and work with them to find a meal that suits you.

EXPLORE

11 allergy-friendly dishes in 12 days of Maine Restaurant Week

FOOD
Chapter 1

Cam's Takeaways

For all of my allergy-afflicted kin, these are the biggest tips and tricks that I learned over the past week to enhance your experience as a diner.

  1. Do your homework. If you have allergies, information is the best way to protect yourself. That means going online and reading the menu beforehand, and calling the restaurant ahead of time to tell them about your specific dietary needs.
  2. Allergies vs. Preferences. Every chef I spoke with lamented over the people who say they have allergies, but actually don’t. That’s because preparing food for people with allergies takes a lot of effort in the kitchen; we’re talking new pots, pans, cutting boards, knives, the whole nine. So when it turns out a person not allergic and is just avoiding the food, that translates into a lot of wasted time for the kitchen staff. So, bottom line: if you have an allergy, say so. If you have a preference, say so. They’ll happily accommodate both.
  3. Get out and explore: Maine is a fabulous state for foodies-- and every single place I went to was not only willing, but eager to accomodate my food needs. They want your experience to be just as good as any other diner, and will do what they can to make that so. So, take the state by storm and try all the great food!
Chapter 2

DAY 11: Cod with Lentils and Vegetable Medley

Natalie's | Camden
Natalies-Camden_Cod-with-Lentils-and-Vegetable-Medley
Cod with Lentils and Vegetable Medley, Natalie's, Camden
NEWS CENTER Maine

Allergy-friendly Dish: Cod with Lentils and Vegetable Medley (entree)

Price: $45 for three courses

Restaurant: Natalie's

Location: 83 Bayview St., Camden

Chef: Ulfet Ralph

Cam’s Nugget: It’s simple cooking, perfectly executed, with local ingredients. The restaurant week menu is a bargain at $45 because you don’t just get an appetizer, entree, and dessert. You get special treats like hors d’oeuvres and amuse bouches in between. Executive Sous Chef Ulfet Ralph has a severe allergy to poppyseeds and carries an epipen, so she takes allergens and allergen-friendly cooking very seriously.

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For the last day of Maine Restaurant Week, Executive Sous Chef Ulfet Ralph is giving out one of her recipes on the menu for you all to make at home! Enjoy.

Mediterranean Cod Fish (serves 4, GF & DF)

Ulfet Ralph executive sous chef

Natalie’s Camden Harbour Inn

  • 4 pieces Cod (4 to 6 oz portions)
  • 1 stalk of leek, sliced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 Tbs chopped dill
  • 1 Tbs copped parsley
  • 4 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1/4 C white wine
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 C lentils
  • 1 shallot diced
  • 2 C vegetable stock
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:

Place diced shallots with 1 tbs olive oil in a medium pan, sautéed them until they are translucent. Add lentils and vegetable stock, salt and pepper, cover and let it simmer for 45 minutes. While lentil is cooking, pre heat your oven for 350 F, bring your fish to room temperature, season with salt, white pepper, olive oil, lemon zest, and juice. Place them on heat proof sheet pan and bake it in the oven 8 minutes.

While fish is in the oven, hat a medium pan with 2 tbs olive oil, add garlic, sauté until they are slightly cooked, not burnt. Add leeks, season with salt and pepper, cook it about 3 minutes, add white wine, lemon juice, reduce the liquid 2 minutes. Your leeks should be cooked, not too soft but tender! Turn off your heat, add dill and parsley.

Place spoon full of lentil on a plate, sit your fish on top, garnish with leeks and herbs, finish it with good olive oil and enjoy!

Chapter 3

DAY 10: Pork and Beef Pappardelle with Mussels appetizer

40 Paper | Camden
40-Paper-Camden_Pork-and-Beef-Pappardelle
Pork and Beef Pappardelle, 40 Paper, Camden
NEWS CENTER Maine

Allergy-friendly Dish: Pork and Beef Pappardelle (entree) with Mussels appetizer

Price: $25 for three courses

Restaurant: 40 Paper

Location: 40 Washington St., Camden

Chef: Josh and Tara Hixson

Cam’s Nugget: The portions here are really big! Come with an empty stomach, because you are sure to fill up fast.

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40 Paper is a really cool, modern take on rustic Italian cuisine. From the dim lighting to the wine bottle chandelier, you feel a romantic, yet casual vibe all the way through. Josh Hixson owns the joint, and his wife Tara has celiac disease. So, their menu is clearly labeled with items that can be made gluten free, vegan, or vegetarian. Lucky for us allergy-folks, most of the items can be accommodated. The food is delicious and fresh, and comes out in heaps!! Make sure you are hungry when you come to this place!

Chapter 4

DAY 9: Fish Tacos

Pepino's | Bangor
Pepinos
Pepino's
NEWS CENTER Maine

Allergy-friendly Dish: Fish Tacos with Tortilla Soup appetizer

Price: $25 for three courses

Restaurant: Pepino's

Location: 49 Park St., Bangor

Chef: Susan Stephenson

Cam’s Nugget: This is a great spot for lunch! You get great portions, without the hustle and bustle of a dinner service!

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Pepino's restaurant is a longtime Bangor staple. Maine Restaurant Week is bringing in the newcomers, and adventurous foodies.

“We have been open for 40 years and people like what they like and usually get their regular order. So we’ve had people try some new things and it’s exciting, and I think it just helps put Bangor on the map,” said owner Susan Stephenson. 

Pepino's put together some house favorites; it’s a bargain at $25.

We did a cup of chicken tortilla soup, which is house-made, with our really awesome fish tacos, and our sombrero pie, which is our most popular dessert.

Pepino's has gained a reputation for being able to serve families with dietary needs.

“The CDC says approximately 15 million people have food allergies, and most of those are children. Virtually everything on the menu can be accommodated for a food allergy or a food sensitivity, and I think it’s because we know what’s in our food and we know what we can do,” said server Amber McIntyre.

McIntyre and her family are part of that 15 million. So for her, finding a place to eat safely is personal.

“I love knowing that i can come here and not just as an employee but as a customer and know that my children can have a meal that I don’t have to worry about and they can enjoy,” McIntyre said.

Chapter 5

DAY 8: N/A

Vinland | Portland
Maine restaurant week: Vinland in Portland

Allergy-friendly Dish: N/A

Price: $55 for three courses

Restaurant: Vinland

Location: 593 Congress St., Portland

Chef: David Levy

Cam’s Nugget: Save up your money for this place! It’s pricey, but definitely an experience.

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Chef David Levy is the owner of Vinland.

“Vinland is, as far as I can tell," Levy said, "the first and seemingly only restaurant in the world, certainly in the United States, where every single ingredient in every dish is local." 

And he means everything. “Down to the salt, the cooking oils, the grains, absolutely every ingredient."

Why does he do it?

“[To] make sure that we’re having the maximum local impact on the community in terms of supporting local farmers and food artisans, fishermen excetera,” Levy said.

Vinland’s been on board with Maine Restaurant Week since they opened in 2013, as another way to pay homage to the local community. They’re serving seasonal specials.

“The seafood this time of year is just some of the best we see all year. The monkfish right now is particularly beautiful,” Levy said. 

Vinland is entirely gluten-free. Levy found that when he cut out wheat and gluten, his severe, lifelong, battle with asthma went away. So for him, creating food that is both delicious and allergen-friendly is personal.

“Both gear the total menu to be as healthful as it can be, while also being ready willing and able to accommodate if not every single imaginable need, certainly the bulk of the needs that people come to us with,” Levy said. 

Chapter 6

DAY 7: Grilled Filet Mignon

Robert's Maine Grill | Kittery
Roberts-Maine-Grill_Grilled-Filet-Mignon
Grilled Filet Mignon at Robert's Maine Grill
NEWS CENTER Maine

Allergy-friendly Dish: Grilled Filet Mignon

Price: $20 for three-course lunch; $35 for three-course dinner

Restaurant: Robert's Maine Grill

Location: 326 Route 1, Kittery

Chef: Dylan Harrigan

Cam’s Nugget: Harrigan and his staff take food allergies extremely seriously. He says that calling ahead before you dine is a great way to let him and the managers know that you have dietary needs. Also- if you bring a card listing your allergies with you to the restaurant, the server will give that straight to the chef!

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Winters in Maine are tough — especially for local restaurants. Robert’s Maine Grill says the cold can keep folks away.

“Us being a tourist destination state called 'Vacationland,' we don’t get a lot of out of staters coming with the harsh weather," said head chef Dylan Harrigan. 

So, that’s where Maine Restaurant Week comes in. It pumps life back into a sleepy restaurant scene and gets locals excited about food.

“I ordered the brussel sprouts, and fish and chips and a whoopie pie,” said customer Christine Surette.

I got back in the kitchen with Harrigan to see how he throws down.

“When somebody comes in with an allergy we’re very careful to clean our stations and eliminate as much of the cross contamination as possible,” Harrigan said.

Harrigan is happy to modify any dish without sacrificing choice or taste.

“I got into cooking because I like feeding people. I like making people happy with food. That’s not limited to a certain person," he said. "I want to make everybody happy. If someone can’t have something, I’m not going to tell them, 'well, you can’t eat here.'"

“Because in the end, if someone’s dining with us that does have an allergy, we want them to feel confident in the meal that’s being prepared and know that they’re gonna be safe if they’re dining at Robert’s Maine Grill,” said general manager Mary Pugliesi.

Chapter 7

DAY 6: Pulled Pork Sandwich

The Good Table | Cape Elizabeth
Pulled-Pork-Sandwich_The-Good-Table-Cape-Elizabeth
NEWS CENTER Maine

Allergy-friendly Dish: Pulled Pork Sandwich with Brussel Sprout Salad appetizer

Price: $19 for three-course lunch, $35 for three-course dinner

Restaurant: The Good Table

Location: 527 Ocean House Rd., Cape Elizabeth

Chef: Jessica Kostopoulos

Cam’s Nugget: If you want to be treated like family when you’re dining out, this is the place to go. The atmosphere is so warm and caring; you can tell that the servers want to make sure you get everything you need. If gluten is an issue for you, ask for their gluten-free wraps, buns or muffins with your meal.

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Looking for simple, honest food that packs a punch? Pull up a chair at The Good Table.

“Good food. It’s always good here, always good,” said customer Mary Goss.

“The family environment, the great Maine feel," said another customer, Rebecca Sahlin. "I think the good table completely embodies everything we love about living in Cape Elizabeth."

Chef and owner Lisa Kostopoulos opened this spot 33 years ago to “feed people and make everybody feel at home and welcome.” She took some time to chat in the middle of a hectic restaurant week. It’s their fifth time participating. 

“For me, it’s a great way to impress people that haven’t been here before. And I encourage people to go to other restaurants too and go places they might not ordinarily go,” Kostopoulos said.  

This year—they’re bringing back fan favorites like the pulled pork and the brussel sprout salad.

“We like to step it, like, one foot into spring cause we’re getting there, but keep one foot back in winter where we obviously still are,” Kostopoulos said. 

Got allergies or dietary preferences? They’ll adjust anything on the menu.

If that doesn’t work?

No worries— they’ll whip up something you CAN have.

“Cause your mother would never say to you, ‘I’m not gonna feed you because you have an allergy’,” Kostopoulos said. 

“I don’t happen to have any allergies but I know many people that do. And I know they’re very grateful to be recognized that it’s not just all in their head,” said longtime customer Bess Faust. 

Regulars say it’s The Good Table’s love for food, and their customers, that will keep them coming back for many years.

“Any restaurant, especially like the good table that does it so effortlessly and makes a great effort to do what they’re doing, it’s always gonna be a success,” Sahlin said.

Chapter 8

DAY 5: Chef Tony's Smoked Brisket

Fish Bones Grill | Lewiston
Fish-Bones-Grill-Lewiston_Smoked-Brisket
NEWS CENTER Maine

Allergy-friendly Dish: Chef Tony's Smoked Brisket~Cheddar, poblano slaw, blueberry chipotle sauce, crispy onions

Price: $20 (MRW exclusive; includes first and third courses)

Restaurant: Fish Bones Grill

Location: 70 Lincoln St., Lewiston

Chef: Tony Sherrer

Cam’s Nugget: In all of my years of allergy friendly dining at places that are not exclusively gluten free or dairy free, Fish Bones Restaurant is the first place I’ve been to where the restaurant wants the diner to have complete control over their meal.

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Fish Bones Grill is cooking up some old favorites and new features for Maine Restaurant Week. 

“It was an opportunity to develop menus that showed your wares," said owner Paul Landry, "and made it advantageous for folks that are just looking for a new adventure."

The menu flaunts both surf and turf.

“But at the end of the day, we’re about listening to our customers," Landry said. "They’re going to tell us what they’d like to eat, they liked our style."  

When it comes to dietary preferences – Fish Bones wants you to feel in control.

“I want to know what you want to have," said Chef Tony Sherrer. "We have fish, we have steak, we have chicken. What do you want? First of all you can tell me all your allergies, and the waitress comes back to the kitchen and tells me that, and the first thing I’ll ask is, well, what do they want?"

“I want to go somewhere and feel safe," he said. "That they’re taking all precautions to make sure that what I’m getting is what I’m able to eat."

I tested Sherrer's theory: first, I told them what I wanted, and then told them what my restrictions were. I wanted the brisket, and as we’ve covered a thousand times now-- I’m allergic to gluten and dairy. 

“We just eliminated those three things," Sherrer said. "Eliminated the bun. Eliminated the cheese and the cole-slaw and we took out the fries and gave you a salad, gave you the brisket."

The verdict?

Absolutely delicious.

Chapter 9

DAY 4: Slow Cooked Beef, Mushroom & Red Wine Ragu

Slates | Hallowell
Slates-Hallowell_Beef-Mushroom-Wine-Ragu
Beef, Mushroom & Red Wine Ragu
NEWS CENTER Maine

Allergy-friendly Dish: Slow Cooked Beef, Mushroom & Red Wine Ragu over Potato of the day or Homemade Pasta

Price: $35 (MRW exclusive; includes three-course meal)

Restaurant: Slates

Location: 161 Water St., Hallowell

Chef: Wendy Larson

Cam’s Nugget: Slates is the perfect place to go if you’re new to the world of allergy eating. They know their menu backwards and forwards, because they make it all by hand! That makes it easier for them to accommodate your needs.

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Slates restaurant in Hallowell is a cool spot known for its bright colors and funky artwork. They’re veterans of Maine Restaurant Week.

What makes Slates the go-to for a great meal? Chef and owner Wendy Larson says it’s about mastering the basics: good vegetables, fresh seafood and homemade bread. Larson bought the place with a friend in 1979, and turned it into a farm-to-table joint with dishes from around the world.

They’ve been part of Maine Restaurant Week for a decade.

Three courses pack a punch for $35 per person.

"Feeding people, nurturing people, good times, nice glass of wine," Larson says. "You can't really get better than that."

When it comes to allergies, Slates has the upper hand. Every dish is made from scratch, which makes substitutions easy.

"We've always had people come in and say they have an allergy to eggs or an allergy to soy or an allergy to something, so when you make everything, I think you're more open to different things," Larson says. "I mean, it's not like we have a style. We like everything. We eat everything."

I tried one of the big hitters from the Maine Restaurant Week menu. Fresh off the cooktop: the beef and mushroom ragu.

If you’ve got dietary needs, don’t be afraid to speak up. Larson says when you come to Slates, you’re family.

"It's our home. It's like when you invite somebody to your home, you want them to be happy and fulfilled and have what they want," she says. "And that's sort of the way we've approached cooking for people."

Chapter 10

DAY 3: Parmesan Crusted Baked Haddock

Nonesuch River Brewing | Scarborough
Nonesuch-Brewing-Scarborough_Baked-Haddock
Parmesan Crusted Baked Haddock: Roasted Squash Risotto, Sauteed Kale
NEWS CENTER Maine

Allergy-friendly Dish: Parmesan Crusted Baked Haddock: Roasted Squash Risotto, Sauteed Kale

Price: $25 (MRW exclusive; includes three-course meal — allergy-friendly Mixed Greens Salad appetizer and a Berry Smoothie for dessert)

Restaurant: Nonesuch River Brewing

Location: 201 Gorham Rd., Scarborough 

Chef: Carolina Penaranda

Cam’s Nugget: Don’t let the casual ambiance of this place throw you off, the chefs here throw down with some five-star cooking. It’s simple food, prepared exquisitely.

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Alex and I went to Nonesuch River Brewing for an early Sunday dinner, and we were blown away by the entirely delicious food.

It’s Nonesuch's first Maine Restaurant Week, and with an impeccably designed menu, they’re sure to come out of these 12 days as a place to be remembered.

Chef Carolina Penaranda took time to discuss the menu with me in depth, working with me to determine what I could eat safely.

“It’s personally very important to me to accommodate people with different dietary needs, because I want to make sure everyone feels welcomed and at home,” Penaranda said.

The food I ended up having was phenomenal, bringing a depth of flavo  that made me feel like I wasn’t missing out on anything.

Chapter 11

DAY 2: Grilled Faroe Island Salmon

MK Kitchen | Gorham
MK-Kitchen-Gorham_Salmon
Grilled Faroe Island Salmon
NEWS CENTER Maine

Allergy-friendly Dish: Grilled Faroe Island Salmon / Roasted Vegetable Quinoa Salsa Verde, Fennel & Radish Salad

Price: $35 (MRW exclusive; includes three-course meal — allergy-friendly Gathered Greens Salad appetizer and Sorbet for dessert)

Restaurant: MK Kitchen

Location: 2 School St., Gorham

Chef: Mitchell Kaldrovic

Cam’s Nugget: It’s MK Kitchen’s first year participating in Maine Restaurant Week! They’ve been open for four years as of April. It’s a cozy, casual, cool space that’s packed on the weekends!

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I went to MK kitchen with my fiance Alex on Saturday, March 2. It was our first time trying the place and we were impressed with the casual, yet busy atmosphere of the restaurant.

MK Kitchen boasts a wide variety of products made from scratch; from their house drink infusions, all the way to their own sorbets.

The menu choices overall reflect a shift toward health consciousness that we’re seeing throughout the country. It’s that shift, says owner Lisa Kaldrovich, that makes accommodating people with dietary preferences and food allergies a pretty simple task.

“We welcome people with allergies and food restrictions to MK Kitchen,” Kaldrovich said. “We need to be able to include everyone, and make sure people with allergies don’t feel like an afterthought.”

Chapter 12

DAY 1: The Background

MRW
Maine Restaurant Week

In 2008, Jim Britt was looking for ways to boost Maine’s economy in the dead of winter. The idea was born out of a need for extra business for restaurants in winter and, in particular, to help retain servers and cooks who Britt and others would see being laid off due to businesses' seasonal monetary constraints.

A strategy plan was soon developed to have participating restaurants serve a multi-course menu at a fixed price, ranging from $25 to $55.

At first, the plan drew skepticism from established chefs like David Turin, who owns David's Restaurants.

"Hey, wait a minute. There's nothing here I can eat," said Jim Britt, founder of Maine Restaurant Week. "And that's when we saw the light bulb go on."

"Thirty percent of the people walking into you restaurant have got something that they want to alter on your menu," Turin said. "So it's vitally important that we are prepared to do that and we have people trained with the answers and that we know how to get it done."

And if the restaurant doesn’t have an allergy friendly dish on the menu…

"All you have to do is ask and they will tell you what the alternatives are," Britt said. "You can call in advance and ask what the alternatives are and they'll be ready to tell you."

Britt hopes locals and out of towners alike appreciate all of the talent the Pine Tree State has to offer.

"When you love what you do you can taste it. And I think that's a big draw," Britt said. "When you come from Ohio to this sleepy little Portland, Maine, and they discover some amazing restaurants. It isn't like that where they live."