Brunswick + Topsham
Well-known as the home of Bowdoin College, Brunswick still maintains its roots as a manufacturing city—L.L.Bean makes its iconic Bean boots and totes here—while offering a growing range of dining options.
My wife, Elyssa, and I check into the Brunswick Hotel and Tavern, our home for the next 48 hours. Our room is spacious and comfortable, with views down Maine Street and toward the free public ice rink constructed on the town green. Elyssa, a professional photographer, will be capturing our trip for the story.
We head out for an early dinner at Enoteca Athena, where our friend, Michelle Thresher, joins us. My food allergies have always made ordering meals somewhat difficult, but chef-owner Tim O’Brien seems to enjoy the challenge. Eating family style, we share delicately fried chicken skins, pear salad with prosciutto, roasted Brussels sprout salad, chicken, mushroom risotto, and a lamb dish. The menu changes often, with nightly specials all based on what fresh local ingredients O’Brien is able to source from neighboring farms and fishermen.
We enjoy our meal so much that we are late to meet more friends over at Flight Deck Brewing, the new brewpub that opened last year at Brunswick Landing. The building is a former shooting range that was originally made entirely of cement. The brewery owners have created a cool, funky space to gather and listen to music. We enjoy the musical talents of the local band Sons of Quint. Still full from our dinner, we resist the temptations of the food truck that is offering barbecue and order two flights of beer to share.
We start our day at Wildflours Gluten-Free Bakery on Cumberland Street. Chef-owner Kelley Hughes and her assistant, Shelagh, serve us a warm pumpkin chocolate chip muffin topped, with melted butter and a cinnamon bun just out of the oven. The baked goods are so delicious it is difficult to tell they are gluten free.
We head over to the Brunswick Winter Market in the refurbished Fort Andross Mill Complex. With live music and around 50 farmers and vendors, this is one of the largest winter farmers markets’ in the state. We stock up on eggs and produce for the week before heading downtown to the Little Dog Coffee Shop for a coffee and hot chocolate.
After our midmorning pick-me-up, we enjoy some shopping on Maine Street. Nest is an eclectic gift shop full of unique items. Be sure to check out the large furniture showroom on the lower level. Wyler’s and Local Market and Cafe are sister stores connected to each other. Wyler’s features crafts, clothing, jewelry, games, and more, while Local Market and Cafe specializes in Maine-made food items and kitchen gadgets and has a deli including take-away meals made on-site. Nearby, Morning Glory Natural Foods is a family-owned, independent store that has been on Maine Street for 35 years. It specializes in local and organically grown foods, with fresh breads, cheese, wine, daily staples, supplements, and much more.
We visit Gorham Bike and Ski to pick up snowshoes for tomorrow’s outdoor activity. Manager Steve Kilburn is an excellent resource for all things bike and ski related, whether it is a mechanical issue (the store services bikes and skis) or advice on where to enjoy these activities. The store rents bikes, snowshoes, and skis for children and adults, both daily and weekly.
After all that shopping, we have worked up an appetite, so we head back to the Fort Andross Mill Complex to have lunch at Frontier. The renovated entrance catches our eye, as does the new cafe. Frontier also has a small theater where it shows independent films. The Androscoggin River rages below our vantage point in the rustic and stylish dining room with lofted ceilings and huge windows. The menu is globally inspired and locally sourced with vegan, antibiotic-free, and gluten-free options available.
After our late lunch, we walk across the “Green Bridge,” which connects Brunswick and Topsham, and marvel at the force of the water coming through the dam after the recent rains. After a short drive south on Route 1 we explore the Swinging Bridge, a popular pedestrian suspension bridge over the Androscoggin River.
We meet friends at El Camino for their popular margaritas, guacamole, and chips before heading to dinner at Henry and Marty Restaurant and Catering, another fantastic Brunswick restaurant that specializes in fresh local food. We then wander back across the Green Bridge to Sea Dog Brewing Company in Topsham in time to catch the end of the Patriots playoff game. Sea Dog’s restaurant features freshly brewed beer, delicious pub-style food, pool tables, and an outdoor seating area.
We drive six miles to the public boat launch on Mere Point to catch the sunrise. The beauty of the narrow peninsula makes for a lovely drive or bike ride. As we are both cyclists, we are familiar with this peninsula in the warmer months, but this is our first foray out this way in winter. The boat launch is a good starting point to explore the area by boat or kayak as well.
We head back to the Brunswick Hotel and Tavern for its Sunday jazz brunch featuring the Jason St. Pierre Jazz Trio. The Tavern is casual and comfortable with a nice crowd enjoying the offerings of chef David Pendexter on an a la carte brunch menu. When the weather warms up, the brunch seating spills out to the lovely courtyard.
After brunch we drive over to Topsham to meet Ben Whatley, one of the owners of Whatley Farm, for a tour of his operation. This is a treat for us, as we have been buying Whatley Farm organic produce at the Brunswick Farmers’ Market for the past year, and a number of restaurants in Brunswick feature the farm’s produce. Whatley Farm specializes in organic vegetables, some fruits, pork, duck eggs, and some of the best garlic scape pesto I’ve ever tasted.
While in Topsham we visit the Cathance River Nature Preserve for an adventure on the snowshoes we rented from Gorham Bike and Ski. The beautiful trails are free and open to the public daily from dawn to dusk. The 5.6 miles of trails are used for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. A section of the trail slopes down toward the Cathance River and offers nice views of its Class IV rapids when the water is high.
We head back to Brunswick to visit the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Open Tuesday through Sunday, the museum is free and open to the public. Built in 1894, the striking Walker Art Building is on the National Register of Historic Places. With over 20,000 permanent pieces in its collection and a revolving series of exhibitions, it would probably take more than 48 hours to see it all.
We end our visit to Brunswick at the Bowling Bowl, a candlepin bowling arena since 1941. The vintage facility features the original wood alleys from 1941 and machinery from the early 1960s. Owner Matthew Laffely is a mechanic by trade and uses his skills to tinker on the antique machinery. The casual and welcoming facility is open daily in the winter and five days a week in the summer.
We are tuckered out after such a full weekend but joyful for all the incredible people we have met along our journey. Brunswick is a lovely place with a small-town vibe. Its vast variety of restaurants take pride in serving food that is locally sourced with influences from India, Italy, Greece, Japan, Vietnam, Germany, Mexico, and beyond. I hope you will make the time to enjoy your own 48 hours (or more) in Brunswick.