Portland, Maine, is now such a food destination that it has created a spillover effect. About 25 minutes south lies Biddeford, a small city overlooking the Saco River. Rents are cheap, and the town is becoming home to some of the same craft-based enterprises that have transformed Portland. Biddeford’s downtown is a modest crossroads where pickups gun their engines at oblivious out-of-staters. On a recent visit, my family and I followed the slope of Main Street down to the river, on the banks of which lie old textile, lumber, and grain mills. Splayed around a sky-piercing smokestack, these structures are huge — like, medieval-fortress huge. The biggest of the Goliaths has been rechristened the Pepperell Mill Campus. It’s a magnificent hive, filled with shops, restaurants, galleries, and apartments.
If the idea behind Pepperell’s rebirth is to throw open its vast honeycombs to aspiring entrepreneurs and see what grows, well, mission accomplished. Round Turn Distilling, the maker of Bimini Gin, has opened a tasting room, and of all the gin joints in the world to walk into, it’s arguably the cutest and most urban-zen. Next door is the rompin’, stompin’ Banded Brewing Co., and next door to that is the delicious Maine Pie Co.
Beyond this labyrinthine campus, Biddeford is slightly unpolished (pawn shop, busted pay phone), but with islands of comfort, including a classic American diner and a few chummy craft-brewing establishments. Our favorite stops were Elements, a bookstore/coffee shop/beer bar, which is perfect for an afternoon of browsing and sousing; and the town’s first real claim to chef-driven cuisine, Elda (entrées $26–$30), the brainchild of Bowman Brown, previously of Salt Lake City’s widely admired Forage. Everything about Elda—from the open kitchen to the seafood-centered menu—is impeccable and warm.