Head to Maine to visit New England's newest James Beard award-winning bakeries

The prestigious food awards just bestowed honors on two Portland bakeries. Luckily, it's an easy day trip from Boston!

Jacqueline Dole
Written by
Jacqueline Dole
Portland, Maine, downtown cityscape in the afternoon
Photograph: Shutterstock

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better souvenir of your trip to Portland than a haul from one of the southern Maine city’s standout bakeries. Portland has long been home to a number of skilled pastry chefs—and at this year’s James Beard awards, two in particular were honored.

ZU Bakery is this year’s Outstanding Bakery award-winner, and Atsuko Fujimoto of Norimoto Bakery was named Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker. Meanwhile, Boston was snubbed. (David Standridge from The Shipwright’s Daughter in Mystic, Conn., was named Best Chef: Northeast; and Dakar NOLA, a Senegalese restaurant in New Orleans, bested Dorchester’s Comfort Kitchen for the title of Best New Restaurant.) Check out the full lineup of winners here.

At just under two hours by car or slightly longer on the Amtrak Downeaster, Bostonians can easily visit Portland’s two winners in a weekday trip or weekend stay in Maine. 

ZU Bakery has been based in Portland’s West End since November 2022, though founder Barak Olins launched his Maine-centric bakery in 2000. Despite a small footprint at 81 Clark St., Olins manages to produce some of the best baked goods in the country. All crafted with Maine-grown grains that are milled in-house, fresh loaves of bread and pastries roll out of the large deck oven throughout the day at ZU, so you don’t need to arrive at the start of the day to find your choice of treats. Visitors will also find something different every day, including raisin croissants, apple galettes, seeded levain and light rye boules speckled with sunflower seeds. ZU Bakery is currently open Wednesday-Saturday from 9am–5pm, and the daily production schedule encourages visits during different times of the day to find an assortment of pastries.

The West End neighborhood is becoming Portland’s newest destination for brunch, with two-time James Beard award-nominated Ilma Lopez’s Ugly Duckling just around the corner from ZU; as well as Ocotillo nearby, a daytime café from the owners of longtime local favorite Terlingua. A short drive off the highway and from the train station, the neighborhood has ample parking.

Atsuko Fujimoto of Portland, Maine's Norimoto Bakery is the 2024 Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker, named by the James Beard Foundation.
Photograph: Scott Peterman for Norimoto BakeryAtsuko Fujimoto of Portland, Maine's Norimoto Bakery is the 2024 Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker, named by the James Beard Foundation.

Atsuko Fujimoto is a pastry legend in Portland, having worked at Fore Street, Standard Baking Co., Miyake and her first business, Ten Ten Pié. She was previously nominated as Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker in 2022 before taking the award this year. After Ten Ten Pié shuttered, Fujimoto started Norimoto Bakery as a wholesale operation, supplying popular Portland morning spots like Bard Coffee, Rose Foods and Speckled Ax with treats she bills as “European baking, Japanese sensibility, Maine ingredients.” During the peak of the pandemic, Fujimoto offered contactless drive-through pick-up when everyone needed some comfort more than ever. In 2021, she opened her current spot at 469 Stevens Ave. in Portland, where she offers her ever-changing lineup of pastries and lunch options. Expect to find a seasonal menu with items like pistachio olive oil cake, adzuki black sesame rugelach, and a fiddlehead norimaki roll. Norimoto is currently open Tuesday-Friday from 7:30am-2pm. 

Norimoto Bakery is located in the Deering neighborhood of Portland, just a few miles outside of downtown. The area is a favorite of locals, with Rwanda Bean Coffee and Lecha both fantastic spots to grab a beverage. Close by, you’ll also find Woodfords Corner, a development teeming with upcoming openings, including the first retail space from technique-driven edible cannabis company Pot + Pan; and old favorites like James Beard award-nominee Woodford Food & Beverage, whose kitchen is helmed by fellow Portland legend, chef Courtney Loreg.

Thanks to these (and more) bakeries and restaurants, Maine's largest city is a gastronomic destination not only for New England, but for folks around the country. The James Beard Foundation is clearly paying attention. So when's your next trip north?

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