Location: 149 Maine Street, Brunswick
Notes: Located in the picturesque Tontine Mall in Brunswick, next to a shop that seems to exclusively sell handknit hats shaped like animal faces, and another storefront given over to some kind of racetrack for slot car enthusiasts, the Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe is surprising in its scale. Spanning the entire back half of the mall’s main level, Wild Oats enormous space is divided into no less than three different food prep areas, including a hot soup bar with fourteen varieties of hot soup and chowder (including vegan and vegetarian offerings), a sandwich station selling freshly-made sandwiches, salads, and burritos, a counter filled with breads, pies, and sweet rolls, a full-service coffee station, and a wall of coolers filled with drinks and take-home containers of macaroni and cheese, soup, and chili. The store opens into a sunlight-filled atrium, where dozens of people slurp their midday soup and chat, and the bakery’s large staff buzzes around in matching company t-shirts.
There’s a kind of mid-1990s vibe in Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe that I can’t quite put my finger on, as though it wouldn’t be at all surprising for the staff to be wearing identical Rachel haircuts and drinking chai lattes out of comically oversized red coffee cups. I fully expected to overhear someone saying “girl power” and talking about the information superhighway.
This feeling continued over into my sandwich selection, a turkey BLT on freshly-baked potato bread. There were things I liked and disliked about this sandwich. I enjoyed the fact that it looked like a sandwich you would make in your own house, but that you happened to buy, instead. It wasn’t overstuffed, overblown, or made with any crazy ingredients. The potato bread was sturdy enough to contain the sandwich’s ingredients, even if the transition from the bread’s soft center to its chewy crust was a little bit abrupt. The proportions of turkey-to-vegetable-to-bacon were all exactly right, with no one ingredient outshining the others, or overpowering the bread. The tomatoes were thinly sliced and fairly flavorless (not surprising given the time of year), and the bacon had that anemic, thin, precooked quality that you find when you mass-heat it in a microwave.
Unfortunately, the comfort I found in the plain, nonthreatening, homemade quality of this sandwich was kind of its downfall. By the time I got to the second half of the sandwich, I wasn’t entirely clear why I was eating it. Or, more specifically, I would understand why I was eating it if I was at home with the refrigerator door left hanging open, Days of Our Lives playing in the background, while I stood in my bathrobe at noon eating my homemade sandwich over the sink. Measured in that way, this sandwich was a success. I had to remind myself, though, that this wasn’t a sandwich I had made myself; this was a sandwich that I had paid nearly seven dollars and had to leave the house for, and that should thus be exceptional (or at least memorable) in at least some area.
I’ll definitely try the Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe again, and I can certainly see why it’s a popular spot for people on their lunch breaks to sit down, catch a little Spring sunshine in the dining room, and have a bowl of soup that feels homemade. It’s the kind of place we’ll find ourselves on those days where the most pressing issue on our minds is whether Joey is going to pick Pacey or Dawson, those days that we just can’t figure out how to feed ourselves, and we want something comforting and good, if not particularly surprising.