Editor's note: A revised version of this story appeared in the launch issue of maine. magazine. To view the article as it ran, click here.

Whenever you mention Belfast, people inevitably bring up two things: chicken and MBNA. But you didn't know Belfast back in the broiler-fryer heyday. You never saw the waterfront when poultry plants lined the river and, frankly, you couldn't even guess where they were. You've heard all about MBNA, and later, Bank of America. But while credit card companies had their hand in the downtown transformation, plastic has little — if anything — to do with this downtown's soul.

Settled in 1765 and named on a coin toss — tails and I'd be writing about a place called Londonderry — the port became a center of trade, the area a shipbuilding mecca, drawing in sea captains and farmers from towns to the west. The prosperity of the era and those that followed made Belfast an architect's dream, a downtown of Gothic brick beauties with Victorian and Colonial mansions on the outskirts.

Nearly two centuries later, the area's agricultural heritage, well-preserved architecture and inexpensive land made it a haven for back-to-the-landers. They started a co-op, worked the soil and led the way for a new generation of Belfasters — young organic farmers, artists, chefs and entrepreneurs who are making their mark today. Commercial agriculture lured in poultry farms and processors — for a while, Belfast was known as the broiler-fryer capital of Maine, if not New England. Chickens eventually gave way to credit card companies, and in the 1990s, MBNA came in and spiffed the place up a bit; Bank of America has since taken over that operation.

Shipwrights and sailors, farmers and foodies, builders and bankers have all had a hand in the Belfast of today. And though purists may object, we think it's just gentrified enough. Yes, you can get a great latte, order an heirloom tomato salad for lunch and then spend the afternoon gallery hopping. But it still feels real.

You skipped out of work early and have been cooped up in your car for the last two hours. Check in to your hotel — go posh and shiny new at the Belfast Bay Inn & Suites, grand at the The White House Inn or basic with a million-dollar view at the Comfort Inn Ocean's Edge. Then head straight to Chase's Daily (96 Main St.). Owned and operated by a farming family, Chase's Daily is the type of place you wish you had in your hometown. It's only open for dinner on Fridays, and it's home to some of the freshest, most beautifully prepared produce you'll ever eat. Be sure to wander back into the market, where you'll find produce from the Chases' farm that looks like it was pulled from a still life.

If you wanted to head back to Chase's for breakfast, nobody would blame you. Just don't expect bacon — it's a vegetarian restaurant, though it doesn't bill itself as such.

Belfast is known for its vibrant arts scene, and you could spend an entire morning browsing the city's galleries. Check out the contemporary art at Aarhus Gallery, a gorgeous space owned by a six-artist collective. Visit Belfast's newest arts destination, Roots and Tendrils, which showcases independent and emerging visual and performing artists and sells wares from Maine designers such as Ferdinand and Sock Monkey Cards. Browse Neal Parent's fine art photography of the Maine coast at the Parent Gallery and be sure to find out what's happening at Waterfall Arts, a community arts center with a global view.

You may want to refuel at Bay Wrap — the teriyaki salmon wrap is great, as are the salads. Top it off with a scoop of John's ice cream. So decadent. So good. So what you need before giving your wallet a workout.

The shopping in Belfast is fabulous, which is not entirely surprising for a city that was home to a credit card giant. Start at YoMamma's Home. This design-focused boutique blends must-haves, such as Jane Marvel bags and Company C rugs, with all sorts of local treasures that you can't find anywhere else. Owners Sandhya Maltby and Mallery Dalto have a great sense of humor — and even better taste. Green thumbs will love Brambles (69 Main St.), a gardener's eden full of tasteful gifts, landscape accents and potted plants. Though it's not downtown, The Cherished Home is a must. Most people visit in the hope of running into owner Genie Francis of "General Hospital" fame. And while Genie is a peach, the selection of home goods — Dash and Albert rugs, Pine Cone Hill linens — and little luxuries for women and babies is equally appealing.

After all this exploring, you'll want to unwind on the deck at Three Tides. Owners David and Sarah Carlson turned a rundown boathouse into a rustic, hip bar and restaurant a few years back, and it quickly became a favorite for locals and a destination for visitors. For dinner, choose from a variety of small plates — try the mussels or the marinated olives and wash them down with a pint from David's newest venture, Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. If beer isn't your thing, order a tarted-up martini, preferably with the housemade blueberry vodka (for more, see Dish, p. xxx). Drink and repeat until bedtime.

It seems like every hotel room in this town faces east, so chances are, you'll be up with the sun, no matter how much fun you had at Three Tides last night. Not to worry, because the brunch at Belfast Co-Op will make you feel human again in no time. If Huevos Rancheros are on the menu, order them. If not, grab a scone or muffin. You won't be disappointed.

Still not awake? Try a little sun and crisp salt air. Stroll around town on a self-guided walking tour — local merchants have free maps; grab a frisbee and head to the park beside the Belfast Boathouse (; or wander down to the town's footbridge, a scenic walkway that spans the Passagassawakeag River. If you choose the latter, you'll pass by the site of the former chicken plants — not that you'd ever know.

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