The Big Apple may be well known for its fabulous neighborhood delicatessens, Seattle may have been the first to serve a skinny grande vanilla latte with a caramel swirl, and when we think of Wisconsin, images of crazed fans sporting giant “cheesehead” hats often comes to mind.  When we think of Maine, however, we often see ourselves on rocky beaches or at backyard picnics, balancing a tray of steamed lobster, clams, butter and farm fresh corn-on-the-cob on our laps, a bottle of Gritty’s or a glass of wine in our hand.

Maine Gourmet Chocolates has found a way to make a somewhat sweeter version of our Maine clam bake. Stephanie Bernatchez, of Maine Gourmet Chocolates & Specialty Popcorns, has been making candy, molded chocolates and homemade sweets in the Lewiston-Auburn area for about 20 years. She uses her own molds to replicate a clam bake using delicious chocolate.

Bernatchez also makes a variety of needhams and nut brittles, both local favorites, as well as fun barks and flavorful popcorns such as a spicy cayenne and a sweet chocolate. “People go crazy over my Cheesecake Bombs,” said Bernatchez. Smooth and creamy, she makes them in four flavors and dips them all in chocolate.

If you ask Lisa Chiavarolotti-Chouinard of the Italian Bakery to recommend a regional favorite she has many suggestions. Staying true to their Italian roots, the Italian Bakery makes a tiramisu that is as beautiful as it is delicious. According to Chiavarolotti-Chouinard, “Tiramisu is an Italian dessert made with lady fingers soaked in espresso and coffee liqueur, layered with mascarpone cream and dusted with cocoa powder.” Chiavarolotti-Chouinard also recommends the Italian Bakery’s creamy cannoli and festive European-style cookies including almond flavor rainbow cookies, Florentine lace and others.

A perennial favorite at Grant’s Bakery is the pork pie. According to Doug Grant, “Some products (like the pork pie) remain unchanged since my grandparents started the bakery.” Pork pie, also called meat pie or tourtiere, has its roots in the rich French-Canadian history of the Lewiston-Auburn area. “There’s a meat pie on the table of every holiday party I go to,” said Grant. Last year Grant’s Bakery produced nearly 1,600 tourtiere pies during the Christmas season.

Personally, having grown up surrounded by Italian tradition, my own favorite is a rich and saucy seafood dish on Christmas Eve. Although Lobster Newburgh and Lobster Fra Diavlo have received rave reviews at my holiday table, any type of seafood will suffice, as long as it’s savory and plentiful.

In addition to the flavorful Italian and French-Canadian contributions to our local holiday cuisine, there is also a strong Greek influence in Lewiston-Auburn. “Christmas time,” according to Niky Karamousadakis, of Niky’s Greek Restaurant in Lewiston, “is a family time. As a child, the women in my family would all get together and make dozens and dozens of cookies … the most traditional is the Melomakarona.” They are also Karamousadakis’ favorite.

Although they are made of many of the basic “cookie” ingredients, Melomakarona is also made with a little cognac and walnuts, and then is dipped in sweet honey syrup before it is served.

Niky’s Greek Restaurant will have Melomakorona on the menu this holiday season as well as “some surprises,” both sweet and savory. You can eat there or order a dish or platter to bring home for your holiday celebration.

Susan Hall, of The Vault, recommends several popular wines to compliment your holiday feast. To accompany a wide variety of dishes, from salads to seafood and entrees with a spicy kick, she recommends a 2010 Pine Ridge Chenin-Viognier. Also, a 2009 Delas Cotes du Rhone Rouge, with its “raspberry and cherry tones and elegant finish, will pair nicely with roasted turkey, pork and roasted vegetables.”

For those who enjoy a good brew, Gritty’s “Christmas Ale is already hitting the shelves and will be going on tap in bars, restaurants, pubs and taverns all over New England.” According to Thomas Wilson, of Gritty McDuff’s Brewing Co., “Christmas Ale has a lovely, dark red/amber color and a rich, full-bodied, malty taste with a slightly roasted undertone. It’s the quintessential beer for the Christmas season,” and it only comes ‘round once a year.

With its rich cultural influences and young entrepreneurial spirit, the twin cities of Lewiston and Auburn are rich with both old and new traditions to fill your holiday table with food and drink that will delight and satisfy your family and your guests.