Posts tagged portland maine
Posts tagged portland maine
Surprising no one, I listen to a lot of public radio.
In my quest to be a responsible adult, I also donate to MPBN, because I listen to them and value the programming and it makes me feel good. When I donate, I get a member card, which sits on my kitchen counter in its envelope for a few months until I either recycle/throw away the whole shebang or I file it to away somewhere never to be seen again. I never actually looked at the member benefits until recently.
But guess what? There are really good member benefits! There’s a buy-one-get-one-free deal at Aurora Provisions* on Pine Street in downtown Portland for sandwiches (I keep meaning to write a post about Aurora Provisions and their sandwiches and brownies, which are both VERY VERY GOOD) and a similar deal for entrees at Local 188.
On the one hand, going into Aurora Provisions and getting a free sandwich using your public radio coupon is more or less the definition of nerdy yuppie things. On the other hand, free sandwiches!
I love their turkey/cranberry sandwich, and they often have a really good special panino with beef, and the marinated vegetables panino is also delicious. Their peanut butter brownies and their walnut brownies are just about the best you can find in Portland.** And the staff are very nice.
Moreover, tomorrow is the big MPBN member/fundraising drive, so it’s not a bad time to pony up some cash to support your public radio.
* As of writing this, their website is all janked. They’re at 64 Pine Street, Portland in the West End. I believe they open at 8 am. It’s next to Caiola’s. They have coffee, pre-made sandwiches (breakfast sandwiches in the morning, lunch sandwiches later on), lots of cookies and sweets, chocolates, prepared foods, wine, and other elegant and expensive foodstuffs. There’s some nice seating by the windows looking out onto the parking lot. It’s a pretty area, and you could always get sandwiches and walk to the Western Prom for a bit of a picnic.
** That’s right! GAUNTLET THROWN!
Lunch at Bresca
I want to apologize to Krista Kern Desjarlais and the good folks at Bresca for my crappy iPhone photo of their magnificent burger.
It’s the best burger I’ve had in a long, long time. It has bacon and cheddar cheese and mayo and mustard and ketchup and the juices run down your hand and it’s just really, really fantastic.
I mean, they have other great stuff. When I went last Friday with Kate, she got the Brussels sprout salad, which was better than a Brussels sprout salad has any business being, and a soup that I didn’t try because I was too laser-focused on my burger at that point but that looked wonderful. And then I went again Saturday and got the Bresca “Madame” sandwich, their version of the croque madame, which involved a perfectly cooked egg, gruyere, and speck. And then I got a chocolate Napoleon for desert (see also: living your best life). I know lunch is not a meal that generally involves desert, but I just felt that if you have an opportunity to eat one of Desjarlais’ deserts, you have an obligation to take advantage of that opportunity. I regret nothing.
If you haven’t been, the restaurant is pretty and tiny, with warm brown walls, a chalkboard menu, fresh flowers, and a huge butcher block counter. The dishes are in the range of $12 (desert was $10).
And you should go. It’s a pretty fantastic way to eat at one of Portland’s best restaurants for very little money. They’re open Weds - Sat from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm (as well as dinner on Friday and Saturday).
Which means you can be eating this burger as soon as tomorrow.*
* If you live in Portland.
After a weekend of snow, it’s really gorgeous outside.
(Photo from Eventide’s facebook page)
I don’t know what your plans are for this weekend, but I strongly suggest they include the Maine shrimp special at Eventide pictured above.
I met a friend for lunch on Friday, successfully leaving the house by myself with the kiddo and venturing out into the world. It was good!*
Eventide is a medium-fancy oyster bar from the owners of Hugo’s. I say medium-fancy because even though the atmosphere is casual, it’s also kind of slick and hip inside, and the food about five notches up from the oyster-bar-on-the-waterfront type deal (I’m not naming names, but there are no oyster bars on Commercial Street that I’d be willing to eat at) (and I LOVE oysters).
It’s crazy to me that Portland was without a place like Eventide until so recently, and I never ever want to go back to those dark days again. Every time I go there thinking I’m going to have a casual, not-too-expensive meal and then I see the menu and the specials and kind of black out and go on an ordering spree. I’ve never regretted it, but I’ve also never left having ordered fewer than four things.
Everything we had was spectacular. In particular, you should go now and get these two specials:
- The whole fried Maine shrimp, which are reminiscent of soft shelled crab except more convenient to eat. Maine shrimp are wonderful, by the way, and have a limited season and there are limited quantities available.
- The lamb belly. It was all I could do not to shovel that whole thing into my mouth as quickly as possible before my dining companions realized what happened.
* Except when the kid reached his limit around dessert and then screamed for the entire walk back to the car and car ride home. This is a child that does not enjoy his carseat.
To make up for the fact that the Ham Hock Soup recipe doesn’t have a photo, here’s a photo of some trees in our backyard. It’s been gloomy and rainy quite a bit lately, but today is gorgeous, the kind of day that convinces me that fall is my favorite season.
I just love the liver appetizer at Local 188. And the best part is that Dave HATES liver, so I don’t have to share and I get to have leftover livers for lunch.
Plus, it’s really sunny today.
Happy Wednesday to me!
Every month a group of Portland food bloggers do a coordinated post on a theme. Normally I’m pretty excited about the themes— I enjoy themed things. This month the theme was “second chances”: returning to a restaurant that you’ve been underwhelmed by in the past. This is not something I particularly enjoy doing, which is why you don’t often see negative restaurant reviews on this blog. If I don’t like a restaurant, I’m disinclined to go back to see if my experience was a fluke or an off night, and it doesn’t seem fair to give a place a bad “review” based on one experience.
And I have to be honest here about Sonny’s— it’s not that I had a bad experience in the past. I just wasn’t particularly impressed by it, so whenever I’ve been deciding where to eat, I’d choose other places over it. But it’s in a lovely space— a former bank— and is conveniently located on Exchange Street near the Old Port/downtown, and I like their sister restaurant, Local 188, very much. Dave also remembered liking it, so I felt like I owed it a second chance.
Photo by Portland Daily Photo
There was some weirdness when I showed up involving a wait at the abandoned hostess station, then the hostess studiously ignoring me for a long couple of minutes while she typed into the computer, then offering me a table outside (it was raining). Eventually a table was rustled up in the back room of the restaurant. Coincidentally, it was the same table we ate at last time we were there.
If I go back, I would wait to eat at the bar instead. The bar area in front is warm and busy and inviting and very pretty. It has the kind of festive atmosphere that Local 188 has (except that the actual architecture of the space is much nicer at Sonny’s). The room in the back is perfectly fine, but does not have a festive atmosphere at all. The high ceilings work against it a bit, and when it’s not full, it feels sort of empty and barren. When there are more people, the noise bounces off all the hard surfaces and it’s loud. Also it’s cold.
I ordered fried sweet plantains along with a whole mackerel special, Dave got the cheeseburger. Fried sweet plantains are a personal favorite of mine, and they were very good served with chili sour cream. The mackerel came with green beans, rice, and pineapple salsa. It was good, particularly with the salsa, but the vegetables and rice were kind of uninspired, both in flavor and presentation. The fish itself was fine/good— well cooked, plenty of flavor, but not particularly exciting or special. At $27, I wanted it to be just a bit better. The burger was again, fine, but not quite as good as Dave had remembered it being, and it lacked a certain structural integrity and fell apart immediately.
In the end, the restaurant as a whole was fine. But it wasn’t good enough for me to want to go back or make it a regular part of my rotation, which was kind of my experience the first time around. There are other restaurants in Portland that are much better for an equivalent price.
All that said, if you’re just looking for a drink and appetizers, I would recommend Sonny’s. Their drinks are very good, the bar is lovely and very appealing. I just wouldn’t go for dinner.
Thanks for Portland Food Map for organizing the o-rama series! You can find a round-up of the other Second Chance posts there either tonight or tomorrow.
The tomato-fennel soup and the duck rillettes (also fantastic, and remarkably more photogenic)
God, I am still writing about soup. For the record, I’m kind of sick of it, too. Not eating the soup, soup is great, but writing about it.
In any case, I think every person who has ever been to Portland, ME or thought about going to Portland, ME is familiar with Duckfat. It is a smallish, casual restaurant that specializes in paninis, duckfat fries, and milkshakes. It is owned by Rob Evans, who was until very recently the chef-owner of Hugo’s. (Also, a cook at Duckfat, Melissa Corey just won on the cooking competition tv show Chopped.) Duckfat is an incredibly likeable place. People flock to it. And as much as it sort of pains me to have Portland visitors talk about a sandwich shop as the ne plus ultra of Portland dining, I also really like Duckfat.
On a summer Saturday, the doors and windows will be open and there will be crowds of people milling around on the sidewalk waiting for seats and waiters weaving through mass of humanity and it is lively and bustling. Personally, though, I like Duckfat more in the winter and on weeknights. At those times, it’s quiet and warm and low-key and, again, incredibly likeable. They do things that would feel contrived in other places: water in mason jars and your food served on cutting boards, and it doesn’t feel contrived at all. Or maybe it feels a tiny bit contrived but the general congeniality of the whole place washes away my cynicism about things like that. And of course, the food is very good.
The paninis and duckfat fries and shakes and salads are great. (My favorite panini is the duck confit and my favorite dipping sauce is the aioli and my favorite shake is all of them.) But you are missing out if you haven’t had their soups. They tend to have two on their regular menu (a tomato-fennel and a yellow beet and tangerine most recently), plus a soup special. I want you to think about how good a soup has to be to be as good as or better than a duck confit panini and duckfat fries with aioli. They are that good.
Unfortunately, I find it a little hard to write about what makes their soups so good. There is just nothing that tastes wrong. The ones I’ve had have all been pureed soups, so it’s not like I can get into a discussion of potato integrity or lentil texture. The flavors have been clear and simple and incredibly well-balanced. They are absolutely delicious.
I had a carrot soup from maybe two years ago that I still remember— it had a little bit of parsnip in it that added just the right amount of earthiness and depth. Then a few weeks ago I had a wonderful maple-roasted parsnip soup— maple-y but not too sweet and tasting like the best version of a parsnip. And their tomato fennel drizzled with basic oil is fantastic. It is the soup that makes me disappointed when I make tomato soups, because they are never as good.* The roasted fennel flavor is clear but not overpowering and matches the tomato perfectly. It is wonderful. You should order it.
And with that, let’s not talk about soup for a while.**
* Do not think that this means I will stop hassling you about making your own soups! You should! You can make very good soup at home.
** Do read the rest of the soup-o-rama restaurant reviews, though. Portland Food Map will have a round-up later today.
The gist of this post, in case you don’t want to read to the end and go through a whole decision-making process, is that I love Laughing Stock Farm and I think they still have spots available in their summer CSA.* You should join! It’s great and super flexible!
The other point is that there are many types of farms and CSAs**, and which (or if) one works best for you depends on a number of things. When I was first choosing a CSA, I made a spreadsheet. I am the kind of person who encounters a situation with many options and variables and makes a spreadsheet. You could make a list? Or mentally compare? I just don’t want you to lay down $500 and be unhappy.
Here are some things to consider:
Price: They’re not all $500. Many are quite a bit less, especially if you’re getting a half share. But you should feel like you’re getting a good value. Do the math and figure out the per-week cost; how does that compare to your grocery bill?
Convenience: Where are the pickups? Near you or your work? Who else might be picking up your share? Is it easy for them, too, or are they not going to be able to make it most of the time? How long is the pickup open? For me, there is a huge difference between a pickup that goes to 6:00 pm vs. 6:30 pm vs. 7:00 pm in terms of both the amount of stress in my life and the number of pickups that I simply have no shot of making. This is a time to consider honestly how often you work late. Know that there is a difference between being able to leave work at 5:15 pm and actually leaving work at 5:15 pm. You probably want a CSA that fits your life as you live it.
Share Size: I want to get the bulk of my vegetables from the farm share, but I don’t want things rotting in the fridge. That makes it seem so easy! It’s not. How many vegetables you want per week depends on how many people you’re feeding, but also how often you cook, whether you cook mostly vegetables or mostly meat with vegetables as sides, whether you’re going to be eating the vegetables for lunch, whether you can or freeze vegetables for later. Some farms will only offer whole shares, but you can split them with a friend. Quite a few farms offer whole and half shares, or even a range of share sizes. Talk to the farmer about how much food is included on a given week if you’re not sure. If you’re in the northeast, know also that you’re going to get less food in June than in August.
Crops: If you love bok choy with all your heart, make sure the farm grows bok choy.*** You can always talk to the farmer about whether they’d be willing to try growing your personal favorite crops, but this tends to be more effective if you’re a member of the farm already. Many farms that have websites list their crops on their site, take a gander. You should also think about how much flexibility you have in the crops on any given week.
Experience: Farming is hard. Things go wrong: too much rain, not enough rain, not enough rain followed by too much rain all at once, late Spring frosts, too much heat, not enough heat, late blight and all manner of plant diseases, all manner of bugs, deer, rabbits, staff that quit halfway through the season, tractors that break down, plastic mulch that blows away, it goes on. I personally think that an established farm is more likely to know how to handle all these crazy things that go wrong. You may want to support a farm that’s just starting out. That’s fine! Apparently I care more about having tomatoes than supporting the little guys.
Organic? Organic certified? Not organic? There are certified organic farms, farms that don’t go through the certification process but farm organically, farms that are mostly organic except with certain crops, farms that use integrated pest management to control bugs which means they sometimes use pesticides, etc. Figure out what matters to you. Know that there may be crops that are very hard to grow organically in your region (like apples here).
Nearness of Farm: If you’re picking up from a drop-off location and not the farm, do consider how far away the farm is. Many farms have pick-your-own crops (for example: herbs, peas, strawberries, asparagus, flowers) and it’s nice to be able to pick those if you want. I will say: I highly recommend visiting the farm at least once, and I really like being able to easily drive to the farm now.
This is a field of the pick-your-own flowers at Laughing Stock Farm. No kidding.
Other Stuff: Is the farm financially viable and contributing to the health of the local economy? Do you care about that? Also, and maybe most importantly, do you like the farmers? That counts for a lot.
* “CSA” stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When I say CSA, I generally mean a program that lets you buy a “share” in a farm and receive a portion of what they grow each week during the season.
** One big caveat: In Portland, a number of farms offer what they call CSAs but seem to me more like a discount for pre-paying at the farmer’s market. You pay a chunk to the farm up front, and then can spend that money at the farmer’s market during the season with a small (10% seemed common) discount. If that works for you, great! It clearly works for a fair number of people. It wasn’t what I wanted, and you can read more about why here if you care.
*** With the obvious caveat that not all crops grow in all places.
Fisherman’s Grill clam chowder
Despite loving chowder, and despite the availability of “New England chowder” almost anywhere in the country, I do not order chowder in restaurants. Terrible things are done in the name of “New England chowder”: gluey broth, overcooked seafood, virtually no seafood at all, clam chowders that don’t include the clam bellies, disintegrating potatoes and all manner of mush, bread bowls. Bread bowls!
Chowder is a food of my people, and I will not eat it in a hollowed-out dinner roll.
Still, when our group of Portland food bloggers chose “chowder” as this month’s topic, I thought I was fine. I would write about an ancestral chowder recipe and discuss the horror show that can be restaurant chowder without ever having to have it cross my lips and at the same time spread the gospel of a good homemade chowder. We would all feel great. I would have leftover homemade chowder in the fridge! Then A. told me that actually, it was supposed to be a restaurant review and my whole plan went to shit.
I mean, I get it. People come to Portland and they want to eat chowder or lobster in a scenic location gazing out upon the ocean. When my friends and family come to Portland and say they feel like going to a seafood restaurant, they are not talking about going to Miyake, despite my best efforts to convince them that Miyake has a wide selection of foods-from-the-ocean. They are talking about chowder and lobster rolls and ocean-gazing and salty Mainers with thick accents. The things that I enjoy about Portland— that we are not forced always to be extras in a theatrical interpretation of a small ocean-side city for the benefit of camp parents and cruise ship tourists— aren’t always as satisfying to visitors.
But I can be a trooper! I went with S. to Gilbert’s, which has the whole salty-Mainer vibe down pat along with particularly wonderful location. The chowder was not my favorite (disintegrating potatoes and a sort of starchy broth), but I have also eaten worse chowders.
Gilbert’s Chowder House on Commercial St. in downtown Portland
My next stop on the Great Chowder Tour was Fisherman’s Grill
/Net ( there is a certain lack of clarity around the name of the restaurant, but the majority of the signage said Fisherman’s Grill Fisherman’s Net is next door and is unaffiliated) on Forest Ave. Initial plans to visit were foiled by poor planning on my part, but I finally made it.
Now. There are scenic parts of Portland, and Fisherman’s Grill is not in one of them. It is wedged next to Haggarty’s Brit-Indi Takeout* and just down the street from RSVP Discount Liquors and apparently not far from Tebb’s Headshop NOW OPEN. Let’s go to the photos:
This happens to be my new neighborhood, and I want to say in its defense, Forest Ave. is surrounded by perfectly lovely residential streets.
The restaurant is tiny, with a few tables and a counter and one guy. There’s a framed picture of the Bruins with the owners (I think?) on Great Diamond Island and a buoy in the corner. I got a cup of the clam chowder.
It was when the guy was packing up my styrofoam cup of chowder and said that he included some grilled marble rye that I decided that I would have a really, really hard time writing a bad review of the place.
Happily, the chowder was amazing. I honest-to-God did not think this was going to happen. I thought it would be mediocre and I would write a long thing about how chowder from restaurants anywhere is terrible and extoll the benefits of cooking from scratch. But it was really, really good chowder. The top was sprinkled generously with black pepper and minced parsley and there were tons of big chunks of not-overcooked clam. The chowder was thick, but creamy and smooth, not starchy or gluey and wonderfully flavorful. The marble rye was amply buttered. It was so good. I instantly regretted not ordering a bowl.
They’re not open Mondays, and they only accept cash or local checks. I highly, highly recommend it.
849 Forest Ave
Also: I will be posting an ancestral chowder recipe this week, at which point we can discuss at more length the finer points of potato integrity.
* Has anyone ever in the history of eating in this fine country felt like what we lacked was some Brit-Indi takeout? I have not ever, and yet I feel somewhat compelled to try Haggarty’s.