Monday, April 26, 2010

eating portland, maine: the gfd guide (part 1)

There is a lot of good food to be eaten in Portland, Maine, and when we were there a couple weekends ago, the yachtsman and I did our best to sample as much as we could. What's here represents only what we were able to consume in one 48-hour period; there are many places we plan to go on future visits, but for now I can vouch for the following.

On our way into town we stopped at Hot Suppa! for their famous corned beef hash. While I'm still a vegetarian at heart (or a vegetarian who eats heart; see Hugo's, below), I have a serious weakness for the breakfast meats (it was bacon that broke me), and this is really, really good hash. Plus, my over-medium egg was perfectly cooked, the toast was homemade, and the yachtsman recommends the Cubano sandwich.

It was nearly impossible to decide where to eat dinner each night, but I don't think we could have chosen wrong. Friday night we went to Hugo's, which was très chère, and also très good. There was a "molecular gastronomy" element to many of the dishes, which involved things like "prosciutto gelée" (I'm nervous) and "peanut-butter powder" (forget licking your plate; snort this shizz), but everything we ate was deeply flavorful, including the beef heart the yachtsman ordered. You read that right: beef heart. On a Caesar salad, natch. In spite of the fact that I gagged when the waiter was describing the dish, I tried it, in the hopes that by doing so I might one day convince the yachtsman to let a bite of nonscrambled egg cross his lips (pure folly, as it turns out; see Bresca, below). While I found plenty to eat that didn't involve organ meat, Hugo's is not for vegetarians. But it sure was good for a pseudo vegetarian who eats things like fresh pea soup with eucalyptus foam and prosciutto gelée; asparagus with a 149-degree egg and teeny, tiny little Japanese mushrooms; and also halibut with allium risotto and a sweet-onion ring. Did I mention that the yachtsman ate beef heart? And should we take a moment here to acknowledge that "beef heart" means "cow heart"?

There is an abundance of lovely little bakeries in Portland. On M. LaBee's advice we went (twice) to Standard Baking Company, where we tried the croissants (heavenly, phallic),

the morning bun (without nuts, of course),

and a funny cheese thing that the yachtsman selected and I bogarted. We also stopped at Two Fat Cats , where we bought a cupcake and whoopie pie to bring home, both of which were scrumptious, though the whoopie pie filling did not appear to include marshmallow, which means it was not really a whoopie pie, it was a tasty chocolate-sandwich dessert that I would definitely eat again. And again.

Remember when I told you to save your Parmesan rinds to flavor soups? At Micucci Grocery on India Street they actually sell them, people, but if you've followed my advice that's one thing you won't have to shell out dough for when you're shopping at this little Italian market.

What you will want to shell out dough for is the dough being made and sold in the back of the store, namely amazing pizza with possibly the best crust you'll ever eat;

sfogliatelle, a creamy, flaky pastry involving phyllo dough and sweetened ricotta cheese;

Taken with the yachtsman's Hipstamatic.

and something called Luna bread, which the ladies literally lined up for and insisted the yachtsman and I buy a piece of (they didn't exactly have to twist our arms).

Did you think we spent the whole time eating? Well, that was mostly the case. But in between meals we went for cold, rainy walks, around Portland and at a couple beaches/state parks nearby.

There was also a little shopping, including at Longfellow Books, an indie bookstore with a large selection of magazines and new books, as well as a nicely curated collection of used books. And if you, like me, love books and food equally (or, as my mother used to tell Mojie and me, "the same amount, just differently"), you must go to Rabelais, a bookstore that sells "fine books on food and drink." While we were there I drooled over Ad Hoc at Home and wondered whether The Flexitarian Table might be the answer to the culinary dissonance between the yachtsman and me, but ultimately settled on A Homemade Life, which I read in bed at the hotel in between walks and shops and meals.

Our favorite meal of the weekend was at Bresca, a cozy, candlelit place

where they serve food for both the gruelish palate (braised Tuscan kale with a soft-boiled egg, crispy pancetta, kombu butter, and charred multigrain bread ) and beef-heart eaters (the yachtsman had spaghetti with veal-ricotta meatballs, which he said was out of this world). When Gruelish Palate asked Beef-Heart Eater if he would like to try a delicious bite of kale, egg, and toast, Beef-Heart Eater said no way. When Gruelish Palate pointed out that she'd tried the heart of a cow, for god's sake, B-H E said he'd rather eat nothing but beef heart for the rest of his life than consume undercooked egg yolk. All the more for me, then, not that I needed more: the kale and egg was an appetizer that could have been a meal, yet I went on to eat a delicious piece of local cod and a panna cotta, the sweet memory of which I'll carry with me to my possibly-early-if-I eat-panna-cotta-on-a-regular-basis grave.

I may have spent my Sunday mornings growing up singing in the choir at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, but nowadays I prefer the New York Times and a bagel to the bible and a communion wafer. Sunday mornings are meant for bagels, don't you think? When we're at home we go to Myer's and eat them Montreal-style; in Portland we drove over the bridge to 158 Pickett,

where the tattooed pirates made us egg-and-cheese sandwiches served on homemade bagels that are so popular customers are limited to three per person on weekends, six on weekdays. And while I usually prefer my bagel with cream cheese only, the egg-and-cheese version here was so good, I wished I'd ordered three.

After the bagels we went to confession (gluttony), and then drove home. But we plan to return soon, and after we do I'll write part 2 of the GFD guide to Portland, Maine. In the meantime, this New York Times article and this piece in Bon Appetit are great resources, as is this. And perhaps the Down East Dilettante and his posse can leave their suggestions in the comments?


  1. Look out New York Times. There's more useful information here than in "What's Doing In . . . ." Can't wait to replicate your trip. Just have to have that beef heart.

  2. How'd you guess?

    A friend discovered Hugo's the week BEFORE it got the James Beard award, and is still justifiably proud of her ahead-of-the-trend moment. We're 2.5 hours from Portland, and your photos of the sublime product from Micucci's had me almost ready to leave work and jump in the car to get sum (are you reading this Ellen? Let's go!). Except, of course, that the sfogliatelle is almost always sold out....soooooooooooo good. The only highlight you've missed here is the Rosemont market, just around the corner a couple of block's from Micuccis, where, while on this outing, Miccuci's being momentarily out of pizza (, we got the best sandwich, ready made, yet, that I've eaten this year, on bread to crawl the sahara for.

    Portland is indeed an astonishing food town, and that they support THREE places with world class baked goods just seems unfair, as my upscale little village on upper coast of Maine can't seem to muster one.

    At any rate, I plan ALL trips through Maine to include a food stop in Portland, and come home laden with the goods of Rosemont and Miccuci's. It definitely spoils one.

    PS. I'm a bacon vegetarian too.

  3. DED, that sandwich does sound delicious. As does the fig torta. I'll definitely add Rosemont to my list for next time...

  4. The Sidekick (Ellen)April 27, 2010 at 12:11 PM

    And don't forget the divine Fore Street Grill -- divine food, wonderful setting and great service. I'm still dreaming of a tomato tart from last (non) summer with a half tomato glistening and translucent in puff pastry, looking as if it had been candied whole and tasting like an actual tomato! My friend and I were just going to have a drink and a snack and by the time we were through, had tried everything on the appetizer list. And they were all fabulous.
    DED is dead on about the Rosemont Market sandwiches but since I am such a fan of the pizza Steve Lanzalotta (sp?) makes at Micucci's, and having 2 lunches is not a real option, I am always torn!
    Portland's a great food destination -- ready to go Down East Dilettante?

  5. Sidekick, I've read great things about Fore Street, and if two dinners were an option we would definitely have eaten there on our last visit. But because we were trying to show just the tiniest bit of restraint we had to save it for next time...

  6. Mmm. I love gnawing parmesan rinds.