My foodie friend E visited Portland for a quick overnight, and I made it my mission to cover as many Portland food highlights as possible, between her arrival at 1:30 p.m. and my needing to hit the road by 8 a.m.
We began with French fries at Duckfat, crossed the street to peruse (and buy) books at Rabelais, grabbed a cookie (okay, three) at Two Fat Cats Bakery (part of the Fore Street empire), moseyed through Miccuci’s, then after checking in at the Portland Harbour Hotel, walked down to Browne Trading Co. to purchase a bottle of wine to accompany the herbed goat cheese from Painted Pepper Farm that E had purchased at the Bar Harbor Farmers Market.
Quick aside: Painted Pepper Farm, in Steuben, makes yogurt and goat cheese from its herd of Nigerian goats as well as organic maple syrup and granola. If you get the opportunity, taste these products. The yogurts are especially delicious, more in the European style, with quite a tang. The honey ginger and the maple cream are both exceptional; and the plain is simply lovely drizzled over fresh fruit. I’ve found it at farmers markets in the Acadia region as well as at health food stores in various locations, including Rising Tide, in Damariscotta, and Royal River, in Yarmouth.
After our wine and cheese, we tromped up to Five-Fifty-Five for a 6 p.m. reservation. Chef Steve Corry is one of Portland’s best; he’s been a James Beard nominee and he’s won Best New Chef distinction from Food & Wine. His menus are fresh, creative and fun, and the food is fabulous.
Although we’d originally considered the tasting menu (5 courses for $55–555, get it?), instead we created our own, sharing two small plates and two savory plates and a dessert, all accompanied by a nice Vouvray. Out first came a basket of sourdough bread and foccacia, with chive butter. I think that disappeared within five minutes, although we both had vowed not to fill up with bread.
Next came the small plates: First, wild smoked mackerel, with heritage bacon lardon, paprika deviled egg and radish frisee salad. This was a composed plate, with each component distinct. While the flavors of each stood out on their own, when blended, the result was sublime. Second was a braised veal shank tartlet made with fresh rosemary-scented chevre, flaky pastry crust, Fishbowl farm’s spicy greens and trio of spring onions. Oh my! This was so melt-in-the-mouth delish. Just thinking about it makes me smile and salivate.
For our savory plates, we chose 555’s renowned lobster mac and cheese–renowned for a reason. Corry once told me that he thinks of this as a winter dish, but every time he takes it off the menu, he has to bring it back due to demand. You bet I’ll demand it again, even if it’s 90 degrees and humid. A bit lighter, but no less delicious was the spring vegetable risotto. And while, yeah, it sounds like a carb-heavy meal with two starches, I’d order it all again.
After dinner, we waddled down Congress Street and strolled into Others, Brad McCurtain’s coffee/tea/sweets/gelato shop. Brad roasts his own coffee, makes the gelato, makes it a practice to employee those in need and donates all profits to local causes. And yeah, that gelato is mighty fine.
Before hitting the road home this morning, I introduced E to Becky’s for breakfast, which she cooed would become a must-stop whenever she’s in town. (and note: Becky’s now has a take out window open for late-night munchies–to 3 a.m.!). A quick return to Miccuci’s for some of baker Stephen Lanzalotta’s amazing bread, and my work was done, until next time–let’s see, Fore Street, Evangeline, Hugo’s, Cinque Terre, Ribolitta and–oh Portland has so many fine restaurants, and of course she must taste an Amato’s Italian and Little Lad’s popcorn and Norm’s mashed potatoes and…