Eating Off Menu
You haven’t really sampled all that Portland has to offer if you haven’t hit the streets.
You’ve already experienced the menus at Boda, Bar Lola, and Bresca, sampled the award-winning cuisine at Fore Street and Hugos, and had the pleasure of dining at Miyake, Emilitsa, and Petite Jacqueline. But you haven’t really sampled all that Portland has to offer if you haven’t hit the streets as well. It’s not just food carts that make the city such a great place to be a foodie; it’s a largely unseen community of producers and purveyors. By Anestes Fotiades
There may not be a hidden five-star dining experience to be found (yet) in Portland mobile food culture, however the increasingly diverse ecology of food carts will keep you well fed as you walk about the city. Mark Gatti, the dean of Portland food cartists, has been operating his eponymous hot dog cart, Mark’s Hot Dogs, at Tommy’s Park at the corner of Middle and Exchange, for twenty-eight years and counting. This summer, California native Josh Bankhead opened Hella Good Tacos in Monument Square and his food is true to its name. For that quintessential Maine experience, you can pick up a lobster roll from Lindy’s Lunch on Commercial Street and then walk a block or two farther down Commercial Street for a whoopie pie from Aunt Kake’s. Should you find yourself feeling peckish late some night on Congress Street, keep an eye out for Phil’s, Portland’s only late night food cart for hot dogs. Other noteworthy moveable feasts (wheeled to several locations around the city) include Skinny Cart BBQ, Shish Kabob, and Eric’s Pizza Express, which won the Best Food Cart in this year’s Portland Press Herald readership poll.
Meet the Producers
Another way to experience Portland food culture is to get out and meet the people who make it happen. Both Allagash (50 Industrial Way, Portland. 207-878-5385. allagash.com), Maine’s most innovative brewer, and Geary’s (38 Evergreen Dr., Portland. 207-878-2337. gearybrewing.com), Maine’s first microbrewery, give tours. Visit the Farmer’s Market (Saturdays at Deering Oaks Park and Wednesdays at Monument Square. portlandmainefarmersmarket.org) and you’ll not only get see a beautiful array of Maine-grown produce but also have a chance to talk with the farmers who grew the fruit, vegetables, and meat that graced the table the night before. No list of food touring options would be complete without mentioning Maine Foodie Tours (207-233-7485. mainefoodietours.com), which offers both walking and trolley food tours, including a sweet new chocolate tour.
The Portland area is well known for its excellent walk-in bakeries. What you might not know is that several newcomers to the field are operating without retail spaces. BagelGuy (207-741-2314. bagelguyme.com) is a custom bagel delivery service. Just give owner Dennis Yesse a call, and the next morning he’ll deliver a bag of freshly baked bagels direct to your doorstep. He’ll even pick up the cream cheese for you if you’re running low. The Holy Donut (207-391-2842. firstname.lastname@example.org) is Portland’s newest backroom bakery. Owner Leigh Kellis wholesales her delicious creations to several local coffee shops including my favorite place to caffeinate, Bard Coffee, on lower Exchange Street in the Old Port. A cup of the house French press and a donut are a great way to start the morning.
Thought for Food
Portland food lovers can’t survive on heirloom organic gluten-free brioche alone. Rabelais Books (86 Middle St., Portland. 207-774-1044. rabelaisbooks.com) connects Portland to the broader culinary world through their meticulous selection of new and rare books on cooking, wine, and gardening, and by hosting an impressive series of guest speakers like rock star chef David Chang and wine guru Terry Theise. Bon Appetite called Rabelais the “clubhouse” for the Portland food community. It’s a club worth joining, and, best of all, membership is free.
Tea, Gelato & Cake
If you need a brief escape from your busy Harvest on the Harbor schedule, stop by one of three new venues for a sweet pick-me-up. Gorgeous Gelato (434 Fore St., Portland. 207-699-4309. gorgeousgelato.com) is owned by Donato Giovine and Mariagrazia Zanardi who moved here from Milan to open their shop. They know gelato, and it shows through in every delicious spoonful. Dobra Tea (151 Middle St., Portland. 207-210-6566. dobrateame.com) offers an extensive (there are twenty-two green teas alone) selection of fine teas from around the world that they carefully prepare for your enjoyment. A pot of Oolong and a slice of honey almond cake make for a nice afternoon treat. Ed and Molly Foley reopened their bakery in June after a nine-year hiatus from the scene to an enthusiastic reception from their Portland fans. Foley’s (1 Monument Sq., Portland. 207-773-2253) sells beautiful cakes and pastries — the cream cheese brownies are my favorite — from a convenient location right off Monument Square.
Anestes Fotiades is the founder and editor of the Portland Food Map (portlandfoodmap.com).