62 places to eat your way through Maine’s hottest dining trends
By Caroline Praderio
Photographed by Douglas Meriam
From our October 2013 issue
A Chef’s Best Friends
Maine restaurants bring the farm and table even closer together
In Maine, using locally sourced food isn’t a trend — it’s a way of life. It’s what discerning diners have come to expect in a state with 1.25 million acres of farmland. But some restaurants have brought farm-to-table dining to a new extreme by starting their own farms.
One of Maine’s newest farm-to-table converts is chef Masa Miyake, Portland’s prized purveyor of Japanese food. In 2011, his restaurants Miyake and Pai Men Miyake began to source ingredients from Miyake Farm in Freeport. Today, Miyake Farm raises about 40 percent of the meat served at his restaurants. “There are many great vendors around Maine, but we started the farm so we can fine-tune the ingredients coming into our kitchens,” says Will Garfield, co-owner of the restaurants. “It provides a much more intimate connection with food,” adds farm manager Emily Phillips. “Our servers and our kitchen crew visit the farm, then they pass that connection on to our diners.”
Now Growing at Miyake Farm
37 pigs: Ossabaw Island Hogs: descendants of a Spanish breed and domesticated in the 1970s on an island in coastal Georgia.
Mangalitsas: a breed rescued from near-extinction by Hungarian farmers in the mid-nineteenth century. They’re a cross between a wild boar and a Spanish lard pig, making for richly marbled meat. Guinea Hogs: an American breed over 200 years old known for friendly temperament and foraging skills. 200 Red Rangers: meat birds noted for grazing ability and longer growth period. 60 Dominique Hens: a dual-purpose breed for providing meat or laying eggs.
The Exaltation of the Libation
Craft cocktails are cropping up across the state. We’ll drink to that.
A craft cocktail, according to Andrew Volk, is simply defined: “a thoughtful approach to what’s in your glass.” As the proprietor of Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, the city’s newest upscale cocktail bar, Volk has brought this vision to life, mixing libations that feature many boutique, Maine-distilled spirits. Swankier still is the bar’s Lodge Membership — a 50-member cocktail club that includes a $1,750 bar tab, personalized drinks, and access to the club’s speakeasy (all for annual dues of $2,000).
Andrew Volk’s Tips for Ordering Craft Cocktails:
Trust your bartender: “A lot of people who make this their chosen profession are really excited, talented, and able to make a lot of drinks.” Start with what you know: “Telling your bartender, ‘Hey, I usually drink this and I’d like to try something similar,’ always helps. If you drink vodka sodas, we can make something that’s close to a vodka soda but one step outside your comfort zone.” Be open: “If you don’t like your drink, let your bartender know and get something else.”
The Rum Manhattan
“There’s a rum I really like made up in Gouldsboro by Bartlett Distilling. It’s called Rusticator Rum, and it’s kind of funky — it’s got some vanilla notes to it. To be able to use a Maine-made rum in a Manhattan, with a really good sweet vermouth and an orange twist — it’s pretty great.”
2 ounces Rusticator Rum
1 ounce Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice. Stir for thirty seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a thin strip of orange peel, expressing the oils over the drink.
Low and Slow
From brisket to baked beans, barbeque is Maine’s best new way to dine out. Elsmere BBQ and Wood Grill is South Portland’s newest meat mecca — a family-oriented barbeque joint that slow-cooks every cut in a 4,400-pound, Texas-built, all-wood-burning smoker named “Mama.” We talked with co-owner Adam Powers to learn more about Elsmere’s budding barbeque business here in Maine.
Why a barbeque restaurant, and why now?
I grew up in Thailand and ate the street food there, and to me, that’s always the best food in the world. Barbeque is the American equivalent of street food. I’m such a fan of folk cuisine, and this is American folk cuisine.
What can diners expect from Elsmere?
In the 1920s, this place was called Elsmere Garage. We wanted to go back to its roots and give it a garage feel. It has a relaxed vibe with an upscale look. We have something for everyone — from the infused drinks to roomy booths to an outdoor patio to a chef’s table where you can sit and watch us cook.
Does the menu have any Maine twists?
On our wood-burning grill we do our signature appetizer, which is barbequed oysters. They’re cooked just until they open and then served with a lemon garlic bourbon sauce or your choice of barbeque sauces. We have a black pepper, red Texas-style sauce, and more of a Carolina-style golden mustard sauce.
What’s your ideal barbeque meal?
Brisket, cornbread, collard greens, beans, and a cold beer. And a side of ribs.
On the Road
Great food goes mobile with these eight food trucks.
The cupcake bakers at Portland-based Love Cupcakes rotate their menu with unique seasonal flavors. Bite Into Maine’s lobster roll comes three different ways: Maine style, Connecticut style, and picnic style.
Baja Fish Tacos from El Corazon Food Truck, topped with fresh cilantro, cabbage slaw, onion, and salsa. Wicked Good Street Kitchen’s Chicken & Waffles with buttermilk-brined chicken and Maine maple syrup.
Sink your teeth into “Mainecentric” eats from Cape Elizabeth’s Bite Into Maine truck. SmallAxe‘s signature pork belly sandwich is layered with homemade pickles and General Tso sauce.
A gyro from Pretty Awesome Street Food with beef, lamb, jicama, minty tomato relish, and queso fresco.
Portland’s Mainely Treats updates the ice cream sandwich with local scoops and freshly baked cookies. SmallAxe does double duty for diners on the go, with hearty menus for both breakfast and lunch.
Stay classic or go wild with the ever-changing specials concocted by Portland’s Mainely Burgers. Wicked Good Street Kitchen makes its mark with diverse offerings – from poutine to raw pad thai.
We Gather Together
Have a seat at the table — there’s plenty of room.
Fifty guests sit down for a late August meal at The Barn at Flanagan Farm in Buxton. Tonight’s dinner is prepared by Justin Loring of Nosh in Portland, the latest chef featured in Flanagan’s star-studded series. Since March 2013, diners have enjoyed monthly meals from the culinary minds at Portland’s Eventide Oyster Company, Camden’s Long Grain, and more.
I take my seat, too, and shake hands with my tablemates. To my left is the owner of a Portland car repair company. To my right, a student from New Jersey vacationing in Ogunquit. I stockpile talking points in my head: the weather, the wine, those beautiful flowers on the table.Before I have the chance to say much, the courses start appearing: beef tartare over hard-cooked egg whites coated in something referred to only as “crispy love.” Smoked tuna with spicy kimchi and a mercifully cool dollop of lobster mayonnaise. A poached egg on top of duckfat brioche, both hidden under thin, velvety slices of cured duck breast. A beet-arugula salad and a slab of pork belly later, dessert: cheese with grilled peaches, cornbread, and a generous handful of Maine blueberries.
Communal dining is like eating a holiday meal with extended family. I find myself bridging the awkward pauses in small talk by sipping wine. I wince when tablemates flirt with volatile conversation topics. But I am genuinely comfortable. We are eating good food. We are bathed in soft light, listening to a soundtrack of upbeat oldies and the gentle scrape of knives against plates. Flanagan’s Table is the type of place where you’re at ease singing along with Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” when it plays on the stereo — and many guests do.
After dessert, the chef emerges to a round of applause. Dinner organizer Alex Wight stands up and thanks us for coming. But just before the chatter and music creep back in, a man seated at the center of the table raises his hand.
“Alex!” he calls out. “Next dinner — when?”
A Frozen Frenzy
Whether you’re getting your scoops from boutique shops or roadside stands, one thing is clear: there’s a Maine ice cream renaissance underway. Here are six cream-of-the-crop flavors.
Gorgeous Gelato’s owners are the real deal: a couple who moved from Milan to Maine in 2010 determined to sell the best gelato in New England. They still make every flavor at their Fore Street shop in Portland and recently rolled out a gelato cart in Freeport. Try a dish of raspberry: refreshing, sweet, and deep red.
Maple’s Organics Gelato
All of Maple’s 100 percent organic scoops begin with Maine’s Own Organic milk and cream. Add native strawberries, chocolate from Taza in Somerville, Massachusetts, and you’ve got Chocolate-Covered Strawberry. But get it quick — it’s made only in five-gallon batches at a time.
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream
Blueberry Buttermilk Crumble
This sweet and rich treat starts with — what else? — Maine blueberries. MDI Ice Cream gets theirs from Allen’s in Ellsworth. After an overnight rest in a bed of sugar, the berries are de-skinned and de-seeded by hand, then mixed with homemade crumble and Kate’s buttermilk.
The Gelato Fiasco
Dark Chocolate Noir Sorbetto
This flavor started as a challenge: Could the Gelato Fiasco make a truly delicious chocolate sorbet? Scoops and scoops of cocoa powder later, you might say they’ve succeeded: Dark Chocolate Noir is one of the few varieties that’s made every day (sometimes twice) to meet customer demand.
Beal’s Famous Old Fashioned Ice Cream
Beal’s bakes and assembles their own whoopie pies before folding them into rich French vanilla ice cream to make this popular summer flavor — one that customers ask for earlier and earlier each year.
Stone Fox Farm Creamery
This seasonal flavor has deep Maine roots: milk from Monroe, cream from Dixmont, and Long Pie pumpkins from Morrill. Only the ginger root — imported from Hawaii — is from away.