Portland, Maine, was named 2018 Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appétit magazine, and it’s not just for the lobster. The culinary scene is amazingly diverse and delicious, even moreso when you consider the northern seacoast city has a population of less than 70,000. Other cities that have received the honor in recent years are metropolitan giants Chicago; Washington, DC; and San Francisco.
On a recent visit, Visit Portland Maine invited travel writers on a tasting excursion given by Maine Foodie Tours. The company offers a variety of culinary tours, including private events and history tours, in several Maine cities. Ours was the “Bon Appetite Culinary Walking Tour,” (the spelling is correct) which focused on establishments on Portland’s hip, up-and-coming East End neighborhood. This tour isn’t normally offered on Mondays, but Maine Foodie Tours put one together for us.
Our first stop was BLVL, pronounced “Bellville.” The French-inspired bakery and pizzeria was closed, as are many restaurants and bars on Mondays, but Shanna, our indigo-tressed guide, did not disappoint. She presented us with a box of large buttery, flaky croissants, laminated with 15 layers.
Croissants in hand, we walked westward along Congress Street, passing the Portland Observatory, which looks like a brick lighthouse, but it isn’t. An array of architectural forms lined the mostly residential street–Victorians, Italianates, new construction–some with ornate tilework or jazzy paint jobs. At the Eastern Cemetery, established in 1668, we turned north onto Washington Avenue. Our destination was Terlingua, where small-batch barbecue is smoked in-house daily. Owner Pliny Reynolds served us breakfast tacos. We had the carnitas version–scrambled eggs topped with smoked pork, salsa verde, queso and cilantro.
From there, we backtracked a block to Cumberland Avenue and Bob’s Clam Hut, a former gas station with a long seafood menu. The specialty of the house is fresh Ipswich River clams from Massachusetts. You can have them fried two ways: Bob’s way, which is dredged in flour first, and Lilian’s way, which is dipped in a milk-and-egg wash and then floured. Bob’s is more popular, Lilian’s is a little crunchier. The clam chowder is brothy and loaded with potatoes and minced clams. This was my first time to eat fresh clams, and they were wonderfully sweet!
You won’t be in Portland very long before you hear someone rave about the fries at Duckfat. It’s a European-style sandwich shop and cafe well regarded for duckfat Belgian fries. The main eatery is downtown, but there’s also a walk-up frite shack in the East End. Alas, it was closed on Mondays.
Shanna was undaunted. She made a telephone call and led us next door to Oxbow Brewing Company.
The Portland location of this Newcastle, Maine,-based craft brewery is the blending and bottling operation, but it also has a large urban bar decorated with wooden picnic tables and barrels. We sampled the Space Cowboy beer, a light, country ale.
Shanna asked if we’d ever heard of Moxie, and I hadn’t. It’s a Maine drink that precedes Coca-Cola. She brought out a bottle for us to try. She said it tastes like black licorice, but I found it more like an intense root beer.
But we weren’t done yet. Back on Washington Avenue, we dropped in at the Maine Mead Works tasting room. Mead is like wine, but it’s made from honey. The meadery’s label is HoneyMaker, and we sampled four different types including the Mead Slushy of the day, which was ice tea-and-lemonade a la an Arnold Palmer drink. All were crisp, dry and refreshing–and made with honey produced with the help of Maine wildflowers.
Shanna then led us through a tiny food store and sandwich shop, A & C Grocery–in the front door and out the back. Whew. That was fast.
Next door was Root Wild Kombucha. Kombucha is like wine, too, but it’s made from fermented tea. It’s lightly carbonated and can be flavored with fruits and spices. Founder Reid Emmerich, who calls himself the “boochmaster” presented us with a kombucha flight that included ginger with lemon and cayenne, and blueberry with lemon, thyme and echinacea. The blueberry was my favorite.
As we lingered about the komchuchery, Shanna had one more surprise: Lunch! Like we needed more food! Two large bags of Duckfat fries and dipping sauces were delivered from the downtown restaurant, which IS open on Mondays.
In addition, A & C Grocery brought over a tray of Famous Original “Real” Italian sandwiches from their menu. The sandwiches are a hearty–and downright pretty–combo of salami, mortadella, capicola and cheese topped with tomatoes, peppers, onions, olives, pickles, and oil-and-vinegar dressing on crusty rolls.
All of which paired perfectly with blueberry kombucha.
The “Bon Appetite Culinary Walking Tour” was a fun, informative and gastronomically satisfying experience for foodies who love exploring local tastes. For more information, visit Maine Foodie Tours.