After five steamy days in New York City we drove north — the heatwave followed us, but we fought back with a breezy sunset sail and buckets of ice cream. Stay cool as I dish out some edible highlights of a few day's respite in Portland, ME.
The Lobster Shack
What springs to mind when you think of 'Maine'? I'm guessing 98% of you thought 'lobster', and the other 2% are hard-core Stephen King fans. Not often is a state so ubiquitous with a foodstuff as this far North Eastern beauty. The preferred way to consume the clawed sea beast is shelled and stuffed in a roll. The Lobster Shack is exactly the kind of place you hope to find in Maine. Set on a beautiful bit of rocky coastline and overlooked by the Two Lights lighthouse, this little place has been dishing out the state's favourite bounty since the 1920s. And here we are in 2011 and look at that queue. It didn't die down the whole time we were there. No worries, it's a happy line, stocked with laid back people pontificating the menu. And here's what all the fuss is about...
Fresh chunks of lobster sit in a bun (which here is fortunately more like a folded thick piece of grilled bread than a flimsy hot dog vehicle), with a dollop of mayo top, so you can mix in as much as you like. Maine blueberry pie, coleslaw and onion rings. Ocean-side seat with a soundtrack provided by crashing waves. What more could you ask of a summer holiday lunch?
Now let's take a closer look at that pie. Blueberries thrive in Maine, the tiny gems burst with wild freshly-picked flavour. I'm certain I left the state with slightly purple pallor, I ate so many.
In addition to pie, I scoffed berries bought at the Portland Farmers' Market, blueberry-lavender lemonade, and amazing blueberry pie ice cream. Obviously it still wasn't enough as the first thing to pass my lips once we arrived back in NYC was a blueberry cocktail!
The Standard Baking Company
Located centrally, just across the road from the ferry terminal, you'll find yourself passing near this bakery quite a bit when in Portland. And what a shame. You'll just have to pop in and eat more of the fresh baked breads and pastries. You won't get bored, the bakery offers featured 'daily special breads' from Semolina Sesame on Monday to Olive-Onion Focaccia on Friday.
A come-hither display of both sweet and savoury baked goods greets you as soon as you step through the door, including bags of lobster cookies (pic top of post), an edible souvenir (the best kind!).
We choose a variety to sample for breakfast, including a 'morning bun' with walnuts, a granola bar, a blueberry (of course!) oatmeal scone, and an Asiago cheese and black pepper fougasse. A little naughty, a little healthy — a balanced breakfast. Each item called for a totally different texture, and was pulled off with perfection. For dinner, try the restaurant upstairs, Fore Street. We had a lovely meal there, made with an array of local produce.
Just what you want after traipsing around town all morning, a laid back pizza place on the waterfront. Yea, that's right, I said pizza. They call it flatbread, but c'mon... it's pizza; damn fine delicious pizza! There's a huge wood-fired oven here that's fed pie after pie and spits them back out puffed up, slightly charred, and gooey in all the right places.
The first pictured pie was the daily special and was topped with tomatoes marinated in balsamic, smoked gouda cheese, and lots of other lovely things. The second is a standard on the menu called the Coevolution. Ah yes the menu. As tasty as it all sounds you can't help but chuckle at how incredibly descriptive it is, in a very 2011-food-origin-obsessive manner.
For example, here is the description of the Coevolution: 'Imported Kalamata olives, fresh organic rosemary, organic red onions, Sunset Acres goat cheese, fire-roasted sweet red peppers and premium whole milk mozzarella baked on organic bread dough with homemade organic garlic oil and our own blend of of organic herbs'. And breath...
It's the kind of language ripe for ribbing by those looking for modern day middle class material. The dough? It's 'made fresh daily from 100% organically grown wheat that is milled into white flour and the wheat germ restored'. They also serve 'sulfate-free' sundried tomatoes, 'nitrate-free' sausage, and 'clean, chemical-free meat'.
Don't get me wrong, I admire a restaurant caring and sharing about the integrity of their ingredients. I just prefer a slightly more 'adjective-free' menu. The pizza and salads here are fantastic, a must-eat when in Portland, great for groups or families as there's a relaxed vibe and lots of big tables.
They are obviously — and rightly — proud of their locally produced food in Maine. But the market near our holiday home boasted about the provenance of something quite unexpected...