Friday, June 9, 2017

First Look at Blyth & Burrows

Blyth & Burrows, a new cocktail bar on Exchange St., opens today. I checked it out on Tuesday as part of a media preview, and there certainly are a lot of things to check out. For one, the recently rennovated space encompasses not one, not two, but three bars. 

When you first enter off Exchange St., you're in the showiest part of the space, complete with a library ladder to access top shelf bottles. The bar staff is made up of Sur Lie and EVO alums, so expect a similar style bar menu, with specialty cocktails involving lesser known ingredients like Carpano Antica and housemade ingredients like a spruce tip cordial. 

Marquess of Queensbury: gin/sloe gin/carpano antica, blueberry lavendar shrub, bitters

The drinks are inspired by flavors the two ships' captains for whom the place is named would have encountered on their trade routes. As someone who worked on boats, I was tickled by all the nautical references that abounded from murals to figureheads to references and ingredients on the cocktail menu. 


The Blood of the Incan cocktail was another hit, with Pisco, blood orange liqueur, agave, Lillet Rose, lemon, and cranberry bitters. It was citrusy and tart and went well with the tray of local oysters on the half shell that was circulating. 

The back bar, up a few stairs, has a raw bar with a several barstools and tables in a cozy nook. But the real attraction is the secret entrance to the dive bar downstairs. Through a bookshelf that doubles a door, you can access The Broken Dram, a red light joint with a simple menu of boilermakers. 

Exit through The Dram into an alley off of Fore Street, where the bar entrance is marked by a single red light and if you look closely, the bar's name spray painted on the door. 

Blyth & Burrows will surely fill with the summer crowds of Exchange St. It's nice to know that there's a cool oasis down below that will also suit those who prefer a slightly less polished scene. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

First Look at Luis's Arepera & Grill, Portland

Luis's Arepera & Grill just moved from Saco and opened at 948 Forest Ave. in Portland, in the former home of Vivian's Drive-In. I'd always heard about this mythical Luis's, serving delicious arepas in the far away land of Saco, but had never made the pilgrimage. For the uninitiated, arepas are Venezuelan sandwiches made of fried masa shells, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, stuffed with meat, veggies, and cheese. 

When my lunch was insufficient today and my friend texted to celebrate Luis's opening, we decided to buzz over, and finally, I experienced my first arepa. 

The space inside Luis's new location is pretty small—it's mostly kitchen, with a Pepsi cooler, counter space, and some bar stools along the wall of windows. We ordered an arepa each; I went with shredded chicken ($5.99) while A. ordered shredded beef ($6.99). There's a few other meat options and avocado, 3 cheese, and bean and cheese. 

We waited for our food on some stools; I was extremely hungry, so the wait felt long. In reality, it was probably 7 minutes until our arepas were ready. While we waited, we watched other customers come and go, and I eyed their bulging takeout containers as they added hot sauce. I must have seen a combo meal, which comes with rice and beans or fries. 


Our food came up, and now I know what all the fuss is about! The arepa was warm and crunchy on the outside, and filled with juicy shredded chicken, cool lettuce, and cheese. And it was a perfect amount of food—I didn't feel too stuffed afterwards. I already can't wait to go back, especially now that I've seen their menu includes churros (!!). 

If you, like me, have only heard tales of these wonderful arepas, now you can check out Luis's closer to home. Brave the traffic of Forest Ave. to Luis's Arepera & Grill, and be sure to give them a warm welcome to Portland. 

Bayside Bowl Rooftop Bar

Bayside Bowl has been expanding—more than doubling even—its space over the last year. And last Tuesday afternoon, the last piece of the expansion, the rooftop deck, opened. This is particularly exciting because Portland doesn't have a lot of outdoor spaces that are sunny during happy hour o'clock and even fewer spots still that offer such great views al fresco. 

The rooftop bar at Bayside opens at 4pm on weekdays and can reach its capacity of just under 200 people quickly. You can reach the rooftop through the new bar via the stairs or an elevator. After a winding walk across the solar panel-covered rooftop, you'll reach the fenced-in bar area with a covered bar and an old Airstream trailer that's been adapted into a taco truck. 

The seating is a mix of vintage bowling chairs and the wooden tables that used to be in the old bar area. During Friday happy hour, I drank Rising Tide's MITA, while my friends had other canned beers. I saw others with cocktails too. The bartender on the first floor offered to pour our drinks into plastic cups for the rooftop (no glass is allowed), so if the top floor doesn't have what you're looking for, you can bring your drink up from another bar. 

Pretty soon after we settled in we hit up the taco truck. Its menu has 5 kinds of tacos: two vegetarian (cauliflower and cactus), fried fish, pulled pork, and carne asada. I tried the cauliflower with sweet potato, sliced peppers, tomatillo salsa, and cotija cheese. It was delicious, as you'd expect from roasted cauliflower, but the hit was the fried fish taco. It was perfectly battered and fried, topped with crunchy pickled cabbage and red onion. 

When this next round of rain stops, head to Bayside Bowl to get a new view of the city, four stories up. Bring your sunscreen and be ready to wowed by this great new addition to Portland's bar scene. Opens at 4pm weekdays and 12pm Sundays. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Lunch at Woodford F&B

Woodford's F&B, the cute, classic brasserie out at Woodford's Corner, started serving lunch last week on Wednesday, Thursdays, and Fridays. I met up with a friend and caught up with her over several courses of delicious food, reminding me to attempt to make it out to this neighborhood restaurant more often. 


Many of the lunch items are also on the dinner menu, like the burger, steak frites, and salads. New lunch additions include the soup of the day (a butternut squash with curry ($5), unfortunately appropriate for the dreary weather on the day we dined), a few sandwiches, and salads like Cobb salad and a rotating seafood salad. 

The seafood salad was a poached salmon over a spring salad with sauce gribiche. Salmon is not usually my favorite, but this one was cooked perfectly. The fresh salad, full of radishes, peas, and asparagus, with flaky fish and the light, creamy sauce was so good. 

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it—everything went so well together and perfectly expressed the season. 

I had to try the crabcake sandwich ($15), and while I always prefer a blue crab cake, this one had great flavor, with a crispy exterior on a buttery, soft bun. The jicama slaw with pungent red onion was a nice alternative to coleslaw. 

We even had lunch dessert—I had to make up for not being able to drink at lunch due to working that night. Otherwise, this was a meal (and a day) calling out for a glass of rosé. We enjoyed a vanilla panna cotta with lemon and blueberries ($8), but also eyed the strawberry rhubarb fruit crisp and warm chocolate brownie with caramel sauce and ice cream. 

Really, you should take any excuse you can to go to Woodford F&B. It's affordable, the service is so friendly, and the food is feels fancy yet remains approachable. Now that they offer lunch three days a week, you've got even more opportunity to stop in and enjoy some fine food at F&B.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

BBF Travels: Asheville, NC Eats

I had the pleasure of traveling to Asheville, North Carolina last week for work. Asheville is surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains and has a reputation for being a bit of a hippie, artist town, albeit one that is growing and gentrifying à la Portland. 

Two good friends of mine visited last summer, and they reported its food and drink scene is also similar to Portland's. Naturally, after I booked my tickets, I immediately started planning my eating itinerary. 


I flew into Charlotte, about two hours east of the mountains, to spend the weekend with some friends from Maine who have migrated to warmer climes (can't say I blame 'em right about now). The plan was to then rent a car and drive up to Asheville for the week. My bf accompanied me too, working in his own professional development trip. 

In Charlotte, I quickly confirmed my reputation for being singularly minded when it comes to food and suggested dinner at a unique sounding Korean food/Southern BBQ fusion restaurant. But first, my friends wanted to take us out of town a bit to Muddy River Distillery, a rum distillery on the bank of the Catabwa River. 

We signed on for the long tour, an hour and a half, which made me wonder what in the hell there was to discuss for that long in a microdistillery. But the owner Robbie did a great job of filling us in on his backstory, the process, and the rum tasting while keeping us entertained. 

We tried the silver rum; Queen Charlotte, a barrel-aged rum; coconut rum; and spiced rum. The last two were surprisingly delicious, using real ingredients to flavor the rums rather than artificial ones. The rum is only distributed in North Carolina, but is available in all counties, so if you find yourself in the state, you should pick some up (and it's surprisingly affordable for a craft distillery). 

After some cocktails on the porch (not to brag, but it was 80* and sunny in Charlotte last weekend), we headed across town to Seoul Food Meat Company. I'd scoped this place out via the Eater Heatmap, and while my friends apparently never venture over to Charlotte's South End, they obliged my foodie agenda. 

After a wait for a table and some stella people watching (so. many. bros.), we dove into the best Korean-style chicken wings, fatty brisket tacos, ramen mac and cheese, bao buns, pickled deviled eggs, and braised beef ribs. The ribs were our least favorite—we figured later we should have ordered pork spare ribs. Or a million more spicy barbecue and soy garlic chicken wings. 

We drove to Asheville on Monday, where I bided my time in cold conferences rooms until I could sprint outside and soak up the sun. Spring was like 😍  in the mountains, with flowers at every turn, baby green leaves, and temps in the mid-70s every day. 


Asheville allegedly has the most breweries per capita in the country, which, I know a lot of stats regarding "the most" of anything are inflated, but there was seriously, like a brewery on every corner in this town. 

We stopped into Wicked Weed Brewing for happy hour our first night. It's one of the larger breweries in town, with two floors of seating and large patios on each level. They were out of my first choice, Pernicious, the flagship IPA, so I turned to the sour section and enjoyed Marina, a peach apricot sour. 


After our beers, we headed over to Buxton Hall BBQ for a late dinner. This was high on my to-eat list, ever since I'd seen a Bon Appetit video about the making of their famous banana cream pie. 

The pulled pork was delicious, very m-word with tons of flavor, despite the lack of barbecue sauce. I say lack of barbecue, since being in North Carolina meant the two options on the table were a yellow mustard sauce and straight vinegar. I opted to eat my meat naked. Aside from the RC Cola baked beans, the sides weren't particularly noteworthy. 

My cocktail, a Humdrum Paradise was anything but with rum, hibiscus, grenadine, lime and egg white. A's fried chicken sandwich with white barbecue sauce and pimento cheese was delicious, and that much anticipated banana cream pie made an appearance in my dreams that night.

Other highlights included dinner at Cucina 24, a great Italian restaurant. I was out with coworkers, and we tried all the handmade pasta, naturally. Mine was orecchiette with spicy sausage, tomato, and what she said was broccoli raab, but looked more like Brussels sprouts leaves to me. 


We ventured over to the River Arts District another night for beers at Wedge Brewing Co., where the Cajun food truck Root Down was parked. I had a heaping plate of crawfish poutine to soak up some IPA. 

The only meal that was a "miss" was our dinner at Local Provisions. This buzzworthy restaurant was underwhelming, which left me disappointed and with a sense of regret that I didn't maximize my meals better. 

But lunch the next day at the vibrant Chai Pani, which served Indian street food, more than made up for it. The okra fries (on the right) were the sleeper hit, crunchy and with an addictive tang. 


When we hit the road back to the Charlotte airport, we certainly felt like we'd "done" Asheville, and were ready to fly home...mostly to see our cats! But I was loving on the warm spring weather, the friendly company, and the vibrant brewery and restaurant scene. Maine has a lot of things going for it, but spring weather is not one of them (not to beat a dead horse). 

I could have easily kept eating and drinking my way through Asheville. In fact, we've already started floating plans for a family trip back there next spring. Any stir crazy Mainers should consider flying to Asheville for a getaway—it's a short flight to Charlotte, and while a car is nice to have, you don't need one if you stay downtown. 

And Chai Pani owners, if you ever read this, we'd keep you in business should you open a place in Portland, Maine! 💜

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

First Look at Baharat

CN Shawarma was one of my favorite food trucks—it was always parked at my favorite breweries, the owners are so friendly, and its food was that elusive combination of meat with enough fresh vegetables to make you feel like your lunch had a semblance of health. 

I loved their big, fried hunks of crispy potatoes coated with toum, a garlicky sauce that stuck with you for the rest of the afternoon. There were zippy red onions tucked into their sandwiches with chunks of shawarma meats, moist and dyed yellow from turmeric, wrapped up Iraqi flatbread that was far more interesting than a flabby tortilla. 

So when the owners announced they'd sold the truck and planned to move into a restaurant space on the first floor of some new apartment buildings in East Bayside, I eagerly awaited its opening. 

Baharat, the business' new name, opened mid-March, and like a dream come true, there were all my old favorites: falafel, shawarma, and fries, but now available with a full bar and comfy seating. As you'd expect, the new menu is larger too, with mezze like crispy fried chickpeas, za'atar deviled eggs, and baba ghanoush, and of course, that full bar. 

The food truck family is tight—the bartender, Arvid, ran the popular seafood truck Fishin' Ships (which he and his partner sold last year). His speciality cocktail menu has a Middle Eastern theme, with a Charred Lemon Collins, chickpea foam on The Adventure Capitalist (rye, Cynar, spiced grenadine, citrus), and Return of the Sumac, which I ordered—a blend of sumac-infused tequila, mezcal, citrus, and a dehydrated lime rim. 

There's also unusual wines from Lebanon, Patagonia, and Austria, and of course, as you'd expect from a food truck that parked outside of breweries on the reg, plenty of local beer on tap.


After an onslaught of dips and other mezze, the main course arrived. I ordered a plate of two kebabs, minted rice, a pile of pickles, and Iraqi flatbread. The kebab options are falafel ($12), chicken ($14), and lamb kofta ($16). 

The same options are available in a wrap or as single kebabs, and The Shwarmageddon wraps up chicken, falafel, house fries, and sauce in a glorious mess. Hungry diners should go for "The All In," a large platter of kebabs, dips, pickles, and and flatbread available for 2 at $45 or 4 at $70. 

The 2 kebab plate is still a lot of food—tender chicken with a nice char, a pile of crunchy pickled carrot and radish, and warm rice flecked through with mint. The thin bread is perfect for tearing off pieces and wrapping around a hunk of chicken. 

We passed on dessert, much to my regret after seeing the menu which included some sort of custardy thing (my fave). Reportedly the desserts are great, with options like baklava cheesecake and chocolate with tahini buttercream to end the night on a sweet note.

It's exciting to watch food truckers grow their business into something that's familiar and yet grows the concept of the original truck. Baharat takes the bright, unique flavors of CN Shawarma and gives them a home in East Bayside, where you too will be "all in" at first sip and bite.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

BBF Preserves: Blood Orange Shrub

Shrubs, a sweetened, vinegar-based fruit syrup, have been appearing on cocktail lists for a while now, and while I usually like them, they can easily verge on too acidic. Inspired by Food in Jars' Mastery Challenge, I decided to make my own, thinking if I could control the amount of vinegar, I could create the perfect tart and tangy syrup. 

I used Cara Cara and blood oranges sent to me by Limoneira in California—I figured a wintertime citrus shrub would go well with either the bottle of Portland-based Hardshore gin I recently purchased or else would serve as a nice, non-alcoholic beverage for a weeknight (I know, who am I??). 

I roughly followed the Food in Jars recipe for blood orange shrub: squeeze juice, mix with an equal amount of sugar and let stand until fully dissolved. I ended up with a cup and a half of orange juice. Then I added a cup white wine vinegar—a little less than equal parts, since I was trying to keep it more on the sweet side than the acidic one. 


I also added the spent orange halves to the sugar and juice mixture. I figured letting them macerate in the sugar would extract any juice or pulp I may have missed. And I was right—the rinds were nearly completely empty when I extracted them a few hours later. I strained the juice before I added the vinegar, opting for a pulp-free shrub. 



I ended up with about three cups of blood orange shrub. The shrub needs to be refrigerated and will last a few months. 

I tried it with some gin, which wasn't anything special. I'm really trying to recreate a cocktail I had in the tasting room that involves pine syrup, tonic, grapefruit bitters, and rosemary. I feel there's room in that recipe for some blood orange shrub. I enjoyed the shrub most as a spritzer—about 4 tablespoons diluted with some sparkling water. 


Blood Orange Shrub

4 blood oranges, washed
1-1/2 cup sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar

Juice oranges, then pour juice into a clean quart container. Add sugar and stir. Let stand until sugar is fully dissolved, stirring occasionally. Strain juice, if desired. Add vinegar and refrigerate.