Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Cocktail Mary, Anoche, and A&C Grocery at Night

I went out last Friday night to visit several new Washington Avenue businesses. A friend who moved away in August was visiting for the holiday and since we both used to live on Munjoy Hill, we wanted to see what's new in the old neighborhood. On our agenda: drinks at Cocktail Mary, a new cocktail bar on Congress Street, drinks at Anoche, a cider and tapas bar, and dinner at A&C Grocery, a former market turned diner. 

The first stop, Cocktail Mary, was a huge success. This space used to be Ramen Suzukiya and has been transformed by former Izakaya Minato bartender Isaac MacDougal with a hand painted mural, pastel colors and a bar running the length of the space. Despite there not being any soft materials in the decor, it never got too loud in here.

The menu is short and sweet: 7 specialty cocktails, sodas, beer, and wine. We enjoyed the Marty Washington with Hardshore gin, grapefruit kombucha, Aperol, maple, and luxardo ($14), while G. had The Orchard Rye with Jim Beam rye, Melletti, Fernet Michaud, and fresh apple juice. 

A. showed up after a while and enjoyed the tropical Scurvy Snack, made with rum, caraway, pineapple gum syrup, and lime ($10). We snacked on some delightfully over seasoned ranch-flavored oyster crackers, which is the only food available. 

Next up: Anoche. This cider and tapas bar is from Erika Colby, former bar manager of Novare Res. She has completely transformed the former Coffee By Design space, with dark walls, natural wood, and lots of houseplants (this picture came out kind of crazy, but I think it channels the vibe well!).

There's an extensive cider menu, but I'd been hearing about the gin and tonics, served in giant goblet-esque wine glasses, so I went with one of those. We intended to try out the some of the tapas menu, but were approaching closing time at A&C Grocery, and I was a little afraid of what Joe would do to us if we rolled in at 8:50pm.

So I'll be back to try out Anoche's tapas menu—the whole leg of Jamon Iberico was calling my name. 

Down the block we went to A&C Grocery, at the corner of Washington Ave. and Walnut St. Owners Joe Fournier and Ben Slattery have just started serving a French brasserie dinner menu from 6 to 9pm. The menu is small and they were out of an item, so we were able to order nearly everything: French onion soup, a frisee and 7-minute duck egg salad, and steak frites. The mussels and frites were out for the evening and we skipped the duck wings and sausage served with beans. 

Everything we had was so good—the French onion soup sweet and salty, the frisee salad mustardy and rich, and the steak and frites both perfectly cooked. I would repeat this meal in a second. 

We had a great time bar/diner crawling down Washington Ave. and judging from friends' Instagram stories, we weren't the only ones spending a Friday night checking out the new businesses that have opened in Portland's East End. Inner Washington Ave. is quickly becoming (has become?) a better place to spend a weeknight evening than the Old Port. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

First Look at CBG

CBG, the revamped Congress Bar and Grill, opens today. The longtime Portland favorite closed this summer and was purchased by Jason Loring and Mike Fraser, who have also worked together to reopen Bramall and Roma, two other Portland institutions. 

The new space has a similar feel to the former bar, with wood paneling replacing the red walls. The signature red and yellow checked linoleum remains, but has been buffed up. Retro beer signs, modern lighting, and taxidermy dot the walls, and a large portrait of the characters from The Big Lebowski looms over the dining room from the rear wall. 

Most of the booths are gone, replaced with tables, and the wall that seperated the bar from the dining room has also been removed, in its place a wide high-top table that has bar stools at both sides. 

The drink menu is similar to Bramhall's, with signature cocktails that skew towards quirky. I had the 5 Hours West of Los Angeles, with rum, applejack brandy, dry curaçao, fernet branca, pineapple, and lemon. A. tried The UFO with rum, coconut cordial, cucumber, lime, pineapple, and sesame oil. 

The food menu ranges from pubby—wings, smash-burgers, and baked mac and cheese—to global: tempeh larb salad, falafel and feta plate (perhaps a nod to Congress Bar and Grill's hummus plate), and ramen. The bar also introduces an upstate New York classic, the garbage plate, to Maine with a hearty serving of French fries and American chop suey topped with a fried egg, hot sauce, onions, and spicy aioli. 

We enjoyed wings ($12 for 6), riblets ($14 for a small order), Caesar salad ($12), steak frites ($17 for a small), and the chicken noodle paitan ($14). The crispy French fries that accompany the steak are made in-house, and I'm still regretting sending the leftover paitan with my husband for his lunch (I was feeling generous!). 

CBG will undoubtedly fill the same needs Congress Bar and Grill did—a meal before a show at the nearby State Theater, a happy hour spot, a late night nightcap, a casual date night. Open 11am to 1am every day, there's no excuse for you not to stop into the new CBG and check out the changes for yourself.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

BBF Preserves: Tomato Jam and Garlic Pear Preserves

It's the best season (in Maine) for food preservation: when summer meets fall. Late September has the best crossover between our favorite late summer foods and those early fall stars. With this extended warm streak we've been having in Maine, it's still not too late to preserve some summer foods (namely tomatoes), and this tomato jam is a really easy, quick project to throw together. 

For experienced tomato preservers, I'll say one thing to convince you to make this recipe: it doesn't involve peeling tomatoes. Those of you who know what a b*tch that step is will be sold. 

My mom sent me this recipe via her cousin, and I had to check it against a reliable canning source to make sure it was properly acidified and heat processed before I said I'd can some for her. I found the recipe nearly verbatim on Food in Jars (tomato jam), where it's apparently one of Marisa's most popular recipes. 

The jam is much sweeter than ketchup and can be used on turkey burgers, sandwiches, meatloaf, cheese boards, with roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes or served with black eyed or crowder peas (that recommendation comes from the cousin in Georgia).

Tomato Jam
Adapted from Food in Jars

5 lbs. tomatoes, finely chopped (do not peel)
3-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup bottled lime juice
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon red chili flakes

Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot.  Bring to a boil and then reduce temperature to a simmer. Stirring regularly, simmer the jam until it reduces to a sticky, jammy mess. This will take between 1 and 1-1/2 hours, depending on how high you keep your heat.

When jam has thickened, remove from heat and ladle hot jam into hot 4-ounce jars, leaving 1/4-inch of headspace. Wipe rims with a clean, damp paper towel. Apply two-piece canning lids and adjust screw bands until fingertip tight. Process in boiling water canner for 20 minutes, adjusting for altitude.

Remove from water bath and allow to cool. Check for seals, and then store jars in cool, dark place for up to one year.

Yield: 12-16 4 oz. jars

The second seasonal recipe I recently made is a roasted pear and garlic preserve. Sounds strange, is absolutely delicious. The garlic is sweetened by roasting and its savoriness offset by the roasted pears and sugar.

Of course, the primary way to eat it is alongside some sharp cheddar cheese or soft goat cheese, but it's also good on toast, according to my mother-in-law.

Roasted Pear and Garlic Preserves
Adapted from the The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving

1 garlic bulb
4 pounds ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar (5% acidity)
4 tablespoons Ball Classic Pectin
1-1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400*F. Cut off pointy end of garlic cloves, and wrap garlic in aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking oil and surround with pear pieces. Bake for 25 minutes.

Turn pear wedges over and sprinkle with 1/4-cup of sugar. Bake for 15 more minutes (or until soft) and remove from oven. Place garlic back in oven, directly on rack, and bake for 15 more minutes.

Meanwhile, place pear pieces in a large non-reactive pot and add water. When garlic is done, remove cloves from peel and add to pear-water mixture. Mash with a potato masher until coarsely chopped. Stir in vinegar, pectin, thyme, salt and pepper, and remaining 1 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring often.

Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe rims with a clean, damp paper towel. Apply two-piece canning lids and adjust screw bands until fingertip tight. Place in a boiling water bath canner and boil for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude.

Remove from water bath and allow to cool. Check for seals and then store jars in cool, dark place for up to one year.

Yield: 4 8-ounce jars

Please see USDA and National Center for Home Food Preservation for more resources on proper canning procedures.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Updates in Portland's East Bayside Neighborhood

In the last 7 or so years, the East Bayside neighborhood of Portland, Maine has developed into a home for drink-related businesses, many of them fermented. Once filled with electric supply companies and other manufacturing businesses, this neighborhood now is home to a high concentration of breweries, distilleries, wineries, and even a kombuchery. 

The transformation began with the first new wave of businesses in 2010, when Urban Farm Fermentory, cider, kombucha, mead, and beer brewer, moved into a former warehouse on Anderson Street. Then Rising Tide Brewing and Tandem Coffee's café and roasting facility opened in 2012. In the subsequent years, other breweries and food manufacturers moved in, including Coffee By Design and Baharat, creating the hub we have today. 

I spent an afternoon touring the weedy streets of East Bayside, dodging a few groups of Millennials moving between breweries and wineries in the area. The patios of Rising Tide Brewing and Austin Street Brewery had yet to fill for the day, but I did take note of the degree to which the Rising Tide patio has expanded—when I used to frequent the brewery, it was a small area roped off area with a few barrels to rest your drink on, now the patio easily seats 100.

Down the street, another brewery cluster has formed, with Lone Pine Brewing, Goodfire Brewing, Blue Lobster Wine, and Eighteen Twenty Wines. Since launching, Lone Pine Brewing has moved its brewing operation to the former Sebago brewery in Gorham, but maintains its original location as a tasting room.

Over on neighboring Cove Street, Dean's Sweets opened a second location, with a retail shop and more space for making chocolate bars and sauces. The shop was most recently studios for artists and shares space with two interior design firms. It has a big warehouse-y feel, but has been smartly decorated up front to welcome customers.

Down the street is East Bayside's newest brewery, Brewery Extrava, brewing Belgian beers. The space was previously a metal fabrication shop and has been extensively renovated. Now it's a bright tasting room with big windows and plenty of seating.

Lastly, Three of Strong, a rum distillery, opened on Diamond Street. The space has high ceilings, smart branding, and serves cocktails and a fair amount of food for a distillery (think hummus plates, tacos, and Cuban sandwiches). 

Currently the distillery is offering two rums, a 5- and a 12-year, with the third, a silver rum, to come online soon. The aged rum is purchased from a distillery in Columbia, and the silver rum is made in-house.

The cocktail menu includes classics like the painkiller, rum punch, and daiquiris, but also unique ones like Take Two in the Morning made with cold brew, saffron, and quinine. The new distillery's grand opening is next weekend, August 16-18, so stop in and see what you think of all the new changes in East Bayside.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

First Look at Flood's

Flood's opened last weekend on Congress Street in Portland's West End, filling the space of Bolster, Snow & Co. in The Francis hotel. The new restaurant is the latest project from Palace Diner co-owner Greg Mitchell and has a sort of simple, Old World-meets-New York charm. 

If you made it into Bolster in the short time it was open, you'll notice some changes to the interior. The restaurant is no longer associated with the hotel, so there's a new entrance, a bar where the open kitchen was, and a dedicated bathroom (previously was shared with the hotel). Flood's is decorated simply, with dark wood, maroon booths, brass lamps, and frosted glass. 

The drink list is extensive, with several specialty cocktails, wines, draft and canned beers, and a wide selection of spirits. I ordered the New York Sour ($13), with bourbon, lemon, simple syrup, and a red wine float, while my friends had a diminutive martini ($10) served in the sweetest little Nick and Nora glass and a Paloma ($14). 

The short menu contains 4 snacks, 5 small plates, 3 entrees, and 4 sides. We ordered half of them to share. 

The first few dishes arrived in rapid fire, the sardines ($10) served with mayonnaise, mustard, and seasoned thin crackers. I wish there'd been a little pickled red onion on the side to cut through the richness. 

The Welsh rarebit (aka cheese toast, $9) came on a thick slab of a dark, hearty bread, while the oysters "escargot" ($13) were pleasantly warmed with butter, garlic, and a jalapeno powder.  

The Caesar salad ($12) was amazing—crunchy Romaine lettuce leaves showed with grated Parmesan, rustic, garlicky croutons, and an anchovy-heavy dressing. 

Our mains were the chicken schnitzel ($22) and the cheeseburger ($18), plus sides of creamed spinach ($8) and charred broccolini ($7). The schnitzel was crispy and moist inside, livened up with some hot sauce, salt, and lemon. The creamed spinach was my personal favorite, as it has been since childhood. 

And the burger was amazing. Palace Diner makes one of the best in the state, so my hopes were high. It was juicy, beefy, creamy with cheese, and on a light, bready dinner roll. So good. The fries could be crispier, a kink I'm sure the kitchen will work out in coming days. 

Very full by this point, we pressed on to try one of two dessert, chocolate pudding ($5), the other being a rhubarb ice cream. The pudding was amazing, classic and slightly salty from the accompanying chocolate cookies.  

Dinner at Flood's was fun—the place didn't seem to take itself too seriously, but the food was simple and solid. The old and hipster alike will love Flood's. 

Flood's | 747 Congress St, Portland | (207) 613-9031 | open Wed. to Sun. 4-10PM

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Grass-Fed Beef from Maine

Grilling season has finally arrived in Maine, and as you reach for your animal protein of choice this summer, I ask you to consider its origins. I know, I know, as a culture, we've gone out of our way to divorce the tasty final product from its squeamish, heartrending origins. But uncomfortable as it may be, I'd argue meat eaters are morally bound to make the best choices they can for themselves, the animals we raise for meat, and the environment. 

It's always been important to me to eat ethically and locally-raised meat, but often in an abstract way, one that waned in the face of the steep price tag on local meats. But the issue was driven home for me last year when I researched grass-fed beef for a food policy grad school class. I learned about the growing demand for grass-fed beef as people become more aware of the negative environmental and health impacts of large-scale animal agriculture and the popularity of meat-forward diets like keto and Whole30 (read my experience on the Whole30 diet). 

From growing antibiotic resistance to increasing greenhouse gas, not to mention the ethical pitfalls of raising animals on such a large scale, the issues concerning industrial livestock production are numerous. Hence the growing interest in beef that has been raised in a way that is good to the animals, the environment, and for the people that will eventually eat it. 

As I wrote my paper, I learned how important it is to support these small farmers that raise cows in small herds and feed them only grass or hay. This type of animal husbandry is the antidote to large industrial agriculture, but the downside is that it's more expensive. In supporting these farmers, you can ensure they stay in business and have a market for their products. The larger the market, the more producers, and the more producers, the lower the price for customers (that's the theory at least). 

After researching the issue, I thought I should make good on my new knowledge by buying some grass-fed directly from a Maine farmer. And many of them make it easy to do so, with products available through mail-order and delivery to Portland. 

I began by getting on Cold Spring Ranch's mailing list. Farmer Gabe Clark of Cold Spring Ranch in New Portland (about 2 hours north of Portland in Somerset County) sells boxes of his frozen grass-fed beef and delivers orders to Portland about once a month. A box contains 25 pounds of steaks, roasts, and ground beef and costs $175. This averages out to $7 a pound for grass-fed filet mignons, porterhouse steaks, and ground beef, which is an incredible deal. 

After I'd gone through almost two boxes of Cold Spring Ranch beef, farmer Dan Kaplan of Heartstone Farm in Charleston, Maine (just over two hours north east of Portland in Penobscot County) emailed to ask if I wanted to try his grass-fed beef. So many thanks for Farmer Dan for sending a generously packed box of ground beef, rib eye, porterhouse, and filet mignon steaks. 

Now that it's finally warmer weather, we've been enjoying these tender, flavorful steaks and burgers on the grill. Before it warmed up, I made bolognese and a short rib ragu that was amazing over some store-bought gnocchi. Farmer Dan's online store makes it easy to buy, with discounts for ordering in bulk, free shipping for larger orders, and even a cow share (a quarter, half or whole side of beef) if you're really looking to fill the freezer.

I absolutely love eating beef, and knowing that it's raised humanely and supports Maine farmers makes it taste all the better. Whether you prefer to buy in bulk from a farm like Cold Spring Ranch or customize your order with Heartstone Farm's online store, buying grass-fed beef direct from farmers has never been easier. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Real Retro Diners

This article was originally published in Lark Hotels' magazine in May 2019.

Back to basics with four original New England dining cars

The diner has become the quintessential American restaurant, where simple, affordable food is served up with warm welcome. Diners became popular in the 1920s when diner car manufacturers sprung up with efficiencies modeled after Henry Ford’s assembly line. The glamorous train culture that captivated Americans in the early-20th century informed the cars’ elegant design. Diners were shipped by rail or trucked to their location, providing a quick entry into the restaurant business for entrepreneurs looking to capitalize on the country’s growing fascination with travel and dining.

Today, diners occupy a beloved spot in the American culinary landscape. You never need to worry about mispronouncing the name of a dish or which fork to use while settled deep in a worn vinyl booth or perched on a stool at the counter. And the menu is guaranteed to include hamburgers, fries, chocolate milkshakes, and all-day breakfast—the ultimate comfort foods. In today’s often overwrought dining culture, it’s good to get back to basics, and on those, these New England diners deliver.

A classic menu with regional surprises

Far from the Gilded Age mansions and super yachts of the Newport, Rhode Island waterfront sits Bishop’s 4th Street Diner. For more than 50 years, the diner has been serving breakfast and lunch to a legion of loyal customers, along with plenty of tourists. Both come seeking simple diner classics with some regional cuisine sprinkled in.

The 49-seat diner sits on a bustling roundabout, at the intersection of a commercial thoroughfare and the entrance to the city’s naval base. Like the train cars that inspired its design, the chrome-plated dining car is long and narrow, with a rounded or “barrel” roof and large windows lining the front. The O'Mahony Diner Company built the diner in 1952 as one of the 2,000 dining cars it made. Today, only 20 of these O’Mahony dining cars remain.

Inside, booths with turquoise-upholstered benches line one wall. Red vinyl–topped chrome stools flank the counter, which runs the length of the kitchen. The black and white tile pattern on the side of the counter and the chrome backsplash are classic Art Deco elements.

The 4th Street Diner first operated as the Princeton Diner in Swansea, Massachusetts, for a decade. New owners moved the diner to Newport in 1968 and renamed it after a nearby street. Nancy Bishop and her then-husband, Steve, bought the diner about 20 years ago, added their name to the moniker, and operated it together until the couple divorced. Nancy continued on her own until last November, when she sold the diner back to Steve, who owns it with his second wife, Vicki.

Vicki and Steve have made few changes, mostly slight menu tweaks. You’ll find standard diner fare, from overstuffed omelets to hot turkey sandwiches. You’ll also get to sample Rhode Island cuisine, a quirky mix of New England ingredients and immigrant influences, with dishes like hot wieners, “stuffies” (stuffed quahog clams), and johnnycakes (thin crispy cornmeal pancakes). Insider’s tip: Ask for the coffee milk (think chocolate milk but made with coffee syrup instead of chocolate).

Bishop’s 4th Street Diner, 184 Admiral Kalbfus Road, Newport, RI

Even better than Grandma's kitchen

It seems like anyone who has lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire has a story to tell about Gilley’s, a diminutive diner with just eight seats, dating back to 1940. The understated menu features hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, and fries. With multiple awards and appearances on the Food Network, however, Gilley’s belies its reputation as a gut-busting greasy spoon.

Owner and chef Steve Kennedy’s culinary background is in private catering under the tutelage of famed area chef James Haller of the now-shuttered Portsmouth restaurant Blue Strawbery. That explains why the burgers are made from prime chuck, triple ground and hand-shaped daily. French fries, made from Maine potatoes, are cut to order, and even the humble grilled cheese sandwich benefits from thick slices of Texas toast.

To enter, slide the door open—don’t pull or everyone will know you’re a newbie. Place your order at the counter by the kitchen. Another counter, with eight fixed stools, runs along three sides of the car. The original oak paneling, porcelain trim, and rounded ceiling reenforce the retro vibe.

Built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, the diner was first pulled around the city by horses, then a tractor, and finally a truck, providing cheap and fast meals to the downtown lunch crowd. It came to a permanent rest at its Fleet Street location in 1974. Kennedy took over in 1994 and added a wing to connect the diner and its storage trailer. The original red-roofed car is now dwarfed by the addition, but the small, caboose-like structure is still visible, complete with the wheels that made the mobile lunch venture possible.

A popular late-night spot, Gilley’s attracts its fair share of boozy revelers looking to fill their stomachs with fried food before bedtime. But owner Kennedy says he works hard to make his restaurant a welcoming place for everyone. He likens the diner to Grandma’s kitchen, where you can’t swear or put your feet up on the furniture. Kennedy prides himself on serving the local community, everyone from “derelicts to debutants,” as he puts it. And his cooking is reminiscent of Grandma’s too, with dishes made from scratch and many of the ingredients sourced locally.

Gilley’ Diner, 175 Fleet Street, Portsmouth, NH

The perfect version of a classic 

Be prepared to wait. Fifteen stools run the length of a worn counter, and they’re always full. Named Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant in 2014 and attracting national attention ever since, Palace Diner is a dining destination. The brown butter banana bread is reason enough to drive from Portland 18 miles south to Biddeford, a small working-class city still transitioning from manufacturing to modern economy.

When Palace Diner first opened in 1927, Biddeford’s economy revolved around the Pepperell textile mill. The diner turned out quick meals to shift workers 24 hours a day. But the textile industry began its decline in the 1960s, and in 2009 the mill closed for good. Ten years later, the mill’s towering brick buildings are filling up again, this time with restaurants, art studios, and startups, thanks to some forward-thinking developers and bullish city officials.

The diner sits in a large municipal parking lot, painted a splashy red with “Ladies Invited” stenciled on the front. The Pollard Company in Lowell, Massachusetts, built the dining car in 1927, and it’s one of only two Pollard cars remaining. Inside, under a barrel roof, a long Formica counter runs the length of the car, with the stools the only seating. The cooking no longer happens on the grill line behind the counter, but in a kitchen addition. Orders are passed into the car through a narrow window.

Every menu item at Palace Diner is the perfect version of that dish. The potatoes are deep fried to a golden brown, with craggy, smashed edges and a healthy sprinkling of coarse salt. French toast is made from thick slices of challah bread, custardy in the middle with a crunchy exterior of sugar that has caramelized on the griddle. The cheeseburger’s soft bun and thin patty are reminiscent of the best aspects of fast food. Then there’s the legendary tuna melt, with its inch-thick slab of iceberg lettuce.

The chef-owners Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell have serious culinary chops, having worked at some of the best restaurants in Portland, Maine, and New York City. They took over Palace Diner in 2014, becoming only the sixth set of owners in the diner’s 92-year history. Conley says he now finds it more gratifying to serve up diner fare in an everyday setting: “It’s great to be able to take a high-quality experience that is otherwise only accessible for $100 on a Friday night and make it available for under $15.”

Palace Diner, 18 Franklin Street, Biddeford, ME

Salem Diner

Of the 30 diners on the National Register of Historic Places, over half are in Massachusetts, including the Salem Diner, a rare Sterling Streamliner model. J.B. Judkins Company of Merrimac, Massachusetts, made just 16 Streamliner dining cars before ceasing production following Pearl Harbor and soon after going out of business. The Salem Diner, built in 1941, is one of two still operating.

With a barrel roof, bullet-shaped nose, and metal paneling, the diner looks like a 1940s train engine resting at the station. The car’s design creates a rounded end on the inside too, with tables set into an elegantly arching banquette. Booths and stools provide seating for nearly 50. Cooking still takes place behind the counter on a narrow line of griddles. 

Salem State University’s campus encircled the diner over the decades. In 2013, the university bought the diner, renovated the interior, and added a late-evening shift to breakfast and lunch service. 

Salem Diner, 70 Loring Avenue, Salem, MA