Tuesday, April 2, 2019

BBF Travels: Spring Break in Nashville

I vacationed in Nashville two weeks ago—over St. Paddy's Day and (unbeknownst to us) the start of the SEC tournament. The timing sounded like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect may have been a few thousand people too many. Although, in "Nashvegas," there may never be a time where you can avoid the mobs of people wandering on Broadway, whether they're draped in "Bride Squad" t-shirts or University of Kentucky jerseys. 

During our trip, we learned that for the past several years, over 100 people a day moved to Music City, making it the seventh fastest growing city in the U.S. After a weekend there, we may not be ready to move just yet, but with the early spring, great restaurants and bars, and the music scene, it was a pleasant place to spend a mid-March weekend. 

We arrived early Friday to get in a full day and headed right for Pinewood Social, the sweetest bowling alley/coffee shop/bar/restaurant that provided the right amount of hospitality to be a relief after traveling so early in the morning. (Do enough people come right from the airport to the bowling alley that they have a process for holding your luggage? Perhaps yes?)

We had reserved a lane, and after we checked in, we were escorted through the restaurant to a 6-lane alley, flooded with natural light. An hour and a half of bowling with lattes, brunch cocktails, avocado toast, and chicken and biscuits and we had officially transitioned into vacation mode. 

We stayed in an Airbnb in East Nashville, about a 10 minute ride from downtown, in a sweet bungalow that made us want to cancel all our plans and sit on the porch drinking wine in the delicious spring weather. 

After a nap, we ventured back out for night one in Nashville. On the agenda, a show at the historic Ryman Auditorium, best known for hosting the Grand Ole Opry from 1942 to 1974. Little Feat was playing that night, a stop on their 50th anniversary tour. 

We didn't have dinner plans for that night, which was not a great plan in a crowded city on a Friday night when you're on a time crunch. But fortunately, the second restaurant we went into could seat us—Adele's, the southern outpost of New York chef Jonathan Waxman. We enjoyed a great dinner of cauliflower and kale salads, local fish, and the chef's signature roast chicken before heading to the theater to dance the night away. 

The next day, after a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry, we turned to the next item on our to-do list: Nashville hot chicken. Admittedly, my only experience with the regional food was seeing it served at Big J's Chicken Shack with a pair of gloves to protect your hands, so I was a little afraid of the stuff. 

Fortunately, the place in our neighborhood, Pepperfire Hot Chicken, offered different levels of spice. I boldly chose medium, which was a slow-building spice but nothing unmanageable. Some fried okra and mac and cheese rounded out the meal of Southern staples. 

Saturday afternoon, we headed back to our favorite intersection in East Nashville. With a brewery, a hipster restaurant that looked like a mash-up of Tandem Coffee and Drifters Wife, and a record shop/craft beer bar, we felt like we could spend the whole weekend between here and the aforementioned porch and be very happy indeed. 

The brewery, Southern Grist Brewing Co. just happened to be releasing two collaboration brews with Mast Landing Brewing Company the day we visited (of course, since Maine is everywhere!). The 14 or so styles on tap that day ranged from New England IPAs to an imperial raspberry sour with marshmallows. We had such a good time, relaxing in the sunny tasting room, enjoying the first delicious local beer we'd found on the trip. 

Side note: did we fly a quarter of the way across the country to do the same thing we'd do at home? Why yes, yes, we did. I offer no excuse. 

For dinner on Saturday night, we went to The Green Pheasant, a new Japanese restaurant downtown. While we waited for our table, we sipped on our cocktails and admired the gilded interior. Our meal was a flurry of delightful courses, from a ginger-carrot dressed wedge salad and a sashimi bowl to the rich, handmade noodles tossed with a spicy crab butter. A "fair food" dessert of a tempura-fried chocolate cake capped off the most decadent meal. 

But of course we weren't done... I had to try the Pearl Diver. This tiki bar back in East Nashville has the most incredible 60s California motel/grandma's living room vibe going on. It was truly like I'd died and gone to hipster heaven. There were adorable men in romp-hims (that's rompers for men), too-cool-for-school bartenders, and delicious, slushy rum drinks.

We got our nightcaps and headed away from the crowded, dark bar to the lobby-like entrance, where we could watch the night's dramas unfold from a safe distance.

The next day was St. Patrick's Day! We started with a hearty brunch at Marche Artisan Foods (and one of the many fabulous biscuits of the trip) and decided to spend the day away from the craziness of the downtown.

We checked out the Nashville Zoo, enjoyed a pubby lunch (and whiskey!) at Whiskey Kitchen and then headed home to regroup for our final Nashville activity: a night at The Bluebird Cafe.

Are you so impressed that I've made it this far without mentioning "Nashville," the TV show?? I must confess I do not have a lifelong love of country music, but rather a healthy obsession with Connie Britton and the ABC drama/soap opera "Nashville." 

As so many scenes take place in the Bluebird Cafe, I was excited to see a show at this iconic club (and definitely had the thought in the only women's bathroom in the club—Connie Britton definitely sat on this toilet too!!). 

Turns out... the popularity of that TV show has transformed The Bluebird from local jam spot into a tourist attraction. When the lead singer asked how many of us were from out of town, every single person in the club raised their hand. So it's hardly a locals' spot anymore, but remains a great place to chance upon a national act or songwriter behind the hits in an intimate space. 

After our busy weekend, we made the executive decision to cancel our dinner reservations, order a pizza, and go back to the rental to start the new season of Queer Eye. A little R&R was needed after being on the go all weekend! 

So how'd we do?? For three full days in Nashville, we sure saw and ate a lot. The spring weather was hard to leave, but we're always happy to come back to Maine! 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

First Look at the Expanded Maine Beer Company

When was the last time you were in the Maine Beer Company tasting room? Was it crowded and loud, filled with people standing shoulder to shoulder at the bar or taking up every available seat? I love their beer, but at times it was evident this popular Freeport brewery had long outgrown its space. 

Fortunately, the tasting room expansion is complete, with a 6,000 sq. ft. light-filled space with a wood-fired pizza oven and a water fountain. The new space is open to the public now, but the official grand opening is Saturday, March 9th.

The new tasting room was built where the old production space was, and the beer is now brewed in a newly-constructed warehouse out back that has room for a huge brewing system, bottling line, and a quality control lab. The old tasting room will be used for private parties and overflow seating.


The pizza oven is tucked in a corner between the tasting room and the patio, churning out pizza from Parker Auger, who most recently operated the Kind Stack Sandwich Co. food cart. 

I didn't have any pizza on this visit (regret!) but will certainly be back to enjoy some crisp beers and some scrumptious pizza in the very near future. 

Pro tip: the entrance to the tasting room is now in through this black barn-like structure—for which the series of taproom-only experimental brews is named.

Head on over to Route One in Freeport and check out this new beauty of a taproom at Maine Beer Company that is worthy of all the attention that this brewery has achieved.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Austin Street Brewery's East Bayside Location

Austin Street Brewing has a new facility down in East Bayside—further contributing to the neighborhood's moniker, "Yeast" Bayside. The neighborhood now boasts four breweries, one cidery/kombuchary/brewery, and two wineries. If you go up the hill to Washington Ave. you can add two distilleries, a meadery, and another brewery to that count. Brewery clusters like this one and the Industrial Way neighborhood make for a fun afternoon for tourists, friends, or out-of-town guests. 

We had the latter when we headed to check out the new Austin Street—G's boyfriend was visiting from the other Portland (oh, how we're trying to win him over with our cloudy New England IPAs!). And although Austin Street certainly has those, it also offers other styles that are less popular like the smoked brown ale and a Belgian strong ale. 

The new space is large, on par with Rising Tide Brewing right next door. The windowed garage doors were a little chilly to sit close to on this January afternoon, but will be worth it come summer. 

The windows also allow tons of sunlight in, warming up the space significantly (you can see the bartender was wearing a short sleeved shirt). 

The brewery is open seven days a week and, the best part—has food every day too. A different food cart posts up at the brewery every day. 

Mondays, Vantage Point Provisions serves up clam chowder, Tuesdays bring A&C Grocery and his Italian sandwich cart, Maine Craft Distilling is there Wednesdays, Grillin' Brazilian on Thursdays (which I am eager to try!), The Highroller Lobster Co. on Fridays, Mr. Tuna on Saturdays, and Steam Machine on Sundays. 

As always, we enjoyed our delicious sushi handrolls from Mr. Tuna (spicy tuna, crab, and albacore rolls pictured below) and some great beer from Austin Street to go along with them. An afternoon in East Bayside's brewery cluster is an enjoyable one, whether you're just stopping to check out the new Austin Street location or brewery hopping through the neighborhood. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

First Look at Gross Confection Bar

Gross Confection Bar opened last Friday night, and I hustled over Saturday first thing (after they opened at 5pm) to check it out. I was pretty excited about pastry chef Brant Dadaleares' latest project, a dessert bar—in both senses of the word "bar," with cocktails, beer, and wine available. 

Dadaleares is a longtime Portland chef and sponsored a Kickstarter for his project back in the fall of 2016. So this project has been in the works for a long time and with its planning, my excitement has grown. I'm not even a huge dessert person—I don't frequent Bar of Chocolate or even usually order dessert when eating out. But I know a good dessert can be next level, and I trusted that Dadaleares would deliver. 
The space is subterranean—located at the corner of Exchange and Middle Street in Portland's Old Port, it used to be a retail Christmas shop. Dadaleares spent months converting the space himself and seems very proud of the finished product, eagerly showing off little accents like small fireplace uncovered during demolition. 

There's several tables with banquette seating and a bar with maybe 10-12 spots. There's more bar in another section closer to the kitchen, so plenty of seating options for your mood. My friend A. and I sat at the bar with the friendly bartenders and ordered a round of drinks and four desserts. 

The 6 speciality cocktails are inventive, many made with unfamiliar ingredients. I tried the Coup D'Etat, made with Barbancourt rum, Dell'etna (an amaro), bergamot, and grapefruit. It was actually pretty savory and a little unexpected. Alysia had the Mr. Allen, with Cachaça, Suze (a French aperitif), guanábana (fruit juice), and lemon. Other bar options include wines by the glass or bottle, 3 draft beers, and a few ciders. 

The dessert menu is divided into four sections: "the taste," "for one" (regular sized desserts), "companion," and "entourage." The latter two are priced per person ($15-28) and can be ordered for as many as are in your party. 

A. and I stuck to the tastes and single servings of dessert, with banana ice cream ($3), an apple tarte tatin ($6), a coconut, pear, date eclair ($9), and "crumb" brulee ($10). I was also intrigued by the hazelnut financier, citrus verrine, coconut macaroon, and jasmine rice. The sharing section of desserts has even more tempting options with carrot cake french toast, brown butter yogurt panna cotta, and a "3 chocolate mess" of brownies, marshmallow fluff, and salted caramel. 

The menu describes the dishes as a list of ingredients, which creates an element of surprise around what will actually land in front of you. I'm into that—I think part of the fun of Gross is wondering what the kitchen has come up with and encountering flavor combinations you haven't before. 

Before tip, our bill was $54 for two cocktails and four desserts. I wonder if the prices will be a little bit eyebrow-raising for some. I was happy to enjoy the novel experience and could see a nightcap at Gross fitting into an evening out on the town. After how hard Brant and his crew worked to get this project open, I hope Portland supports them for years to come. 

If you check it out, let me know what you think on Instagram or Twitter. Gross is open 7 days a week from 5pm to 1am (dessert available until 12am). 

Friday, January 4, 2019

2018 in Review

2018 was a big year for my food blog—it marks the 10th year of blogging here at The Blueberry Files. Ten years ago, I moved to Portland, Maine on a whim and found an incredible selection of restaurants. I was a broke AmeriCorps volunteer, so I wrote a lot more about cooking at home than eating out, but I quickly fell in love with writing about the city's food scene. This hobby launched my freelance writing career, resulting in two books and numerous columns in local publications. 

A lot has changed in the ten years I've lived in Portland, of course. So many restaurants have opened and closed since then, it seems quaint to remember my days of frequenting Three Dollar Dewey's and Buffalo Wings-N-Things

This year in particular saw a slowing of Portland restaurant openings. I still brought you first looks at new restaurants and bars like Crown Jewel, Drifters Wife, and Root Wild Kombucha, the pace at which these new restaurants opened paled in comparison to years past. 

My most popular posts of 2018 were indeed first looks at new businesses. You all clearly like to be in the know about what's new in Portland's restaurant scene! 

My most read post of 2018 was First Look at Eaux. I still think this is one of the best restaurants to have opened in Portland this year. It seems under-the-radar, but I think Chef Evan and his crew are killing it. 

The second most-read post this year was a First Look at Black Cow Burgers. This casual burger and fry joint opened up in place of Sonny's on Exchange Street. I was relieved to see the bar menu at Black Cow was on par, since Sonny's had such great cocktails. 

My review of Korean Food at Yobo was also popular. Another restaurant that I think goes unnoticed, Yobo is a great, accessible option for Korean food in Portland. 

I ended 2017 with an update to the coming businesses of Washington Ave. which was a popular post. I reflect back on 2018 with a twinge of sadness, because I bought a house and moved to South Portland. So this happening stretch of Washington Ave. is no longer my neighborhood (sob). 

Since I published that piece, Drifters Wife, Bob's Clam Hut, Forage Market, and Root Wild Kombucha have all opened. A row of shipping containers, dubbed The Black Box, was added, currently home to a cheese shop and some artisans. A knife sharpening shop is opening there soon too. 

Continuing the trend of the past few years, the number of posts dropped in 2018, averaging one a month. But I still love blogging—I'm not planning on going anywhere any time soon! 

Unfortunately, Eater Maine continues its decline—I was updating maps for a while there, but I've been cut back even further, only updating the Heatmap and Essential 18 maps every 6 months. It's sad, but I guess it was fun while it lasted.

I hope you all enjoy some good food in 2019. I'll still be here, on Instagram, and Twitter ranting and raving about Portland food. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

First Look at Root Wild Kombucha

My sister once described kombucha to her husband as "vinegar soda," which, you're either here for or hard pass (my brother-in-law being in that second category). I came to my current (high) levels of consumption after my attempt at the Whole30 last year. I found kombucha to be a good substitute for alcohol, with its carbonation and tart flavor. Put it in a wine glass at the end of the day, apply some suspension of disbelief, and you're all set. 

During that time, I started my habit of filling growlers from Urban Farm Fermentory, where they make different flavors of kombucha, infused with seasonal fruit, herbs, and foraged products. I love going and seeing the different flavors available and trying new flavors and blends. I still make sure to have a growler (OK, two) of the stuff in the fridge, even if none of the other Whole30 habits stuck. 

Enter Root Wild Kombucha, a new kombucha brewery on Washington Ave. in Portland. The brewery's tasting room and production facility opened in the former home of the Sahara Club, ironically where AA used to meet. Root Wild is run by Reid Emmerich, who helped to start the Urban Farm Fermentory with Eli Cayer. So there are definitely similarities between the two facilities, and comparison is unavoidable. The other owners, Tom Madden and John Paul, run Lone Pine Brewing, so you know the beers are going to be good too. 

Root Wild has three flagship kombucha flavors: lemon cayenne ginger, blueberry lemon thyme echinacea, and vanilla rooibos white oak. The seasonal flavors on the day I was in were purple shiso, hopped, strawberry, rhubarb, and beach rose. There were also three beers: a maté IPA, orange juniper DIPA, and a stout with chaga and toasted oak. 

My friend G. and I tried several 2 oz. samples of the different flavors, and I was really pleased by them all. The hopped tasted a bit more beer-like than UFF's version does, and the fruit flavors are bright and pleasantly balanced. I was impressed by how thoroughly the added flavors came through. 

Just like at UFF, you can fill growlers, so I happily took home a strawberry fill. Root Wild has just started canning its lemon, blueberry, and vanilla rooibos flavors in 12 oz. cans. 

The tasting room is a pleasant space, sure to become homier with time. It has a beachy, surfer vibe, so perhaps that is more your style than the foraging hippie vibe down at UFF. Personally, I'm happy to have two local options to satisfy my kombucha habit. The more the merrier! 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

First Look at Forage Market

I've been stalling on writing this post. It has nothing to do with the lovely, newly opened Forage Market in Portland, but more because I'm not ready to wade into the bagel fray. I'm not trying to publicly declare who makes the Best Bagel in Portland. Or Why Your Favorite Bagel is Inferior. 

You see, there are now as many bagel places in the Greater Portland area as there are opinions about bagels. There's *takes a deep breath* Mr. Bagel, Scratch Baking Co., 158 Pickett Street, Union Bagel, The Purple House, Rover Bagel, Rose Foods, and now Forage Market. Prof. A. of Portland Food Map called 2017 the Year of the Bagel, and the bagel madness continues into 2018. 

I love most bagels in the Portland area. I have always loved bagels—I grew up eating frozen Lenders onion bagels in the suburbs, so you can form your own opinion about my authority on the subject. Lately I have very few qualms about eating a Scratch salt bagel smeared high with herb cream cheese for breakfast several times a week. While some are certainly better than others, I've yet to meet a bagel I didn't enjoy. 

Forage bills itself as a market, but really it's a bagel place. Broadturn Farm shares a small corner of the new space on Washington Ave. in Portland, so you can buy some fresh flowers with your bagel. But Forage's menu is largely bagels. Some lunchtime sandwiches are available on baguettes. But we're here for the bagels. 

The space is large and industrial, with high ceilings and large windows. A wood-fired oven faces the seating area, so you can watch bagels being fired while you enjoy your meal. This would be a large place to spend a morning working, although I don't know about the existence of Wifi or not.

Because I like strong flavors, I got an everything bagel with a Kalamata olive cream cheese. This is one of the few places in Portland that services Kalamata olive cream cheese, which is my absolute favorite. (Some places serve olive cream cheese, but it features the inferior green olive.) 

The bagel itself is crunchy, thin, and airy, with big holes in the baked dough, in the Montreal style of bagels. But really the minute I saw the black olive cream cheese, I was won over. Forage Market's bagels moved to the top of my personal leaderboard of bagels. 

Did I just say they're the best bagels in Portland? You'll have to stop in and see for yourself.