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. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Crown Jewel, Great Diamond Island

There's a new dining experience on Casco Bay's islands: Crown Jewel on Great Diamond Island. Our visit two weeks ago was a great, casual island experience with some fantastic food. I love escaping to the islands, and Crown Jewel adds an exciting facet to Portland's already dynamic food scene. 

I paid my first visit to Crown Jewel with my aunt, uncle, and husband on a beautiful night—under a sunny sky filled with clouds that created a beautiful sunset on our way back. We took the early-ish ferry (at 4:15pm), which gave us plenty of time to enjoy dinner without getting back too late. We walked around Diamond Cove a bit and saw the former military barracks turned summer residences. 

Crown Jewel is in a space that was formerly a small general store and has been rennovated to be a hip restaurant space, still with a little market in the back. I love the on-trend decor: lots of brass, palm leaves, rattan, and neon pink flamingos. I'm sure it will look dated soon, but hey, we're here for a good time, not a long time, right? 

We started our meal off with Hemingway daiquiris ($12), a rum daiquiri with a bit of grapefruit juice. I was also tempted by the strawberry mezcal smash ($12) and the Crown Jewel rum punch ($13). My friend A., the owner of East End Cupcakes, is the manager at Crown Jewel and I was so thrilled to have her whipping up these delicious drinks for us. After our round of cocktails, we ordered a bottle of the Lambrusco ($36), a chilled, slightly sparkling red, to enjoy with our meal. 

The menu, like most these days, has a large selection of starters/small plates and salads and only a few entrees. There wasn't much on the menu I didn't want to order, and we knocked out a fair amount during this meal (I'll hit the rest on my next visit!). 

We started with a half dozen of both raw ($18) and grilled ($19) oysters—the grilled ones topped with butter, yuzu pearls, and pickled mustard seeds. The oysters were lightly grilled and the toppings unobtrusive, so the oyster flavor still took center stage. 

Next up was the Fried Green Things ($8) a heaping bowl of fried Brussels sprouts, kale, and maybe also zucchini? The selection of vegetables may change, but it's always served with apricot harissa and slivered almonds. I've yet to meet fried Brussels sprouts I didn't enjoy. 

The summer lettuces salad ($12) might have been my favorite—a take on a Caesar, with fried white anchovies, fried lemon wheels, and crispy pieces of fried Parm. With a lemon-y dressing and lots of black pepper, this salad had tons of flavor. 

After salads, we each had a larger plate—I went with the gnocchi verde ($18). I am generally suspicious of gnocchi in restaurants (so much of it is bad), but I trusted the chef at Crown Jewel to make delicious ones. 

The soft, potato dumplings were covered in a pea puree, with asparagus, jicama, and Pecorino. A decidedly spring-y dish, but the perfect balance of comforting and light, even enjoyed in late August. 

A. had a fantastic hamburger ($14) with a soft Brioche bun and an impeccably flavored burger patty. 

We opted to skip an earlier ferry back to the mainland, giving us an additional hour to enjoy dessert and another slow walk back to the ferry. We were all pretty full by this point, but Alysia insisted we had to try the brown bread ($10), so we happily acquiesced. And it was incredible—warm and gooey, with crispy, bruleed edges. 

I knew Crown Jewel was right up my alley, so it's no surprise that I absolutely loved everything about it. Its island location makes it feel like a special escape, even one that can happen on a weeknight. 

Don't let the location or the weather stop you from enjoying one of Portland's most unique dining experiences. Crown Jewel is open daily, except Tuesdays, for lunch and dinner until Columbus Day.