Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bar Snacks at The Grill Room

The Grill Room, one of three "Rooms" owned and operated by Chef Harding Lee Smith, used to be one of my favorite restaurants in Portland. I found its casual environment versatile for many occasions, and the food was always good. 

But after an utterly bizarre service incident in the bar left a bad taste in my mouth, I found myself avoiding the Grill Room, even though I missed my favorite menu items. 

A few weeks ago, after some light Old Port shopping with Original Roomie A., we stopped on upper Exchange Street, hesitating between Sonny's and the Grill Room. Then the thought of some of my old favorites called to me, and I decided I needed to release my years-old grudge. 

So we settled into the bar (only the patio and the bar are open with a limited menu from 3-5pm), ordered happy hour drinks and bar snacks. I selected a Lagunitas IPA and A. had a glass of prosecco, both of which are $3 during happy hour. 

Fried olives intrigued us, but ultimately proved the least favorite of our sampled items. The wedgie salad was great, with a homemade herbed buttermilk dressing, and loads of cheese and bacon. 

But my favorite, the thing I'd missed so much, was the "steak and cheese" appetizer. Beef carpaccio (thinly sliced, raw) is served over a block of breaded and fried goat cheese. An aioli is drizzled over the beef, and it's topped with fried capers and diced red onions. The whole thing is served over a bed of fresh spring mix. 

I love the mix of temperature and texture here - the crunchy fried goat cheese, with the soft raw beef; the cold beef and the warm cheese. 

So while we enjoyed our happy hour, this place will never be one of the restaurants that comes to mind when people ask me where they should eat. I think the entrees are pricy ($19 to $31, ordered a la carte), and there are so many places in town to get consistently good food for less. 

But as with all the Rooms ($3 wine, people!), the happy hour deals are worthwhile, and I'm so glad to have the 'steak and cheese' appetizer back in my life. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

BBF Travels: Peaks Island and Washington D.C.

I visited Peaks Island on Labor Day for the Shipyard Summer Ender Bender, which wasn't so much of a bender, but rather a pedal around the island, a picnic lunch, and a swim from a stone beach. 

I dreamed of renting a beach house for the winter on the island as I laid on the surprisingly comfortable small round stones of the beach and watched the gulls wheel overhead and the boats bob on their moorings in the bay. 

I bought some honey from a delightful honor system stand at a road's end by the ocean. 

On Wednesday, I was in Washington D.C. with some time to kill before traveling back to Maine. I strolled around the Mall, where my sister works, visited the U.S. Botanical Gardens, and walked up and down Capitol Hill. 

In front of Air & Space Museum, while searching for the most obnoxious D.C. souvenir I could find, I found the the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck

This food truck is known for it's popularity, but this day at lunch time, it was quiet. They sell lobster and shrimp rolls, whoopie pies and Maine Root sodas. 

It was nice to see a reminder of home, even if all I did was sniff and say, I'd never buy a lobster roll in D.C.! 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Ramp, Kennebunkport

This month's O-Rama series, collaborative reviews on a theme from your local Portland area food bloggers, is out-of-town restaurants. I spent the weekend at Kennebunk beach with my parents, so my boyfriend A., the local, took us to a scenic point with two great restaurants. 

A lighthouse, good food, my favorite people, a beautiful late summer Maine weekend. What could be better? 

The Ramp, in Kennebunkport, Maine, is a small, funky restaurant below the fancier Pier 77, both at the end of a long winding drive to Cape Porpoise. We drove past large waterfront inns, beach cottages tucked into the hill, Walker Point, the Maine home of the Bush family, and finally out to a gravel lot with a seafood shack, a view of the Goat Island Light, and Pier 77 and The Ramp Bar & Grill.

The bar, covered in retro sports paraphernalia, was hopping, even the weekend after Labor Day. Pier 77 closes during the winter months, but The Ramp stays open year round, enjoying strong local support for the sports bar environment and big portions of hearty bar and seafood fare. 

The menu ranged from spinach salad to Carolina style barbecue to burgers and a Greek mezze plate. Everyone at our table stuck with seafood, ordering up two fish and chips, a lobster roll, and an order of mussels. 

The lobster roll and chips were both great, with a flavorful lobster salad overflowing out of its bun. 

My tempura fried fish was only OK, with an undercooked tempura batter. A heavily dressed cole slaw failed to pick up the slack. The fries were great; crunchy and heavily seasoned. The mussels in a thicker tomato broth with chorizo were plump, hot, and spicy.

Barring the miss on the fish and chips, we loved The Ramp for its funky atmosphere, lively bar, and creative but familiar menu. This place is worth seeking out - while you won't necessarily avoid the crowds of Kennebunkport, the cluster of Adirondack chairs outside the busy restaurant encourage you to take a moment to have a drink and admire the harbor. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Schulte + Herr Breakfast

This little tiny German restaurant on Cumberland Ave. has gotten a lot of love. And for good reason - the coffee is strong, the staff is friendly, and the food is delicious, simple, and filling. 

While there may be many Portland restaurants that also meet that description, this one is unique because it's the only German one in town. 

I've dined at Schulte & Herr many times but was encouraged to wait a while to review it by A. at Portland Food Map. The reason why being that even though the restaurant just celebrated their one year anniversary of opening, it's already been reviewed a whopping 14 times, all of them favorable. 

While racking my brains for somewhere to meet Original Roomie A. for breakfast, I thought of Schulte & Herr for its cozy corner tables, the tendency to linger over shared plates, and of course, their crunchy potato pancakes. 

I usually go for this dish, served with house-cured lox, horseradish sauce, capers, and cornichons for $9. It's fantastic, with the lox thinly sliced and not aggressively brined.

But this morning, I went with the applesauce and sour cream  ($5) alongside, so I could share more plates with A. 

Ordered once at the owner's urging, I knew the pan-fried potato raisin bread served with maple syrup ($5) was a must have. The crunchy bread, softened by maple syrup, tastes like a hearty French toast. 

A. went with the roast, a Sunday special, which this week was a sliced pork tenderloin with mushroom gravy, served with potato dumplings and our choice of a side of roasted beets ($12). 

We were both puzzled by the dumplings' contents - what we determined to be a piece of bread. Our server confirmed that it was a house made crouton and added that it was a German tradition. 

The roast pork was fatty without being gross, tender, and flavorful, accompanied by the rich mushroom gravy. The beets were a good side to this dish, adding a roasted sweetness. 

The portions are right for the price, and you'll leave feeling well-fed for a bargain. Lunch and dinner are available as well, and for the summer they're open Wednesday through Sunday. 

Try Schulte & Herr for something different in Portland - look for the bright green awning on Cumberland Avenue.