June 12, 2013

Dishcrawl Portland

I was invited to tag along on last night's Dishcrawl  - think pub crawl, but with restaurants, and strangers instead of your posse. Dishcrawl is a national event, but was brought to Portland by local Mary Soule. She's very enthusiastic about Portland and its food community, so she was a perfect, welcoming host. 

We started the evening at The Porthole, with the rest of our stops remaining a secret. We were given about 20 minutes to mingle and to get a drink, and Mary did a nice job of circulating and introducing people to get the crowd warmed up. There were 20 of us on this tour, as one of our stops was small, but Dishcrawls normally can accomodate 30 people. 

To begin our program, Mary introduced herself and Dishcrawl, which aims to highlight an area's food culture while creating community. There isn't much more of program other than that provided by the chefs (which varies depending on the chattiness of your chef), so chatting up the other Dishcrawlers while you wait and then eating is the majority of your evening. 

At the Porthole, Chef Jesse Poirier introduced their new menu items, which include locally produced food wherever possible. We were served a veggie bean burger, adorable fish tacos, and a "Surf and Turf" burger topped with lobster tail. Everything was delicious, with the burger as the standout item - the patty was cooked medium and the sweet lobster meat and brioche bun were a nice compliment. 

Next, I was delighted to head up the hill to The Thirsty Pig, one of my favorite watering holes. I ordered an Allagash Blonde, which I'd never seen before and thought would pair nicely with whatever meats Allison was going to serve us. (Alcohol is not include in the ticket price.) 

After Allison told us about The Thirsty Pig and her involvement with Maine Beer Week, we were served a trio of meat - a Lithuanian sausage with Morse's sauerkraut and grainy mustard, a chicken sausage with caramelized onions, and Allison's dad's recipe for pulled pork, which includes grape jelly and Bourbon in the sauce. Again, all are housemade and use local products when possible. 

I didn't have a favorite here - they were all equally delicious. Yes, I say that even including the chicken sausage. The Lithuanian sausage was nice and sweet, the pulled pork everything that it should be - sweet, tender, spicy. 

After heading up the hill more and then down the tiny alley to Dana Street, I knew we were headed to Blue Rooster Food Company and that tot-tine was in my future. 

After crowding into the small lunchtime and late night eatery, we were treated to an introduction by the friendly chefs, Dan McCarty and Damian Sansonetti. Dan explained their culinary backgrounds (impressive) and their concept of high-quality "low brow" food at reasonable prices. 

Not having had any of their sandwiches, I was excited to try the biscuit I'd heard so much about - this time with fried chicken, house made Ranch dressing, and a root vegetable slaw. It was fantastic. Unfortunately, this sandwich only appears as a special, but you can try the biscuit with their Red Eye breakfast sandwich. 

We were also served a Tasso ham Bahn Mi, tot-tine, and my favorite (more than the tot-tine!): fried Brussels sprouts with sweet chili sauce. 

To finish the evening, we headed to The Salt Exchange, where I've never spent much time. We were served a dessert of goat cheese cheesecake, with a strawberry rhubarb coulis and honey-sweetened whipped cream. It was fantastic and gone in no time. 

I finished the evening chatting with some Dishcrawlers while I enjoyed a cocktail from the bar. The tour finished at about 10pm.

I enjoyed my experience, and heard from a lot of participants that they were in places they'd never been or never would have thought to try. So Mary is accomplishing the mission of Dishcrawls to connect locals with new restaurants. These tours are aimed at locals, with Dishcrawls being offered more frequently in the winter when the restaurants aren't as busy.

Just like the Maine Foodie Tours, this would be a fun thing to do if you live in Maine and have out of town visitors. You might even make new friends and you will definitely have some good food.