Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Unusual ice cream options

Originally published in the Portland Phoenix on July 16, 2014

Our short Maine summers mean we must maximize our ice cream eating opportunities. Most Portlanders have an opinion about the best ice cream purveyor, from Beal’s to Gifford’s to Red’s Dairy Freeze. But what of the lesser known frozen treats? During this run of glorious warm weather, many Portland restaurants and sweets shops are quietly churning out scoops worth your time this summer.

East End Cupcakes, known for their creatively flavored confections like banana cake topped with Nutella buttercream, quietly started making chocolate chip cookies 2 years ago. The cookies are sprinkled with a good amount of Maldon sea salt, giving them an irresistibly salty finish. Owner Alysia Zoidis says, “you need salt when you have sweet. A lot of people overlook that, and you get a one-dimensional sweet.”

Zoidis serves a scoop of Toot’s vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies ($4). After taste testing area offerings with her mom, Zoidis settled on North Yarmouth’s beloved Toot’s Ice Cream. Zoidis found the mother-daughter duo serving “wonderful, homemade ice cream,” from a repurposed train caboose to be an obvious choice.

Vinland, the 100 percent local foods restaurant, has taken advantage of the crowds drawn to the newly revitalized Congress Square Park by serving ice cream out of the back door of the restaurant. The ice cream operation has been in the works for a while, but according to bartender Alex Winthrop, the kitchen was working on achieving the perfect organic, gluten-free cone before launching. A salted butter semifreddo is the first flavor available, with a creamy texture and the sweetness again tempered by a hint of salt ($4 cup, $5 cone).

If you’re up for a bit of a drive out of Portland, you’ll be rewarded by fresh ice cream at Krista Kern Desjarlais’ Bresca and the Honey Bee. Desjarlais closed her popular Portland restaurant Bresca in the Spring of 2013, after purchasing the Snack Shack on Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester. Locals have been recreating at the privately-owned Outlet Beach since the 1920s. Desjarlais continues the tradition with her lakeside barbecue menu, but elevates it with gourmet twists on hamburgers and hotdogs. After you enjoy a Le Crunch dog, topped with kettle chips or a chilled rice noodle salad with pork belly, get a scoop ($3.75 cup with a pizzelle cookie, $.50 extra for a house-made sugar cone), while you dip your feet in the refreshing lake water.

Desjarlais uses Bink Belgian Ale and fresh peaches in her Belgian ale peach ice cream to create a subtly sweet, complex flavor that begins to melt as soon as its handed to you. Other summer flavors include White Monkey Tea, infused with a green tea from Little Red Cup Tea Co., and cherries that have been soaked in red wine. A root beer ice cream is flavored using all natural extracts and a crème fraîche Key lime pie has chunks of crushed graham crackers. The Snack Shack stops serving ice cream after Labor Day, so visit before 5:30 pm, seven days a week.

While not new, Bonobo Wood Fired Pizza continues their summer ice cream window. They serve popular Gelato Fiasco flavors and Smiling Hill ice cream, one of the only spots to get a scoop without visiting the farm’s dairy store. Stop by any of these spots on your post-dinner constitutional for a treat that is as sweet as Maine’s fleeting summer. You may even find your spot to lobby for in the neverending debate over Maine’s best ice cream.

EAST END CUPCAKES | 426 Fore St, Portland | Mon-Thurs 10:30 am-6 pm; Fri 10:30 am-8 pm, Sat 11 am-8 pm; Sun 11 am-5 pm | 207.228.3304

VINLAND | 593 Congress St, Portland | Dinner 5:30-9 pm; Brunch Sat-Sun 10 am-1:30 pm | Visa/MC/Amex/Disc | 207.653.8617

BRESCA & THE HONEY BEE | Outlet Rd, New Gloucester | Food Wed-Sun 11:30 am-4 pm; Ice cream Mon-Sun 11 am-5:30 pm | 207.725.9002

BONOBO | 22 Pleasant St, Brunswick | Lunch Wed-Fri 11:30 am-2:30 pm; Dinner Mon-Sat 4-9 pm; Sun 4-9 pm; Ice cream window Thurs-Sat 6:30-9:30 pm | 207.347.8267

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Blue Rooster Food Co. Hugo's Hot Dog

The chef hot dog series continues at Blue Rooster Food Co. this week with Mike Wiley of Hugo's hot dog topped with kimchi, puréed egg yolk, and noritamago furikake (a rice seasoning made with dried egg yolk and seaweed). This umami-rich, pickle-topped dog is available through next Thursday ($6). 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Portland Food at Maine Historical Society, Sonny's + Lolita

Ed. note: both Sonny's and Lolita have closed.

I gave a talk about my book, Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine, last night at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. About 25 people turned out (most of whom I didn't even know!) and while I was super nervous, the talk went well, and everyone was very nice and appreciative. I was once again very moved to see strangers supporting me, be it those at the restaurants that donated food, the MHS staff who threw the event, and people who attended the talk and even stuck around to say nice things to me. And of course, to my friends, who turned out like they always do. 

So thank you to all of the people who helped with or attended the event! My next book event is Friday, September 26th at the Portland Public Library. I'll be giving a brown bag lunch talk at 12pm. 

Coincidentally, Original Roomie A. is visiting and so I took the day off to hang with her before the talk. We had lunch at Sonny's, outside on the patio - sangria and a fried chicken sandwich. It was incredible - crispy fried chicken that was juicy inside and an impossibly soft bun. 

While we were very happy at Sonny's, trying to figure out where to go for lunch was a struggle. I would love another option for lunch that is similar to Sonny's, but, well, isn't Sonny's. Duckfat and Eventide were both on long waits for a table, and I could not think of another option in the Old Port for good food plus cocktail/wine/beer that also has outdoor seating. Suggestions welcome. 

After the book talk, we ended up at Sonny's again for dinner. Sonny's just fits the bill for so many things. Several of us ended up enjoyed the Basil Fawlty cocktail - it was like a gin limeade. It was fresh, tart, and herbal; perfect for the warm weather. Someone else ended up with the fried chicken sandwich and declared it the best she'd ever had. Definitive! I like it. 

Not wanting the party to end, I asked A. if she wanted to see the new restaurant on Munjoy Hill, Lolita. When we lived on the Hill together, we were big fans of going to Bar Lola for cocktails and dessert. Bar Lola was actually the only place I've ever gone to repeatedly for just dessert. 

Lolita continues that tradition in my life with their eye-rollingly good apples tarte fine for 2 ($12). It's a simple dessert with a thin layer of puff pastry topped with thinly sliced apples and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. The sugar caramelizes to make a crunchy glaze on the bottom of the buttery, flaky crust. Really fantastic and simple.

I also had the Alan Brownley a Bulleit Bourbon, lime, St.-Germaine, and mint cocktail. Another amazing cocktail! Incredibly well-balanced, with a whiff of mint from the garnish. Highly recommended. 

Have a great weekend—there's lots of great food and drink out there in this fair city of ours, get your fill! 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

July Garden Update: Freezing Kale, Kale Chips, and Sad Tomatoes

Way back in January, I shared my preliminary planning steps (i.e. soil testing) for my container garden and raised bed garden at my house in Portland. After building up my big (16' x 4') raised bed, I purchased several 15-gallon containers for tomatoes. The soil in my yard is heavily contaminated with lead, so I filled the containers with a loam/compost mix for the plants. I planted several varieties of tomatoes in the containers, and kale, cabbages, onions, lettuce, arugula, spinach, celery, a hot pepper, 2 cucumber plants (slicing and pickling), nasturtiums, and herbs (dill, chives, oregano, basil, and parsley). 

Cats in the garden is a whole 'nother issue

Well, very quickly, I realized that 4 kale plants is 3 (some would say 4) too many. They took off in that fresh soil, quadrupling in size very quickly. My problem with kale in the summer is that most recipes require braising, stewing, or adding to hearty dishes like hot soups and stews. Who wants to eat any of that when it's so warm (oh so perfectly warm) out? 

So someone suggested this kale salad from Deb of smitten kitchen, who writes: “the world would be a better place if we could all stop pretending that kale tastes good.” Ah, my people. But in using the lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale, slicing it very thinly, and letting it marinate in the lemon juice dressing, the raw kale becomes very tender and silky. (Forget massaging kale, I did that approximately once and immediately deemed it too high maintenance. Plus, it made my hands hurt.) 

Spinach and arugula in their infancy

Kale chips are a great option of course - they taste so good and unlike say potato chips, you feel very virtuous when you're done eating them. "I just ate a whole kale plant!" Sure, one that's sprinkled with parmesan cheese, oil and salt, but hey, it's got to be better than fried potatoes. 

Kale chips work best with curly kale, but it's certainly possible with all varieties. The flatter leaves just sort of collapse onto the baking sheet and burn more easily. First, preheat your oven to 400*F. Wash your kale well (especially if it's homegrown), remove the ribs/stems, and tear into bite size pieces. 

Place in a large bowl and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Here, break your no-massaging-kale rule and toss kale until it's glistening with oil. Then sprinkle with your favorite flavorings - you can go Italian and use parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper flakes or Asian with soy sauce and sesame seeds. Spread on a baking sheet, trying to avoid overlapping the pieces, and bake for 8 minutes, flipping (as best you can), halfway through. Keep an eye on them, the burnt ones are inedible like burnt popcorn. 

I also froze 2 kale plants - just put them out of their misery (actually, they were quite happy) by pulling up the whole plant. I prepared it by washing well, removing the ribs/stems, and chopping it. Then I blanched batches in a large pot of boiling water for 2 minutes, then transferred to an ice bath for another 2 minutes. After a trip through the salad spinner, I bagged it in freezer quart bags. Now I'll have homegrown kale to enjoy when it's once again hearty soup and stew weather. 

In the kale plants spot, I plan to plant carrots from seed for the fall and some pole beans (I have no idea if it's too late for them or not - but I think half the fun of gardening is just winging it!).

Unfortunately, the tomatoes aren't a success story like my spring/early summer garden full of greens and herbs. The tomatoes haven't grown as much as I expected - maybe only doubling in size from their original 8" seedlings. They get plenty of sun and I water them enough, so the lack of growth is definitely due to the yellowing, then blackening, of their leaves and stems...blight. A word no tomato grower wants to hear! 

Several of the tomatoes contracted late blight, which moves far faster and is more harmful to the plants than early blight. Early blight causes a slow yellowing/browning of the tomatoes lower leaves, usually once the tomato plant is well established and bushy. The leaves may fall off as they brown, but it doesn't usually affect the output of fruits. 

Late blight, however, can level your tomatoes in a matter of days. Mine seem to be hanging in there (this one above excepted - I harvested those 3 tomatoes and ripped out the plant). I purchased a liquid fish fertilizer/sulfur treatment from Allen, Sterling & Lothrop called SeaRose. It's from local Saltwater Farms and it feeds your plants, as well as treats any fungal issues, like blight.

Because blight is fungal (i.e. spreads with spores on the wind or by splashing from the soil onto your plants from rain or hose water), it spreads easily. If you have blight on your property, consider removing the plants to save others, disinfect your tools between infected and non-infected plants, and do not attempt to compost blighted plant material. Rotate your tomatoes/potatoes into a new spot for next year.

Wish me luck with my SeaRose treatment - I am nothing if not stubborn! Hopefully my tomatoes are too. But I'll definitely need to turn to the local farmers for my tomatoes for preserving.

Read more about late blight symptoms and treatment at UMaine Extension.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer Weekend: Flea Bites, SeaDogs, and Bissell Brothers BBQ

This weekend in Portland is full of food and drink events, as are all Maine summer weekends. Tonight, from 6:30-9:30pm, is Flea Bites, the food truck clustering event outside of Portland's Flea-for-all. Featured food trucks are CN Shawarma, Good Shepherd Food Truck (with guest chef Damian Sansonetti, Piccolo), Fishin' Ships, Gusto's Italian Food Truck, Wicked Good Truck, Love Cupcakes, and Mainely Burgers. I don't know how they're going to fit all those trucks in that tiny lot, but it's going to be jam packed full of good food!

Tomorrow, July 12th, is Bark in the Park at Portland SeaDogs game at 5pm. It's a fundraiser for the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland through Planet Dog's Foundation, and there's a pre-game dog parade on the field! Not a food-related event, and I'm not even that into dogs, but I love baseball and am looking forward to watching an adorable doggie parade before the SeaDogs beat the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

Bissell Brothers Brewing is having a Sunday BBQ out at the brewery on Industrial Way. They'll be pouring 4 beers - which is the most I've ever seen offered from them at once! In addition to the Substance, their American Ale, the Dang 'Ole, corn ale with lime; Strawberry Swing, a red wheat ale infused with local strawberries; and the 'Magin, a Rye IPA are available.

Whatever you find yourself doing - whether it's an ambitious agenda of hitting up the afore-mentioned events or relaxing on the beach - enjoy this perfect summer weather we've been having!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Get out and dine

Originally published in the Portland Phoenix on June 19, 2014

Summer in Maine brings a long-awaited flurry of activity. While it’s tempting to recoil into a “locals only” routine to avoid the crowds, dining in Portland is at its finest when it’s warm out. Be strategic about your opportunities for great food within this short season of relative abundance. Here are 10 must-eats for Summer 2014.

1) Bite Into Maine’s lobster roll
While Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams is in the eye of the tourist storm, the green space and endless expanse of ocean will keep you from feeling claustrophobic while you wait for your lunch. Gorgeous scenery or no, Bite Into Maine’s lobster roll cart alone is worth the drive. Choose from five preparations of fresh, never frozen (a feat more rare than you might think), Maine lobster: 4.5 ounces of tail and claw meat, all served on fresh-baked, buttered, toasted buns. Try the picnic-style roll, lobster meat tossed with melted butter, a layer of coleslaw, and sprinkled with celery seed. Think of it as research for your vote in Roll Call’s Taste of America competition, where Maine’s lobster roll has made it to the final round (vote at |

2) Maine Pie Line’s blueberry pie
This Maine staple can be surprisingly hard to find in a state that produces 99 percent of the country’s wild blueberries. Maine Pie Line’s Briana Warner consistently creates atypical pie fillings (like peaches poached in sage and wine and baked in almond pastry cream). Rather than just ho-hum blueberry, Warner adds warming spices cardamom and ginger to the fruit filling and covers it with a sugar-topped lattice crust. Maine Pie Line is open Wednesday–Friday, 10 am-3 pm, and Saturday from 9 am-1 pm at 200 Anderson Street in East Bayside. |

3) Central Provisions’ bread and butter
Since its opening in February, Central Provisions has blended seamlessly into Portland’s elite restaurant scene. One menu staple, the bread and butter, elevates the pre-meal snack into an appetizer worthy of its own stage. Slices of grilled sourdough bread come with a heat-tempered duck egg yolk that’s been whipped and piped onto a smear of salted butter. Heavenly. |

4) A meal from the farmers’ market
The Portland Farmers’ Market is the premier spot to find fresh, local food this summer. Fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, herbed goat cheese: these ingredients don’t need much to rival any Old Port restaurant meal. Meat-lovers should visit Thirty Acre Farm for pork bratwurst for the grill; everyone will love Lalibela Farm’s black bean tempeh strips, pan-fried in tacos or a salad. |

5) Small Axe food truck
We wouldn’t dare to venture a guess as to whether Congress Square Park just needed a little love to become a viable public space again or if the uptick in visitors is due to the popularity of Small Axe truck alone. Either way, enjoy the fried haddock sandwich or pork belly fried rice from these friendly chefs for lunch and dinner on weekdays. There’s new seating in the park, free Wi-Fi and, of course, great people watching. |

6) Blue Rooster Food Co.’s chef hot dog series
Your favorite handheld treat gets a gourmet makeover this summer at The Rooster. Every week until the end of August, a guest chef hot dog is being served; the series started with Cara Stadler of Tao Yuan’s bacon-wrapped dog, topped with kimchi, ssam sauce, and cilantro mayo. This week, Steve Corry’s ‘555 Dog’ will be served until Thursday, with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit Good Shepherd food bank. |

7) The Well at Jordan’s Farm
The word is out about this idyllic restaurant at Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth. Former Back Bay Grill chef Jason Williams prepares Jordan’s Farm produce and locally-raised meats in his gazebo restaurant. But remember, it’s a working farm; last summer, farmer Carol Anne Jordan found visiting picnickers spread out on her farmhouse’s lawn like they were in some Maine version of Disneyland. Bring your manners and a bottle of wine (it’s BYOB) for an al fresco dinner. Open Wednesday-Saturday at 5pm. Reservations accepted for groups of 6 or more; cash only. |

8) Hella Good Tacos at Steve and Renee’s Diner
Namesake Renee recently sold her Washington Avenue diner to Josh Bankhead, who had been renting kitchen prep space for his taco cart. The diner is slowly transforming into a Mexican restaurant, with a new salsa bar for topping your chorizo tacos, carnitas burrito, or freshly-fried tortilla chips. Hella Good Tacos’ cart can still be found in Monument Square, Wednesday-Friday at lunchtime. See Facebook for the diner’s expanded hours; now serving beer. |

9) Gorgeous Gelato
No matter your flavor preference, whether you like fruity, chocolate-y or sweet and creamy, the gelato turned out by the Italian owners of Gorgeous Gelato is likely to be the best version you’ve had. Fruit sorbets taste fresher than if you ate berries off the bush; the ‘Gorgeous’ flavor (sweet cream with chocolate chip and caramel swirls) has an impossibly smooth texture. If you’re concerned about such things, know that gelato has 70 percent less fat than ice cream. |

10) Out of the Blue seafood
In an attempt to generate demand for local, abundant seafood species, Gulf of Maine Research Institute has partnered with area restaurants who feature a different lesser-known fish each month through October. In June, find redfish at Five Fifty-Five, recently served seared with littleneck clams, cipollini onions, chorizo, and butter sauce. The Salt Exchange roasts redfish and serves it with fiddleheads and corn risotto. Participating Portland restaurants include Fore Street, DiMillo’s, Gilbert’s Chowder House, and food truck Fishin’ Ships. |

Collaborations and foraged finds

Originally published in the Portland Phoenix on June 19, 2014

The old joke goes, if you want to know what’s going to be popular in Portland in five years, look at what’s happening right now in New York. But what’s closer to the truth is that Portland has been forming — dare we say setting — its own trends all along. Sure, gimmicky things happening here, like putting bacon in a Bloody Mary, were probably done in some Brooklyn bar years ago. But serving farm fresh, local food has always been popular in Maine.

Two trends in particular can be seen playing out in our high-caliber food and drink scene: one unique to our area and one that’s also popular elsewhere, but particularly well suited to our coastal climate. Look to new and long-standing popular Portland restaurants to see these trends continue this summer.

Portland chefs report the degree of camaraderie and collaboration they experience in their industry is unique. In the ultimate partnership, two restaurant professionals are opening the most-anticipated restaurant in Portland since Hunt + Alpine Club. The culinary pedigree of the owners has helped to create the hype; Jason Loring, owner of Nosh Kitchen Bar, and Stephen Lanzalotta, former Micucci’s baker, are partnering to open Slab Sicilian Street Food.

The menu at Slab naturally focuses on slab-style pizzas, and the beer list features 20 taps, many of them local. A 70-seat beer garden makes the location in the former Public Market House once again a destination for food and drink. Seven local breweries have brewed beers inspired by Slab’s menu: Rising Tide, In’finiti, Gneiss, Banded Horn, Bissell Brothers, Foundation, and Bunker Brewing.

Rising Tide is now pouring their Coslaboration in their tasting room. It’s a wheat ale, brewed with fried sage and fresh oranges, inspired by the hummus served at Slab. Only the aroma of sage is detectable, while the oranges contribute to the crispness of the beer. It’s perfect for drinking on Slab’s patio. In’finiti’s El White Camino is an easy-drinking corn lager and is now available at In’Finiti. Look for these collaborative brewing efforts at Slab (25 Preble St.;, opening any day now.

The use of foraged foods in Portland restaurants is slowly becoming more mainstream. At the newly opened Lolita on Munjoy Hill, from the owners of the former Bar Lola, find a dandelion green and nettle salad. The bitter, wild greens are dressed with a garlic almond puree and slices of speck, or cured pork. Nettles are the plants responsible for the stinging feeling on your calves as you hike through a field; their leaves contain formic acid, a skin irritant. Fortunately for Lolita’s diners, the effect is neutralized when the leaves are cooked.

Newcomer Vinland’s all-local menu features many foraged items. While spring’s fiddleheads and ramps are slowly fading, wild lamb’s quarter and oyster mushrooms are taking their places. Perennial favorite Eventide Oyster Co. uses foraged seaweed to flavor their soup stocks and as a garnish on their exquisitely prepared seafood dishes. If you want to add the flavor of the sea to your home cooking, Vitamin Sea, a value-added seaweed company in Scarborough, makes agricultural products, pet treats, and snacks from Maine seaweed. The Wild Weeds savory topping is an addictive mix of dried, roasted seaweed, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. It can be found at the Portland Farmers’ Market.

The beautiful thing about foraged foods is their accessibility. If you’re interesting in learning how to find the right wild edibles, consider attending the inaugural Maine Seaweed Fest, August 30 at Southern Maine Community College. Guided beach walks led by “Coastal Carol” of Coast Encounters will educate you on how to safely harvest nutritious sea greens. Local vendors will be preparing food that will expose you to the versatility of seaweed.

Considering that the Maine seaweed harvest last year was 17 millions pounds — worth almost half a million dollars — it’s about time this humble plant has it’s own festival. Turns out Maine was way into seaweed before it was cool.

Maine Seaweed Festival | Saturday, Aug 30 | Southern Maine Community College, 2 Fort Rd., South Portland |

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hilltop Superette Grand Opening and Portland Food Signing

First things first: I will be at Local Sprouts Cafe tonight at 5pm, with copies of my book Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine for sale. I can also sign a copy you've already purchased, of course. Come say hi! Local Sprouts is featured in the book, and as always, tonight they will be serving a dinner menu comprised of 80% locally grown, raised, and harvested ingredients. I hear their cheeseburger (made with local, free-range, grass-fed beef, natch) is amazing. 

Yesterday saw the long-awaited opening of the Hilltop Superette on Munjoy Hill. Formerly Colucci's Hilltop Market, the market is under new management/ownership and now offers a great mix of old favorites and expanded offerings. 

Hilltop Superette has been remodeled, but the layout is very similar to Colucci's. The ceilings seem higher and the deli and checkout counters are raised as well. It's very clean and bright, with a modern retro feel. 

I was immediately impressed with the selection of dry goods on the shelves. I saw Kraft Velveeta shells and cheese next to Cascadian Farms organic cereal, Thai Kitchen curry pastes next to Shake'n'Bake. 

There's an extensive selection of local, domestic, and imported beers and a cooler of chilled wine, in addition to the room temperature wine you see above. 

A Coca-Cola cooler stocked with glass bottles added to the retro vibe. Since Moxie is owned by Coke now, you can even get a Moxie in a glass bottle. 

An expanded selection of fresh fruits and veggies is a nice addition - Colucci's never was a stop for healthy foods. I didn't get to check too closely as to whether there was local produce, because I ran into a friend. In fact, I ran into several friends in the short time I was in there. We're all so excited to have the market open again! 

A topic of much discussion prior to the opening was whether the deli items would return - or more specifically, whether the specials like the 2-for-1 cheeseburger basket would return. I can't vouch for the daily deals, but the menu is priced much like the old market (see Italians for $3.99 and 1/4-pound hamburgers for $2.50). Colucci's made one of my favorite Italians in town (the Italian Italian), so I'm eager to try the Spicy Superette and see how it compares. 

There's also a meat counter, where Colucci's Italian sausages and other cuts of meat are sold. I thought the cow in the neon sign was cute (there's one on the other side of the store that reads 'Dairy' and the cow is smiling). 

The new Colucci's (I'm sorry, I'll always call it Colucci's) is a great addition to shopping on the Hill. I joked that my boyfriend and I will never be going to Hannaford again. The market is a nice balance between 7-11 or the Big Apple and Rosemont Market. Welcome back to the Hill, Colucci's! (I mean Hilltop Superette!)