January 15, 2015

Reading the Tea Leaves

The Honey Paw on Middle Street

In 2015, over 100,000 cruise ship passengers are scheduled to visit Portland between May and November (up from 82,000 in 2014). Hoteliers aim to fill the 575 new rooms that opened up in the last year, plus the additional 110 planned for this one, with visitors that arrive by plane, train, and automobile. With Portland’s ever-growing reputation for an exceptional dining scene, more and more restaurateurs are hoping to be the answer to the question, where should we eat tonight? More importantly, where will we locals retreat to hide from all those tourists? 18 restaurants and bars are planned to open in 2015, building inspectors willing.

Here are the ones we’re most excited about and what these business plans might mean for Portland.

The Washington Avenue corridor

With multiple high-end real estate projects developing on the north side of Munjoy Hill and into East Bayside, many restaurateurs are eyeing the available spaces on Washington Avenue. Two unnamed restaurants are in the works, one in a former restaurant space near Silly’s, the other in the former J.J. Nissen Bakery building. The immediate success of Oxbow Brewing’s tasting room behind Coffee By Design on Washington Avenue points to the pent up demand for comfortable, casual spots around Munjoy Hill. In general, as the Old Port continues to maintain high occupancy rates, business-owners are looking for space in outlying areas, like the Arts District and the West End.

The wrath of grapes

As discerning diners like to know the provenance of their food, the traceability and hyper-localism spill over into beverages, illustrated by the growing demand for craft beer, wine, and spirits. Maybe wine is getting its time in the spotlight, alongside craft beer. The owners of Maine & Loire, a natural and biodynamic wine shop also opening on Washington Avenue, sure hope so. As do those of UnWINEd, the Blue Lobster Urban Winery, and Lincolns. UnWINEd, opening soon on Congress St. in the Arts District, will serve wine and appetizers in a comfortable lounge setting. The Blue Lobster Urban Winery has been in the works for several years now, but the proprietors assure Anestes Fotiades of Portland Food Map (portlandfoodmap.com) that they plan to complete their microwinery in 2015. Lincolns, while promising a selection of alcohol and beer, is co-owned by Mark Ohlson of MJ’s Wine Bar. This underground lounge at 46 Market St., where everything costs only $5 (hence Lincolns), is sure to offer a limited selection of quality wines.

Superstar expansions

While some businesses, like Lincolns and UnWINEd, are hoping to capture the local love with inexpensive, stripped-down lounges, others are aiming high with premium real estate and prices to follow. Dana Street (of Street & Co. and Fore Street) will open a 144-seat eatery on Maine Wharf with a high-end seafood menu and retail seafood market. The owners of Hugo’s and Eventide Oyster Co. are expanding their restaurant row down the block with The Honey Paw. The new restaurant’s concept is scant on details other than “non-denominational noodle restaurant,” but will surely continue the tradition of well-crafted, thoughtful, delicious food. Small Axe food truckers Karl Deuben and Bill Leavy find a brick-and-mortar home in the East Ender space—same name, new menu; don’t worry, their cold-smoked burger will make the transition.

Portland’s food and drink scene continues to expand, seemingly unabated, causing many to wonder when the bubble is going to pop. With residential real estate development, cruise ship schedules, and the number of hotel rooms increasing, many powers-that-be with money are betting that the bubble is still inflating. For the most part, these planned restaurant projects are still chef-owned and operated; Portland has not yet seen an influx of corporate restaurant groups. Here’s hoping the addition of these new projects continues to add to Portland’s high-quality dining scene.

To see a complete list of food-related businesses opening in 2015, visit portlandfoodmap.com/underconstruction.html

Originally published in DigPortland, January 1, 2015.