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!