Five Places to Eat in Portland, Maine

In the last couple of years, Portland, Maine has been getting a lot of attention for its food scene. It’s a very cute coastal town in southern Maine with a lot to do and eat. I took a solo trip for Memorial Day weekend to check it out, mostly involving walking from seafood to fries to doughnuts. I would do it again in a second: here are my favorite five spots for your next trip north!

 

1. Duck Fat

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Duck Fat is a very popular quick lunch and dinner spot in the heart of the food strip in Portland. They specialize in Belgian fries, of course fried in duck fat, sandwiches, shakes and homemade sodas. There was a crowd outside the modestly sized café, and people were waiting half hours to get in, at 2:30pm. I even had to wait 15 minutes just to get seated at the bar. But it was well worth it, as the poutine I ordered came to me in a flash, and was steaming and delicious. Straightforward, nothing fancy: Belgian fries covered in duck gravy, cheese curds, and chives. I also ordered a ginger zinger soda (in a mason jar. Portland’s there). It was extremely refreshing.

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2. Dutch’s

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While dining at a seafood restaurant by the piers, a couple next to me at the bar told me I had to go to Dutch’s for breakfast. This was great news, as it was already on my list. Dutch’s is known for their biscuits-and-gravy-fried-chicken hybrid sandwich. They call it the crispy chicken biscuit, and it’s a piece of fried chicken thigh covered in sausage gravy sandwiched between slices of their flaky, yet substantial house made biscuits. Unfortunately I couldn’t eat this because the gravy was made from sausage, and I don’t eat pork. Luckily, they had a second choice: the spicy chicken biscuit. Same thing as the first sandwich, with smashed avocado instead of gravy, and spicy chicken instead of regular chicken: win-win. I imagine the gravy would have been nice to break up the dryness, but it was still great. Dutch’s is also known for the (truly) crispy hash browns. The couple from the bar insisted I get a side of these. They were right out of they fryer when I got them, and very satisfying. I also got an Earl Grey doughnut for the road, which turned out to be one of the best pastries of the trip. The cream in the middle was perfectly mild – not too sweet, and just enough flavor.

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3. Tandem Coffee + Bakery

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So here is Portland’s quintessential hip into-my-coffee-and-chill-time café. It’s even more Brooklyn than Brooklyn: it’s an old gas station! Do you see that slightly askew ceiling? If not for this place, that Earl Grey doughnut would have won best pastry. I can’t get down with the bitterness of coffee, so their great roasts were wasted on me, but their pie and pastries were not. It was extremely difficult to decide on one pastry to try. I could have had a “loaded biscuit” with what you might guess is brie, but is actually a generous glob of butter, and strawberry jam. I could have had a cherry and chocolate scone, or a large chocolate chip cookie. But I went with their massive sticky bun. It looked so inviting from behind the glass display, and somehow more manageable than a dense scone (false). The icing was pooling in the folds of the dough which caught orange zest as a last addition. The top was crunchy and the middle was pillowy soft. I was not disappointed. On my way out of town, I stopped by again for a slice of strawberry hibiscus pie. Good choice.

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With Mast Brothers’ Hot Chocolate

 

 

4. Honey Paw

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I’m generally wary of restaurants with the vague term “Asian fusion” anywhere in a description. It just sounds suspect…what Asian cuisines are you fusing? Are they Asian? Is there also American food? Why? Asian fusion is exactly how Honey Paw labels their food. Well, almost: “regional American cuisine with an Asian sensibility”. I thought I’d step out of my comfort zone and see what the hype was about. The interior decoration is super cool; honey comb lanterns everywhere. My favorite part of the inside was the seating: one large community table, and a bar along the window. I ordered the smoked lamb khao soi with coconut curry, fermented mustard greens, and topped with crispy fried noodles. It was as amazing as it sounds, though I could barely finish my bowl; the rich flavor combination was a lot for my stomach to handle. That said, I’d eat it again, maybe with a friend.

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5. Eventide Oyster Co.

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If you’re into oysters, this is the place for you.Eventide is right next to Honey Paw, and owned by the same folks. Their original Portland restaurant has ten Maine varieties and more “away” varieties, nestled on ice in the stone trench in front of the bar. I’m not a slimy-raw-seafood person myself, but I wanted to see what else they had going on. This place also had a hefty mass of customers waiting to get in, which I bypassed once more by waiting 10 minutes to get to the bar. I ordered one of the specials: deep-fried soft shell crab, which was not as filling as I’d hoped for the price I paid for it. So I ordered a fried oyster steamed bun as reinforcement. Both were delicious, but a tad overpriced. In any case, a good place to spend money on good, local seafood.

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Bonus Round

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A $20 Maine lobster roll drenched in butter is worth it if you’re looking for a good lobster roll in a fancy restaurant by the water. You can find it at the new restaurant, Scales, that wants to overlook the Casco Bay, but really just overlooks a couple other seafood spots on the pier (this is where I met that couple on the bar). Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the butter: this guy’s bun is griddled in butter, and the four ounces of lobster meat are reheated…in butter. It took me nearly an hour just to get through it all without upsetting my stomach.

It’s worth a trip to Holy Donut to see what a potato doughnut tastes like. Luckily, not much like potatoes. I tried a lemon doughnut and was pleasantly surprised. Pro tip: go in the morning so you have more flavor choices that I did.

Any other Portland recommendations? Leave them below!

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As Seen on "Unique Sweets": Craftsman and Wolves

See Dandelion Chocolates back there? Yeah, they were on the same episode.

     Unique Sweets is truthfully my favorite TV show, period. It’s on the Cooking Channel, the hipster and unconventional teenager of the Food Network, and it’s full of national gems. A spin-off of the original “Unique Eats”, this show exhibits different cafés, bakeries and restaurants in the country with crazy cool desserts and sweet treats. What’s better than offbeat confectioneries? The only thing I can think of is being in a city with so many! I’ve counted six locations in San Francisco that “Unique Sweets” has been to, talked about and aired on their show. Dynamo Donuts, which I wrote about before, happens to be one of these places. Another of these places is Craftsman and Wolves, in the Mission District. They’re known for “The Rebel Within”, which is a soft-boiled egg inside of an asiago sausage muffin. But once you walk up to their counter, you’ll see why else they’re famous and unique.

Caramelized hazelnut financier (French cake). $3.
Cashew curry and Valrhona (also French) chocolate chip cookies. $3
Chocolate croissant stack. $3.50

     Everything they make is beautiful. Look at that chocolate stack. Would I buy it for $3.50? Maybe not. I had a grand old time in there fangirling behind my camera, though.

The Rebel Within. $7

     Look at that muffin. This I might shell out 7 bucks for if just for the experience (if not for the sausage part).  Inside your asiago muffin, you get a soft-boiled egg. Whoa. What an adventure to bite into.

Savory tart: Charred eggplant purée, quinoa, smocked almonds and raisins (sic?). $5.50.
They omitted the “fromage blanc” on the little card there, but seen on their online menu.
Also, if you know that smocked is a real term, please fill me in.

     Moving left towards the cash register, we see potential lunch contenders. A garden of choices. A display of attention to detail.

Hard hitters corner. Proceed with caution.

Haute Dog: Beef frank, mustard seed croissant, salt & vinegar beet chips. $6.50.
Now they’re just getting ridiculous. Or no? Maybe it’s incredible.

“Sandwich”: Shitake, bok choy, kimchi savory cake, peanuts (sic). $8.
I’m not even sure what some of that means. Was the kimchi baked into that toast?

     There’s where the “crazy cool” comes in, sweet or not. These could just as well be life-like ceramic sculptures of very talented artists, but this is really what these lunch menu items look like. I don’t know that I would ever go for the toast set up, but I would consider the haute dog.

Coupe: Blueberry, Earl Grey. $4.50
Tart: Sweet corn, blonde chocolate, coconut, caramel. $6.50

     I would buy this spherical tart just out of curiosity on how to eat it. Seriously, how do you eat that? Is it soft and moussey? Hard and fudgy? But you have to applaud how they put these things together to make them look like bird nests. And that petal of whatever it may be.

(Mini) Black Frosting: Blackberry, vanilla, semolina, lavender. $8, $27.

(Mini) Cube Cake: Strawberry, honey, yogurt. $8, $30.

     Their cakes are also other-worldly. They change varieties every so often as well.

     I went for a morning bun, because it was “only” $4. It was nothing particularly special, but it had a nice flavor of vanilla like I was eating ice cream. Morning buns seem to be more of a west coast thing, and definitely a San Francisco thing. No crazy citrus flavors like most morning buns have, though. The center was soft and chewy and the outside was crunchy from the sugar and maybe salt coating. I don’t think you can really go wrong at Craftsman and Wolves: anything you get will be really good, or at least an experience.
     If you ever get the chance, do make it to Craftsman and Wolves. They made it to Unique Sweets for a reason. Apart from the occasional typo, they know what they’re doing. Check out their website, or better yet, their Instagram for more ridiculousness. Whether you get a Rebel Within or a bird’s nest, CAW will have something to spark your curiosity.

Editor’s note: I have since consumed six dollars worth of the Valrhona chocolate chip cookies for free (serious perks of interning for one of the best food photographers in the city). Surprisingly, I found the Valrhona chocolate to be too dark…I guess my palate hasn’t grown up as much as I thought.  Which would explain the reactions of all the adults around who fell in love with the cookies. Don’t get me wrong – apart from the chocolate, I did really enjoy the cookie. It was chewy and thick. But seriously, I could have eaten one for breakfast – so dense, so big!