Several restaurants in Portland, Maine, made our 2015 Summer Road Trip Restaurant Guide, so we were thrilled that contributor Nevin Martell was able to visit this past weekend and share his personal Portland, Maine dining guide – a city he calls a foodie paradise by the sea. Read on for delicious inspiration for your trip to the Forest City this summer.
Walking around Portland’s charming Old Port neighborhood overlooking the picturesque Casco Bay on a simmering July afternoon, I could taste the salty tang of the Atlantic on my tongue. As the sun worked up my thirst, the sea breeze whetted my appetite with every step. Luckily, there were plenty of options for satiation nearby.
In the last few years, Portland’s food scene has undergone a stunning transformation from being staid and sleepy to an electric mix of praise-worthy culinary ventures that have rightfully earned a bounty of buzz. Much of this revolution is happening by the port. Wherever you look in its crosshatch of cobblestone streets, you’ll spot someplace to sup or sip. Don’t feel overwhelmed. Exploring the seaside district is easy to do on foot. Plus, you’ll want to walk off everything you’ve eaten, so you don’t outgrow your wardrobe by the end of your trip.
Scoring a table during the high season can be tough, so I recommend making a reservation to ensure you can eat your way through your vacation’s culinary bucket list. Case in point is Fore Street, which boasted a 45-minute wait just to dine at the bar on the Wednesday night I visited. A reservation meant skipping the hang time and digging right in. Chef Sam Hayward presides over a humming open kitchen, turning out seafood every which way, thoughtful charcuterie, offal, prime cuts, and a bounty of seasonal produce in stripped down presentations that flatter the natural flavors.
My meal began with perfectly plump wood-fired Maine mussels in a pool of almond-rich melted butter served with plenty of bread for sopping. That was followed by a decadent tartine starring roasted tomato sitting on a throne of buttery puff pastry and coronated with a puff of goat cheese mousse. A steaming hot, small cast iron pan arrived with seared pork belly, crispy on the top and buttery smooth throughout. Summer squash sautéed in lard, more-butter-than-potatoes whipped spuds, and horseradish-zested roasted cauliflower rounded out the array. Definitely one for the record books.
To kickstart myself the next morning, I made a pilgrimage to The Holy Donut. These aren’t your average rounds. The puffy bangles are made with potatoes, which adds heft without making them as dense as cake doughnuts. One regular round came glazed with Allen’s coffee brandy – a buzz times two – while a sweet potato doughnut was dipped in a redolent ginger glaze. Though they’re not as sweet as a Krispy Kreme, it was still nice to cut through the sugar rush with an icy cold brew from nearby Coffee By Design.