If you know me, you know I eat. Excessively. And I take the food and restaurant scene in any city I visit tres seriously. With that in mind, I was downright giddy to finally visit Portland, ME, said by those in the know to be one of America’s top food cities (with one of the highest rates of restaurants per capita in the entire country).
The hype is exceedingly deserved. Thanks to the voluminous pages of recommendations I was sent by various locals and Portland travel experts, I had my hands — and belly — full. Alas, we couldn’t eat everywhere in our short jaunt to the city, but there were some standout experiences I wish I could relive over and over until until a raging case of gout stopped me.
When I wasn’t eating (and god knows, I usually was), I did see some stuff, too. Yeah, you heard me. There’s stuff to see in Portland that doesn’t involve menus!
Bivalves, Glorious Bivalves
Stop whatever you are doing in Portland at this very minute and get thee to Eventide Oyster Co. Perhaps the best pre-trip tip I received was to eat oysters at this haven for all things bivalve. My gawd, there were so many choices! Maine oysters, Massachussetts oysters, West Coast oysters…And the accountrements — my gawd, the accoutrements were divine and unusual: cucumber ginger ice (yes, ICE), kimchee ice, Tabasco ice and a mimosa mignonette. Order a glass of the rose, or an artisan cocktail and slurp your little oyster-loving heart out.
Foraged, Fished and Farmed
Next door to Eventide you’ll find Hugo’s; the two have the same owners and share a kitchen, and Hugo’s is a helluva culinary adventure worth the splurge. You’ll choose from 3 different tasting menus (with or without wine pairings), and can even mix and match items from the groups. The inventive menu has a decidedly Asian twist, with items like braised octopus with smoked dashi, sugar kelp and trout roe, or asparagus with a charmoula dressing, caramelized crab and lemon poppy seed fritter. Pro tip: Sit at the bar facing onto the open kitchen and get chatty with the uber-friendly and informative staff.
What’s not to love about a restaurant inspired by duck fat? TRICK QUESTION, FOOLS! There is absolutely everything to love at James Beard Award-winning Chef Rob Evans’s ode to fatty, ducky goodness. Order the poutine, whoop it up and get the egg on top, and try one of the delicious paninis like the roasted pork belly with pickled red bell peppers, manchego and saffron-tabasco mayo.
Lobster Rolls, Git in Mah Belly
I ate nearly a dozen lobster rolls during my weeklong trip to Maine. This was for research for an article, I swear. The extreme volume of lobster meat I consumed means a few things. One, I have a good idea of what makes a lobster roll tasty. Two, my jeans no longer fit. At any rate, the Bite Into Maine food truck at Fort Williams Park serves up mean (if occasionally untraditional — see chives on top) rolls. The best part? It sits perched above the Portland Head Lighthouse, which means it wins my “Best Lobster Roll With a View” award.
Portland Head Light
Speaking of the Portland Head Light… Maine’s painfully gorgeous, craggy coast is marked by so many lighthouses, each with its own charms. But the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth remains the most famous, or at least, the most photographed. Go. Snap pictures. Enjoy.
Meet Your Meal
Get up close and personal with the insects of the sea on a Lucky Catch lobster boat cruise. Sure, it’s touristy, but the 90-minute trip turned out to be super interesting and fun. Lobster boat cruises are a dime a dozen in Maine, but Lucky claims to be one of the only ones that lets guests actually get their hands dirty (well, their gloved hands dirty) by helping bait and pull up traps, hold lobsters and more. You’re in Maine. Lobster’s their thing. It’s a must-do, trust.