One of the joys of traveling back to Maine, aside from the obvious pleasure of spending time with good friends, is eating fabulous food. Those who follow my posts on Instagram and Facebook are well-acquainted with my seemingly endless appetite for good eats. So in the interest of those who are thinking about a trip to Maine, or Portland in particular, here are my top five food/drink destinations:
Back Bay Grill – If you’re going to splurge on a fancy dinner, then do it here. Regardless of the fact that my friend Jesse works at this fine establishment, it is still hands down one of the best restaurants in Portland. Their seasonal menu is exceptional, but what really keeps me going back time and again is their foie gras. The accompaniments change with the seasons but the preparation is essentially the same–handled with utmost attention to detail, seared to perfection. I recommend starting your evening off with an artfully crafted cocktail from the bar and a nibble of truffle popcorn.
Duckfat – The name pretty much says it all–duck is the fat of choice and forget about the calories. They love the stuff so much it’s in quite a number of their dishes, including duck egg aioli, duck fat Belgian fries, duck confit, and duck fat fried donut holes (have them with the Duckfat milkshake if you’re feeling extra decadent). A poutine aficionado, I’m obsessed with their version–duck fat fries, studded with locally sourced cheese curds and drenched in duck gravy. Since the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, be prepared to wait. I guarantee it’ll be worth it.
Hot Suppa – While they do serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I’ve somehow managed to only go there for brunch. The fact that you can order a Bloody Mary or Mimosa to go with your French Toast and Pulled Pork Hash is no doubt the attraction–makes having a cocktail at breakfast entirely respectable. Like all great brunch places, this one’s especially busy on the weekends, so put your name on the list and stroll down a couple of blocks to Tandem Coffee and Bakery for a latte and maybe a small pastry to tie you over until your name is called.
Eventide Oyster Co.– Yes, this is yet another popular, often busy restaurant (just down the street from Duckfat), which specializes in phenomenally fresh and tasty seafood. I’m a late bloomer when it comes to my love and appreciation of raw oysters, only having begun enjoying them in the last seven years or so. Eventide’s selection of these “kisses from the ocean” is extensive, about ten Maine varieties and another six from other regions, not to mention a choice of eight accoutrements–from the traditional cocktail sauce to kimchi ice. If their raw seafood menu isn’t enough to satisfy you, I highly recommend their version of lobster roll (glistening with brown butter, served in a Chinese steamed bun) and buttermilk fried chicken sandwich.
Central Provisions – It’s taken four trips to Maine, but I finally made it here. Central Provisions is the type of place that defies expectations–an ever-changing small plates menu hyper focused on seasonality, so much so that there’s a new menu every week, taking cues from a variety of global influences. The night I went, the menu featured both Japanese and Spanish inspired dishes–from the gorgeously presented blue fin tuna crudo served with rice cracker, avocado creme and goji berry puree to the suckling pig with marcona almonds to the squash cheesecake with housemate rum raisin ice cream. All the flavors were on point, from the small plates to the expertly fashioned cocktails.
Vena’s Fizz House – I discovered this gem on my last day in Portland. For fans of mixology and craft cocktails, this place is the real deal. The front section is a haven for mixology enthusiast with shelves brimming with bitters, syrups, shrubs, tonics, infusion kits, mixers, and cocktail paraphernalia of all kinds. I spent a good fifteen minutes just browsing the bitters section alone. For more inspiration, take a seat at the bar and sample their dizzying menu of craft cocktails, mocktails, and housemate sodas. If I didn’t have to fly out that afternoon I would’ve spent a few more hours there.