If Virginia is for lovers, Portland, Maine is for foodies.
A while back we headed up to Maine for a weekend away. Being my first time to Portland, the industrial coastal city was larger than I had anticipated and surprisingly chock full of culinary goodness. When I started researching for things to do in Portland, it immediately became apparent this was going to be a food-centric trip.
Where to Eat in Portland?
The Holy Donut
These donuts are pretty darn good. (Yes, even compared to my recent
discovery of Union Square Donuts). The interesting twist with The Holy Donut
is that all the donuts are made from mashed potatoes (!!) and use local Maine ingredients. We ran off with a half dozen and enjoyed them throughout the weekend. Favorites (who are we kidding – they were all favorites) include the dark chocolate sea salt donut, followed by the sweet potato donut with a ginger glaze. Although you couldn’t go wrong with the maple, cinnamon sugar, pomegranate, or cannoli versions either. There are two locations in Portland and donuts are sold on a first come-first serve basis, so don’t dawdle!
is a local hot spot. Chef Rob Evans started this casual sandwich shop, known for their belgian fries fried in duck fat, just down the street from his well-known former restaurant, Hugo’s. This place was hoppin. And fantastic. They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait. We tried in vain to get a table at 1pm, but there was a 90 min wait. We came back at 4pm and had a 30 minute wait (which is probably the best you can do there on a Saturday). Quarters are tight, but the menu is simple and delectable. We split the meatloaf panini, the large poutine (belgian fries with gravy and cheese curd) and the salted caramel milkshake (yes, also made with duck fat). Six months later, we still talk about that milkshake.
Known for their slab of Sicilian pizza, this Italian imports market
was loaded with goodies and had me yearning to back back on a plane to Italia. While the internet foodies say the original pizza chef has recently left and started his own place, SLAB, Micucci’s still offers a good piece of pizza. It was $5 for one slab and large enough to split. Although delicious, given all the other amazing places to eat in Portland, I wouldn’t make this a destination.
Street & Co
After being shut out of reservations at the popular Fore Street, we managed to snag one of the last dinner reservations at Street & Co, a rustic American seafood restaurant in Old Port. (Note: call ahead for reservations when visiting Portland!) We tried the two of the pan seafood dishes – sole francaise and the scallops in pernod and cream. And, my-oh-my, if I’m returning to Portland for anything it’s for this meal again. Simple, fresh and local. These are dishes aren’t trying too hard and not so decadent that you leave with a brick in your stomach.
Restaurants for next time? I’ve already got them picked out: breakfast at Hot Suppa, oysters at Eventide, and dinner at Fore Street.
What to do in Portland?
When we weren’t eating (which admittedly wasn’t often) we spent some time in the touristy section of Old Port and the Pearl District. The Old Port neighborhood is a neat, historic area to walk around and shop in stores filled with pottery, artwork, and the usual smatterings of touristy shopping areas. One gorgeous store, K. Collette, is a must to visit for any decorating freaks like myself. My only disappointment is that the port is quite industrial and the town lacks a great waterfront area. (Unless we missed something – if any locals are reading please point me in the right direction for our next trip!)
Going hand-in-hand with the food scene in Portland, the area is also well known for their breweries. There are a number of organized brewery tours, including the popular Allagash and Shipyard breweries. For something a little more unique, consider going to a Fermentory to try cider and kombucha tasting.
Urban Farm Fermentory
We visited Urban Farm Fermentory
. We tried their ciders (very dry, not sweet like most ciders), mead, and kombucha in flavors like coffee, sweet green, blueberry, and ginger. Kombucha is fermented tea and it was my first time trying it. I’ve read quite a bit about kombucha on many of the health blogs I read, so I was interested to try it. They were a bit understaffed for the crowds so there was a wait, but friendly and excited to share their passion and knowledge about their products.
Randomly, outside of Urban Farm Fermentory I saw a car with a bumper sticker featuring a logo I designed many years ago!! It’s always a fun surprise to see my work out in the world when I least expected it. In fact, it’s been so many years I had totally lost track of how it was going and had totally forgotten it was in Maine. Matt’s Coffee
is organic wood-roasted coffee beans and delicious! (In fact, I’m going to see if I can order some more, it’s been a long time!) *Enter my DOH moment*. Matt, of Matt’s Coffee has opened up a Coffee Shop in Portland, The Speckled Ax
. Unfortunately I only learned this after we got home and I was looking up buying some beans. But the reviews look great and next time I’m definitely going!
New England is famous for their lighthouses, and Portland doesn’t disappoint – there are six in Portland alone! Ditch the bus/trolley tours and drive it yourself (see directions here
). Head on over to Fort Williams park (preferably with your leftover donuts, a hot cocoa, and a windbreaker).
Walk the brief trail over to the famous Portland Head Light. With it’s classic red roof, and waterfront location, It’s one of the more magnificent lighthouses I’ve ever seen. The rocky Maine coastline is gorgeous (or “mean-looking” as a nearby tourist commented) and has me inspired to take a trip up to Acadia National Park again soon. On our way back to Boston we also stopped at the Cape Neddick lighthouse in York, Maine, about an hour south of Portland.
L.L. Bean and the Outlets
About 20 minutes north of Portland is the town of Freeport, mainely known (pun intended) for their shopping outlets and the flagship L.L. Bean store
. I’ve been here before, but it’s usually a fun side-trip. The L.L. Bean flagship store is actually a campus of stores – different buildings for clothing, hunting and fishing, home, bikes and boats, and outlets, etc. Obviously, the L.L. Bean Home store is always a favorite for me. The staff always have something going on – whether it’s sampling apple cinnamon pancakes, fly fishing lessons on the lawn, or learning about trout in one of their indoor ponds. There’s also loads of taxidermy on display (best to avoid the hunting building if that freaks you out), but make sure to see the famous and rare “Locked Moose” display. I don’t particularly like taxidermy, but to see such large and beautiful wild animals up close is truly an amazing sight.
Where to Stay in Portland?
We stayed at the Downtown Portland Westin
in the Pearl District. The hotel recently underwent a $6.5 million renovation and it’s beautiful. We were on the twelfth floor and had great harbor views, and could even see Mount Washington from our window. We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant – I’d recommend finding something around town instead.
Portland is a quick two hours from Boston, and it’s a shame how few times I’ve been up to Maine! If you have a long weekend to spend, you’ll drive right by Portsmouth and Newburyport on your way up. (A recipe for success if you ask me!)
Have you been to Portland? Which amazing foodie experience did I miss?