It seems like I’ve been waking up each morning for the past week trying to think of creative excuses to find myself in the area of Broadway and Main St. in South Portland, all for one reason – Little Bigs. It’s slightly outside of my normal route into Portland or to get onto I-95, but the delicious doughnuts and savory pies that they’re serving up are definitely worth the detour.
It’s pretty easy to see why doughnuts like the raised yeast raspberry Bismark with cream cheese or the traditional cake buttermilk glazed have my attention, but the gluten-free egg pies (like the bacon, onion, and cheddar, or the broccoli, tomato, and goat cheese) in pressed russet potato crusts have had Meredith pushing for return trips just as much as me.
So far, we haven’t stopped by for their lunchtime savory pies, but you can bet that it’ll only be a matter of time. If you find yourself starting out on an early road-trip South or just in the neighborhood for any reason, definitely drop in and try some of these ‘delicious hand foods to go’.
South Portland, Maine 04106
Meredith and I often post about summer “blowing by” or life feeling too rushed and busy, so in an attempt to slow things down a bit, disconnect for just over a day, and take advantage of some of the precious remaining summer, we recently took a somewhat impromptu overnight trip to southern Vermont. The trip was just what we were looking for, and in under 30 hours, we had the chance to visit some picturesque New England towns, try some unbelievable meals, cheeses, and desserts, and relax by the pool on a Vermont hillside – not too shabby!
L.A. Burdick Chocolates
While technically not Vermont, the town of Walpole is a quaint hamlet just over the border in New Hampshire. Meredith and I made the slight detour to sample the chocolates and cuisine (pretty much in that order) of L.A. Burdick, which clients of Meredith’s had introduced her to in Cambridge. Lunch was delicious – paired with Vermont cheeses and beers – and with a cooler full of chocolates we happily headed on our way, but not before we spent a few minutes walking around the town square and popping into the Artisan Cooperative.
Grafton, VT and Grafton Village Cheese Company
While on the topics of New Enlgand quintessential townery and Vermont cheeses, our next stop was in Grafton, VT. At some point in the past couple of years, Meredith and I started religiously purchasing the 2-year aged Grafton Village Cheese cheddar for afternoon wine hours and our favorite pimiento cheese recipe, and in large part due to our affinity for this cheese, we added Grafton to our list of stops (even though the cheddar is now produced just outside of Brattleboro). The town itself seems to be a Rockwellian throwback to a different era – whitewashed colonial homes, shops, and galleries hidden beneath large shade trees, and a creek running through the center of town complete with covered bridge. It took just a few minutes to walk around the downtown area and play in the stream, but given the time, Grafton could be a serious weekend relaxation stop. We have it on good intel that Grafton at christmas is practically a cuteness overload. If you can’t make it down to Brattleboro, definitely stop into the Grafton Village Cheese shop as we did and try your hand at some of the different varieties of cheddar they offer. I’ll be surprised if you leave without making a purchase.
Windham Hill Inn
The Windham Hill Inn was an ideal destination to disconnect and relax. Set far enough off the beaten path that cell phones aren’t even really an option, we were able to completely unwind in the warm afternoon sun by the pool overlooking the rolling Vermont hills. There were tennis courts that we were just too short of time to take advantage of, but the well-maintained, fern-clad hiking trails were a major enjoyment and the perfect way to start our morning before we returned home.
SoLo Farm & Table
Always save the very best for last. Food is easily one of our favorite means of relaxation, so in typical Map & Menu fashion, one of the biggest reasons we chose to visit southern Vermont for our getaway was to try a dinner at SoLo Farm & Table in South Londonderry. The exquisite food from SoLo is far from a secret, but it’s enough off the beaten path that you’ll almost have to make it a destination dinner. That being said, you’ve got to believe me when I tell you that I would easily double the hour-long roundtrip we made from our inn to the restaurant to enoy another meal from SoLo. Every part of our meal, from the heirloom tomato salad, to the salmon, to the roasted suckling pig was fresh, locally sourced, creative, and perfectly prepared. Everything down to the drinks – Meredith’s cocktail and my Heady-Topper imperial IPA – was just right, and I have to say that they’re something pleasantly surprising about a white-tablecloth establishment that doesn’t shy away from serving a delicious canned beer. We strongly recommend making reservations (ours landed us an awesome table in the enclosed porch), and a little pro-tip would be to purchase a bag of the Tout de Sweets Black and Tan caramels that come with your check – they almost didn’t make it the entire way home!
There are few things more refreshing than snacking on a popsicle on a hot summer’s day. During some of the hottest weeks this summer, Michael and I enjoyed quite a few popsicles together on our back patio. Some, like Gwyneth’s naturally sweetened berry & coconut popsicle were probably a little more healthy than others we made, but we found that when entertaining friends on a warm evening, nothing seems more festive or appropriate than serving what we’ll refer to as a “grown-up” popsicle.
Once we started experimenting with adding alcohol to popsicles, we had the idea to re-create one of our favorite drinks from our travels – the Fleur Dulce from the River House at Palmetto Bluff. Made of St. Germain, gin, and grapefruit, the Fleur Dulce has always been one of the more memorable cocktail creations from our travels and our love for it even inspired us to share an interview with its creator, Todd Phillips.
We of course are in no way creatively qualified to accurately recreate the Fleur Dulce, but covering all of the main ingredients (St. Germain, gin, and grapefruit), we were able to come up with a simple & delicious popsicle.
Fleur Dulce Popsicle
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 1/4 cup grapefruit juice
- 1/4 cup St. Germain
- 1/4 cup gin (we used Hendrick’s)
Create a simple syrup with the water and sugar (boil together until the sugar dissolves) and let cool. Combine the grapefruit juice, St. Germain, gin, and simple syrup. Pour into the popsicle molds (we use these) and freeze overnight. Make sure you run some hot water over the molds to make removing them (in one piece!) a little bit easier.
The final step is simply to enjoy with friends or loved ones in the warm summer sun!
Meredith and I often get asked by visiting Map & Menu readers, family, and friends what to eat in Portland, so inspired by the recurring ’10 Plates’ feature in Food & Wine and a delightful dinner in Kittery with a fellow food-crazed friend, we found ourselves talking about a few of our favorite dishes from around town. Sort of an “if I could have a single item off of 10 different Portland menus, what would they be?” Not surprisingly, it was pretty difficult to limit ourselves to only ten of our top menu staples, but we were somewhat aided by the fact that a number of our favorite restaurants have ever-changing menus, and we wanted people to be able to order any of these items at any time while in Portland. So without further adieu, here are 10 of our favorite bites to eat in Portland:
Fore Street Mussels
Don’t get us wrong, just about everything we’ve ever tried at Fore Street has been perfect, but for the two of us, no meal there is complete without starting with the mussels. In typical Fore Street fashion, the dish is beautifully simple (essentially garlic, butter, and mussels), but give me a loaf of Standard Bakery’s bread, and I’ll return a completely clean dish – devoid of buttery broth and all.
Otto Pizza Masher
Mashed potato, bacon, and scallion on a pizza. There’s a reason this piece of heaven is one of the few standard slice offerings whenever you visit Otto. If you’ve never tried it and you manage to walk past Otto without grabbing a slice, I commend your will power.
Blue Spoon BLT
We needed a picture of this Blue Spoon lunch time favorite to round out the post, but knew that we wouldn’t have time for a lunch in town, so I did what any reasonable bacon lover would and ordered it for breakfast. Two thick slices of sourdough are home to a plentiful amount of applewood smoked bacon, tomato, lettuce, and rosemary mayo. Pair it with a Peeper and the whole grain mustard potato salad, and you’re in for a treat.
Eventide Brown Butter Lobster Roll
We just covered Eventide’s lobster roll on our Maine Lobster Roll roundup a couple of weeks ago, but once you take a bite of the warm, savory lobster meat, there will be little doubt as to why it’s deserving of the repeat mention.
Blue Rooster Fried Brussels Sprouts
Blue Rooster knows how to do it right. I’ve never heard Meredith get excited about hot dogs lunches, but when they’re dressed like the Colombiano and served with a side of the fantastic fried Brussels sprouts with sweet chili sauce, sesame, and queso fresco, who can blame her for her excitement?
Petite Jacqueline Cheese Plate
This one is a little more loosely defined than the rest, since it’s not a particular combination of cheeses that has repeatedly won us over, but rather the fact that every time we try a few cheeses off of Petite’s menu, we immediately make sure to write the name down for future reference.
Duckfat Fries with Thai Chili Mayo
If you’ve ever experienced the fries at Duckfat, you know why this item is on our menu; but it’s time to stop playing it safe with your truffle ketchup, and dip those bad boys in the thai chili mayo – you can thank me later.
Pai Men Miyake Pai Tan Ramen
To me, this is Portland comfort food at its finest. In a city where at least 3/4 of the year can be aptly described as “chilly to frigid,” a warm, flavorful bowl of Pai Men Miyake’s pai tan ramen can warm even the coldest of Southern transplants. Did I mention the pork belly part of this equation? Winning.
El Rayo Fish Taco
Some people prefer fried fish in their fish tacos, but once you’ve tried El Rayo’s version - grilled achiote seasoned fish fillet, sliced avocado, crunchy veggie slaw, and that house chipotle mayo – I think it would sway even the most loyal of fried fish followers.
Boda Beef Panaeng
It’s hard to describe just how spot-on this meal at Boda is. Right to a fault since being the first dish I ever ordered at Boda, I’ve never seen reason to try any other part of the menu. I’ll let the menu do the talking – “braised organic Wolfe’s Neck Farm beef in a flavorful panaeng curry (salty and sweet with aromas of Thai basil and lime leaves) with coconut cream, served with jasmine rice.” It doesn’t hurt that this is quite possibly the most delicious gluten-free meal I’ve ever had in my life.
Well, it’s impossible to say that this list covers all of Portland’s best dishes, but I think it’s a pretty fair sampling. We’d love to know, what dishes would you add to the list?
Consider my arm twisted, but Meredith and I have spent the past couple of months compiling a list of some of our favorite lobster rolls in Maine. The task involved a number of miles in the car, a new found love for New England hotdog buns, a gracious amount of butter and mayo, and of course, plenty of pounds of that tasty red meat, but these are a few of our very favorites for the next time you’re in Vacationland.
The brown butter vinaigrette and steamed-bun style roll make this lobster roll the most unique on our list. It also happened to be my favorite tasting roll, as the vinaigrette was a perfectly subtle sweet and buttery marinade for the meat, while the roll seemed to soak up the flavor and melt in your mouth. Followed with an Oxbow Farmhouse Pale Ale, this is a hard roll to beat.
Eventide Oyster Company
86 Middle Street, Portland – 207.774.8538
Clients of Meredith’s recommended we drive out to Round Pond and get a lobster roll at Muscongus Bay, and we were so thankful to receive such a wonderful tip. I’m not sure which we enjoyed more – the bakery fresh roll itself, the lobster meat (we detected just a hint of what we thought was dill that made it both unique and different), or the experience of eating on the deck overlooking the charming Round Pond Harbor. The entire experience easily made this one Meredith’s favorite on our list.
Muscongus Bay Lobster Company
28 Town Landing Road, Round Pond - 207.529.2251
The perfect picnic roll, Bite Into Maine’s menu is little more than this one item, but man do they do it well. We opted for the traditional Maine style roll, with just the right amount of mayo and chives, and then enjoyed it and a side of the blueberry corn salad from a blanket overlooking Casco Bay at Fort Williams Park with Orvis.
Bite Into Maine
Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth – 207.420.0294
The Lobster Shack will always hold a special place in our hearts. We had our first Maine lobster rolls there the day after we moved to Cape Elizabeth from North Carolina, and we return often, both for the scenery and the delicious lobster rolls – we’re suckers for the dollop of mayo on top and the crinkle cut fries.
The Lobster Shack at Two Lights
225 Two Lights Road, Cape Elizabeth – 207.799.1677
Over the years, countless people have insisted we try the lobster roll at The Clam Shack in Kennebunk, but after their win at this year’s Lobster Roll Rumble, we finally made trying it a priority. The only round bun lobster roll we’ve ever had, the Clam Shack roll is an example of how simple can be perfect – just a well-balanced mix of lobster meat, butter, and bun.
The Clam Shack
2 Western Avenue, Kennebunk – 207.967.2560
One thing about traveling around to try different lobster rolls that really stuck out to me, was just how beautiful the backdrops of some of these locations can be. Five Islands has to be near the top of the “perfectly picturesque” lobster roll list, from the dock overlooking the moorings between the five islands for which the area is named. It’s hard to dislike lobster in a location like that.
Five Islands Lobster Company
1447 5 Islands Road, Georgetown – 207.371.2990
Easily the most famous on our list, be prepared to wait in line if you’re wanting to eat one of the lobster rolls from Red’s. A toasted New England-style bun and a generous helping of fresh lobster meat are just about all that make up this Maine classic, but as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The Red’s lobster roll doesn’t need any fixing.
41 Water Street, Wiscasset – 207.882.6128
When planning our time with my sister & her family while they were up in Maine on vacation last week, we knew that a meal at Gather was an absolute must! The restaurant in nearby Yarmouth, that we raved about after our first visit for brunch in April, is not only delicious and beautiful, but also very laid-back and family-friendly. There’s even a small children’s area in the back with toys and books – making it the perfect place to take a one year-old whose parents appreciate good food. Even when we were seated, the attention of our nephew, Pax, was occupied by his view of the chefs working in the open kitchen on the old stage in the center of the restaurant.
As for the adults, we all raved about our meals! Between the six of us, we enjoyed the asparagus risotto with sliced radishes & beet chips, the house ground, grass fed burger, the local pork chop atop polenta & braised greens, and the crispy salmon served with rice and an English pea puree. Unfortunately we were all a bit too full to take advantage of desserts like the brown butter gelato with walnut brittle, but we were able to cap off an already amazing evening with a walk on Sandy Point Beach on Cousins Island. When we met up with my sister for a hike the next day, she & Philip were still talking about the previous night’s dinner – confirmation that the meal at Gather was certainly a highlight of their trip to Maine.
Yarmouth, Maine 04096
After leaving The Blue Pig (the first of our two visits) last week, I couldn’t help but think that places like this were precisely the reason we write Map & Menu. Every now and then, we stumble upon a place that’s slightly off the beaten path, and deserves to be shared.
Last fall when we discovered how easy it was to drive down to Croton-on-Hudson, park our car, and train into the city, I told nearly everyone who would listen that it was, in our opinion, the best way to travel to New York City from Maine. Now after our most recent trip, whenever I’m telling a friend of ours how easy it is to get to Manhattan this way, I will be insisting that they stop at The Blue Pig (at least once, if not twice) for some of the tastiest homemade ice cream in Westchester County. It couldn’t be a more convenient detour – the whimsical blue cottage is literally right on the way to the train station.
My choice of ice cream (during our first stop) was practically made for me – gluten free chocolate chip cookie dough. Honestly, how could I resist? It was delicious, and the best part about it was that it tasted like the real cookie dough ice cream I’ve enjoyed (nearly all) my life! I snagged a bite of Michael’s peanut butter chocolate and it was every bit as good as the combination of those two flavors promises to be. On our way out, Michael pointed to the strawberries growing on the roof of the shop and I finally made the connection to the “rooftop strawberry” flavor I’d seen in the case. So three days later when we conveniently found ourselves back at The Blue Pig, this time en route back to Maine, I knew exactly which flavor I need to try. The rooftop strawberry was amazing, and given the way Michael greedily hoarded every last drop of his vanilla with raspberry swirl milkshake, I think he was pretty happy with his choice.
It goes without saying, friends, that from here on out a stop at The Blue Pig will be automatically factored into our drive time when we’re considering which train to take into the city, and we sincerely hope the same goes for you.
Croton-on-Hudson, New York 10520