Seeing that we’ve shared a number of memorable meals over the past year, we decided to break up our favorites of 2013 with those we ate while traveling and those we ate at home in our own hometown of Portland, Maine. While it’s nearly impossible for us to select just one dish or dining experience per category, we managed to create the following list of the best food (and drinks!) from our travels we had in 2013. Hopefully the selections below will come in handy when planning your own upcoming culinary adventures!
Michael: It’s pretty hard to beat America’s oldest cocktail from a bar named after the drink, in its own hometown. Having a Sazerac at the the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans seemed to be about as authentic as one can get.
Meredith: Our friends Samantha & Graham surprised us by calling ahead and purchasing our drinks for my birthday at Lantern in Chapel Hill. The Junebug I ordered was not only a delicious Pimm’s cocktail, it was one of the more meaningful drinks I enjoyed all year long.
Michael: The Lousiana crab with heirloom rice at Coquette turned out to be one of my favorite dishes from our entire trip to New Orleans. Simple ingredients with powerful flavor put Coquette at the top of our dinner list for any return trip to the area.
Meredith: Eating heirloom salads during the height of summer is one of our favorite patio pastimes, but doing it with the style, creativity, and flavor that SoLo Farm & Table adds to the equation made me forget the comfort of our own backyard and savor every bite.
Michael: While planning this list, it surprised me how quickly the traditional assortment of nigiri and one tekka roll from Rockland’s Suzuki Sushi came to mind. We enjoyed a number of fantastic meals this year, but sushi from Suzuki was wonderfully fresh and perfectly prepared – opening my eyes to a while new level of sushi addiction.
Meredith: Not only was the raw yellowfin tuna on sticky rice with avocado and pickled jalapeno I had at Barndiva my favorite entrée of the year, it was easily the best dish I ate all year long. Quite a statement given the list of places we visited, but absolutely true!
Michael: This was a toss-up between two dishes from the same lake-side location. My apple cranberry pie and the sizable portion of Meredith’s almond and berry boo cake (that I commandeered for the betterment of Map & Menu) from Bresca and the Honey Bee were two of the tastier sweets from our non-Portland travels this year.
Meredith: We stopped by The Blue Pig twice in three days – once on our way into New York City and once on our way home to Maine. The creative homemade flavors of ice cream served inside this whimsical blue cottage were a memorable discovery for the two of us!
Michael: Eating pancakes and doughnuts like a local at Camden’s Boynton-McKay harks back to a small-town simpler time that anyone in their right mind could easily get used to.
Meredith: A meal at Peels has become somewhat of a regular thing for us when we’re in New York and I couldn’t be happier about this little unintentional tradition of ours. During our most recent trip I sampled the shrimp & grits for brunch – another delicious dish at the southern-inspired favorite.
Michael: Durham sure has changed in the 5 years since we graduated from school in the area, and nowhere is that more evident than Mateo Tapas downtown. I can’t imagine that you could go wrong with any item on the menu, but a lunch of tapas including the huevo diablo spanish deviled egg was a pretty excellent meal.
Meredith: I liken our lunch experience at Barndiva to our meal at Le Jardin du Quai in Provence – there’s something so luxurious about enjoying a leisurely lunch outdoors while traveling.
Michael & Meredith: Meredith seemingly fell in love with the town of Healdsburg as soon as we drove into it, but my feelings weren’t a lock until after a tasty lunch at Shed followed by an awesome cupcake (or two) and some macarons from Moustache Baked Goods.
Off the Beaten Path
Michael: When Meredith suggested a walk along the Mississippi to breakfast, I don’t think either of us had the 2.5 mile trek in the hot New Orleans sun that it took to get to Elizabeth’s in mind. That being said, our breakfast was well-earned and delicious, and the food and quirky decor of Elizabeth’s is more than worth the visit – just take our advice and grab a cab.
Meredith: Driving in and out of Clifton, we kept passing by a darling ivy-clad little market at an intersection in the country. It immediately piqued our interest, and it wasn’t long before we stopped into the well-branded Salt Artisan Market to see what this market was all about. They had literally just opened the doors for business and we had the chance to talk to one of the owners quite a bit about her plans for the market’s future. Salt is a perfect place to grab a sandwich or salad to go, or pick up a cheese plate for a picnic on one of the many hiking trails.
Michael: On our final evening in Sonoma, Meredith and I grabbed a tasty pizza to-go from Oakville Grocery in Healdsburg and then headed to the overlook at Lake Sonoma for a picnic. Although it was a little windier than we anticipated (almost knocking us over a few times), the laughter-filled meal, gorgeous sunset, great pizza, and delicious wine easily made this my favorite meal of the year.
Meredith: Shed was so much more than a delicious lunch in an inspired setting – the people who work there seemed to genuinely love both what they do and the food they serve. I was impressed with everyone we came into contact with while there, and of course browsing the beautiful collection of specialty food items and kitchen wares after a tasty meal only added to the Shed experience.
Michael: Eating outside at Barndiva seemed like the perfect blend of California and a garden in Southern France. From a small café table under the arbor, we enjoyed a delicious meal in the perfect California climate.
Meredith: I fully expected to love everything about The Butcher’s Daughter before we even walked through the door, after seeing the branding of the juice bar & cafe all over Pinterest was what first put The Butcher’s Daughter on my radar. What’s not to love about a bright white interior accented by punchy colors and eclectic furnishings?
Michael & Meredith: Driving almost an hour away from our hotel was an easy decision to make when the destination was South Londonderry’s SoLo Farm & Table. Pretty much the sole impetus for our entire overnight trip to Vermont, each course of our meal left a large smile on our faces. Fresh, local, seasonal, and prepared just-right, I think we’d both make the trip again in a heartbeat.
We’d love to hear some of your stand-out dishes or dining experiences from 2013 in the comments below. In the past, your suggestions have certainly steered us in the right direction while planning our own trips.
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Meredith and my New Year’s celebrations are typically pretty low-key. A tasty new recipe for dinner, a glass of bubbly, and a movie normally have us in bed well before the ball drops, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. This year, we decided to get creative with our New Year’s Eve drink and inspired by the kumquat sparkler in The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, we made our own clementine-infused gin (kumquats are hard to come by in Maine) and are looking forward to a slightly more flavorful drink to ring in the new year.
Clementine Gin + Prosecco
For the clementine gin:
adapted from The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen
3 sliced clementines + 1 wedged clementine
1 750-ml bottle of London dry gin
2 pinches of kosher salt
Put the clementine slices & wedges in a quart-size mason jar and add the salt. Pour gin into the jar – you will have about 1/2 cup leftover gin; reserve and add to the jar as the clementine gin gets depleted. Secure the top on the jar and let steep for 24 hours at room temperature before using. The gin will keep for up to 6 months at room temperature. Use the slices or wedges for garnishes.
For the clementine sparkler:
adapted from The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen
3/4 oz. clementine gin
1 slice gin-steeped clementine
5 oz. sparkling white wine (we used prosecco)
1 sage leaf
Rub the sage leaf around the rim of the glass and then lightly muddle it in the bottom of the glass. Pour the gin into the glass and add the clementine slice. Top the glass with sparkling white wine and enjoy!
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This year, we were invited to our first Obscure Holiday Cocktail Party, with other past and present Portland food bloggers. To say that it was a delightful evening of fun conversation, great cocktails, and delicious cheeses (paired by one of Maine’s two American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professionals) would be a complete understatement – we had an absolutely fantastic time!
Since we’re somewhat new to the create-your-own-cocktail game, Meredith and I did a little experimenting and settled on what we’re calling a Holiday Julep. Similar to our springtime staple mint julep, it’s two parts bourbon to 1 part simple syrup, shaken over ice. To add some holiday flair, we muddled some citrus with bourbon cherries, and opted for a thyme simple syrup over the usual mint or regular simple syrups. To garnish, we candied some lemon peel, added a few more bourbon cherries (because who wouldn’t want some more of those), and a sprig of thyme. I’m pretty proud of how it turned out, but after tasting some of the other cocktails at the party, I can’t wait to start experimenting for next year’s event.
2 oz. bourbon (Woodfood Reserve is our favorite for a julep)
1 oz. thyme simple syrup (we made the syrup used in this punch)
1 lemon slice
1 candied lemon peel
3 bourbon-soaked cherries
1 sprig of thyme
Muddle a lemon slice together with the simple syrup and two of the bourbon cherries in a cocktail shaker, add ice and bourbon. Shake and serve over ice. Garnish with a candied lemon peel, a cherry, and a sprig of thyme.
As an added bonus, we highly recommend the cheese that Shannon chose to pair our cocktail with – the Oma, a washed-rind, Tomme-style cheese. After sampling these cocktails with their masterful pairings, you can count that I’ll be seeking out Shannon’s advice the next time we’re at Whole Foods.
To see the other cocktail recipes and cheeses from the evening, Kate at The Blueberry Files posted an excellent write-up and our new friend, Vrylena, shared a cute drawing & recap of the evening on her blog as well – both worth checking out!
Also, in the spirit of delicious cocktails, we wanted to mention that Thrillist named The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club one of the 33 best bars in America. If you haven’t dropped by, we have it on good authority that their winter punch, a Swedish glögg, is a wonderful, warming winter cocktail!
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Last week, the first shipment (of hopefully many many more) from the Scribe Viticultural Society arrived. Scribe was one of our favorite wineries from our recent trip to Sonoma, and although we had other bottles shipped home, the Viticultural Society was the only ‘wine club’ we joined. We loved Scribe for its setting, its story, and of course, its wine, and since it’s impossible to find their wines anywhere near home, we jumped at the opportunity to have six of their pinots, cabernet sauvignons, chardonnays, and limited production bottlings shipped quarterly to our front door. Another perk of the Viticultural Society are the pick-up parties they throw, where members are invited to the winery to enjoy an evening of food, fun, and libation (check out this cool video from a past pick-up party). Meredith has been daydreaming about a return trip out to California for one of these parties, so I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we share some more Scribe pictures.
Since the weather this week has canceled our travel plans for Thanksgiving, we’re looking forward to popping open our first Scribe bottle tomorrow. Surely it will be a hit.
We hope you have a wonderful holiday with plenty of good food and drink! If you have any suggestions for your own favorite Thanksgiving bottles, we’d love to hear them.
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Back in August, Meredith and I posted about 10 of our favorite Portland plates. The post was pretty popular, with plenty of great feedback and future suggestions, and it immediately inspired us to begin thinking about our next Portland, Maine in 10 Bites post. Since a good brunch is by far my favorite meal, it seemed that a brunch post would be an easy decision, but it actually proved to be quite the opposite. In a city full of amazing brunches, we could only pick 10, so we set out to try some of the most well known dishes, revisit some of our old favorites, and find a few new ones to settle on our 10 top choices – tough work, we know. What we came up with is 10 great brunches to start any lazy Sunday in Portland or the first brunch dishes to try when you’re visiting town. These dishes are standards at each of the restaurants, and are almost always available. Since food trucks and bakeries hold a special place in our own food world, we decided to save those for a future post, so the following are meals to sit down and enjoy with friends.
Vignola Cinque Terre’s Poached Eggs
The first time we visited Vignola Cinque Terre for brunch, we simply wanted to spend a Sunday morning in the sunlit space. The next 4 or 5 times were to share the awesome food with friends! Vignola is the only place to have two dishes on the list, and for good reason. They serve some of the best poached eggs I’ve found in Portland (or anywhere else for that matter) – perfectly prepared with a savory assortment of accompanying items (ham, porky belly, tomato conserva, pesto, hollandaise, just to name a few). We’ll save the other reason for a little further down in the list.
Caiola’s Warm Lost Bread
Caiola’s was possibly one of the first brunches we had upon moving to Maine. Thanks to our friends Darcy and Carolyn, we’ve never had a brunch here that wasn’t accompanied with the warm lost bread. From our first Map & Menu visit to Caiola’s: “Simply, the Lost Bread is the Caiola’s version of pain perdu, or frech toast, but to belittle the delightfully soft chunk of bread, drizzled in butter and warm Maine maple syrup, and topped with a generous helping of fresh fruit, to a meal that anyone with a frying pan and some day-old bread can whip up is an insult that I cannot bear. Every bite will leave you wanting another, and when it’s finally gone from the plate, you’ll find yourself wondering just how silly you’d look licking your plate clean in front of the other patrons. Seriously, try it.”
Pai Men’s Okono Miyake
This savory Japanese egg pancake with plenty of Miyake flair is far from your typical butter and syrup flapjack. With farm pork, cabbage, scallions, ginger, fried egg, kewpie mayo, and tonkatsu sauce, you might feel a slight bit of hesitation before your first bite, but once you blink and your plate is clean you’ll wonder why you don’t see more pancake variations on menus around town.
Gather’s Homemade Veggie Hash
A meal that Meredith has been craving since she last tried it months ago, the Homemade Veggie Hash at Gather is one of those dishes that leaves you (very) happily satisfied without the typical guilt that accompanies such a delicious meal. So much so, that we cheated a little and expanded our brunch map radius to Yarmouth to include it on our list.
Silly’s Egganator Scramble
This dish could dominate even the most hearty of brunch goers. An overflowing plateful of eggs mixed with tasty applewood smoked pork, cheddar cheese, tomato, jalapeños, scallions, and barbecue sauce will have you rolling out the door with a gigantic silly smile on your face. Hint: the sweet potato upgrade is totally worth it.
Blue Spoon’s Yogurt with sliced fruit
I’m a huge proponent of the heavy, extra-savory or super-sweet brunch dishes. Paired with a few cups of coffee, they’re hard to beat, but every now and then, I don’t want to put my stretchy pants on and I like to switch it up with something healthy, light, and flavorful. There are plenty of tasty brunch items on the menu at Blue Spoon (if the fiery eggs were more standard, they would’ve easily made the list), but the yogurt with fresh, seasonal sliced fruit is pretty hard to beat in terms of making you smile and leaving you guilt-free.
Vignola Cinque Terre’s Cinnamon Brioche Stuffed French Toast
Countering the savory side of Vignola’s brunch menu is the sweet, dessert-like cinnamon stuffed french toast. Meredith was fortunate enough to have it with filled with apples, but since then we’ve seen friends order a strawberry-filled version too. No matter what fruit this decadent treat is stuffed with, the results are the same – one blissfully stuffed patron with a great big smile on their face, undoubtedly wondering how they got away with eating such a guilt-inducingly sweet treat for breakfast.
Petite Jacqueline’s Croque Madame
Ham, cheese, and a fried egg would equate to winning in just about any book, but Petite Jacqueline’s Croque Madame easily crushes any ham and cheese you or I would make in the skillet at home with thick buttery toast, melted gruyere, and a savory mornay sauce. One bite and I’m instantly transported back to a cafe on the streets of Paris.
HotSuppa’s Corned Beef Hash
This was a tough one, since New Englanders are passionate about their corned beef hash. We’ve received plenty of recommendations for the best plate in town, and although my taste buds love you and your suggestions, my quickly growing belly does not. Although you might have your own go-to in town, the corned beef hash I tried at HotSuppa was my favorite, by far. Wonderfully crispy on the top side and soft underneath, this hash doesn’t need the eggs, toast, or grits to make it the best in my book, but who am I to complain?
Brand new to town, it didn’t take Piccolo long to register on our brunch favorites list. We haven’t visited enough to know our favorite entrees from the menu, but if you don’t order the zeppoli or bombolini to start or finish (or both), you’ve made a tragic mistake. Ours were served with a bowl of melted chocolate, but however they’re being served, they’d probably make our top 5 donuts list for Portland if we had one (why don’t we?).
Last time, we got some great recommendations (like Whitney’s suggestion to try Pai Men’s Hamaiyake), so please leave us some more below – not only is it helpful for us, but it’s also useful for others who come to the post looking for even more great brunch recommendations.
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Meredith and I are trying to get out and make a few more day trips to explore the many towns of New England that are within a few hours distance from Portland. So many times when we head south, we either stop in Portsmouth or Boston, but just between the two is Newburyport, MA, an awesome, historic colonial town set on the Merrimack River. Last weekend, we took Orvis along for a drive and tried to explore as much of the area as the day would allow. There was plenty of fun to be had for such a short drive, and the following are what we consider to be the highlights of Newburyport.
Just outside of Newburyport is this sprawling park on the site of an old local estate. There are miles of trails and carriage roads to hike, including the estate gardens, foundations of the razed homes, and views of the Merrimack River. Orvis loved playing fetch well off the path, and we could’ve easily spent the entire day exploring the different areas of the park, but our bellies were letting us know that there was lunch to be had!
Recently awarded Boston Magazine’s best new restaurant north of town, Brine is a delicious oyster and crudo bar (New England’s first) in downtown Newburyport. Brine’s cozy atmosphere and minimal branding make for a pretty cool setting. Some of the highlights of our meal were the tuna crudo with carrot, pistachio, burnt scallion, and mint, my oyster po boy, and of course, a few of the local Massachusetts oysters. Check out the Wine and Brine, where for $40/person you’ll be treated to a four course dinner and a bottle of wine.
Had we not just received the latest shipment of wine from our trip to Sonoma, we could’ve easily walked out of Grand Trunk Imports with a number of bottles of wine and delicious cheeses from their impressive selection.
Meredith had read about the hand pies from Buttermilk Baking Company in Boston Magazine, so when we passed by the bakery while walking around downtown, we couldn’t help but stop in for a mid-afternoon treat. The hand pies are indeed tasty, but I’m a particular sucker for cinnamon buns, of which they make a mean one.
For Meredith, it wouldn’t be much of a roadtrip without a little bit of antiquing. Oldies Marketplace has a huge selection of antiques and collectibles, but unfortunately I couldn’t convince Mere to bring the life-size statue of a bull home with us.
After we’d finished our walk around Newburyport, we drove further down the Merrimack River to Plum Island. The drive along the marshes of the river, and crossing onto the island reminded us of the beaches back down south. Although we didn’t have time to make it to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on the southern part of the island, Orvis had plenty of fun chasing his ball down the beach and splashing through the water. If the sheer amount of sand in my backseat was any sign, this was possibly Orvis’s favorite part of our trip.
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One of the most anticipated Portland eatery openings of the year, Piccolo fills the large shoes and small space that Bresca left vacant when Kristin Desjarles opted to close shop and pursue Bresca and the Honeybee last spring. Husband and wife co-owners Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez are a wickedly talented duo, specializing in dishes inspired by the coastal and agrarian flavors of the central regions of Italy. Handmade pastas and fresh local ingredients prepared in authentic, yet original ways anchor a delicious menu and wine list. Be smart and save room for dessert, because Ilma’s master proficiency as a pastry chef shines through the wonderfully creative dishes she constructs – like the “wine and cheese”, layered red wine gelatin, vanilla and goat cheese mousse, topped with a fruit salad and red wine honey filled-puff pastries. With our first meal being so fantastic, we’re already planning to return for a Sunday brunch.
Contact Information - Piccolo
Portland, Maine 04101