Francine has been on our list of places to eat in Midcoast for ages, after years of hearing about friends’ fantastic meals there. So when I scheduled a couple of shoots in the area earlier this April, I hopped on the phone and secured a reservation that seems to have been years in the making at the charming French bistro.I promise that the wait was more than worth it though, as everything we ended up tasting that night – from the White Negroni & Moscow Fuel drinks with which we started, to the rich and creamy crab risotto we shared, right through to the final bites of my perfectly crisp chicken and Michael’s fish – was nothing short of fantastic.
Midway through devouring the pine, black butter, and sea salt mussels appetizer – a dish that has set new, very high standards for mussels for the two of us – Michael proclaimed, “it doesn’t get more Maine than these ingredients!” True. But the same could be said about the meal itself. The largely locally-sourced food, was honest, unpretentious, yet deliciously memorable, not unlike Maine itself. It’s no wonder that Chef Brian Hill is repeatedly recognized by the James Beard Foundation and featured in national publications – what he’s creating in Camden at Francine and in Rockport at Shepherd’s Pie is a delectable homage to Maine’s natural beauty and flavor.
All photos by Meredith Perdue for Map & Menu.
When the James Beard Semifinalists were announced in February, followed by the final nominees last month, Meredith and I were thrilled to see Maine chefs and restaurants represented so well on the list. In the past, we’ve enjoyed and written about our meals from many of the nominees, so when San Pellegrino reached out to sponsor a post about their Sweet Finish Dinner Series, celebrating the Rising Star Chef of the Year category (which includes Maine’s own Cara Stadler of Tao Yuan and Bao Bao), we were very excited to share the event:
S.Pellegrino® Sweet Finish Dinner at Tao Yuan
Reflecting its passion for excellence and long-time commitment to emerging culinary talent, S.Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water is proud to support the Rising Star Chef of the Year for The James Beard Foundation Awards.
Event Details: On Wednesday, April 29th, S.Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water will be inviting diners at Tao Yuan, in Brunswick, to join them in celebrating chef Cara Stadler’s James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year Award Nomination. In honor of this accomplishment, the first 50 tables seated for dinner service will receive complimentary S.Pellegrino and dessert. Diners are encouraged to share their memorable dining experiences on social media, offering well wishes for chef Cara Stadler at the James Beard Foundation Awards, to be held in Chicago on May 4th.
S.Pellegrino is dedicated to supporting rising leaders in the culinary industry on a national and global level, with exciting programs, including the S.Pellegrino Young Chef and S.Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef competitions.
S.Pellegrino is a premium sparkling natural mineral water that flows naturally from a thermal spring in Val Brembana, in the foothills of the Italian Alps, in the territory of San Pellegrino Terme, near Bergamo (Lombard).
Since opening, Tao Yuan has become one of Brunswick and Maine’s more prominent restaurants, and chef Cara Stadler, one of Maine’s more prominent chefs. When her second restaurant, Bao Bao, came to town this past year, Portland gained a delicious new dumpling option – one that Meredith required little arm twisting to visit to grab the photos for this post (the Asian slaw was a favorite dish and must-try from our last meal at Bao Bao). It’s incredible to see a chef in Brunswick garnering such national attention in a category whose nominees are almost entirely from cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, DC, and Los Angeles. We wish Cara the absolute best of luck and can’t wait to celebrate her nomination at Tao on Wednesday. We hope you’ll spread the word and look forward to seeing you there!
This post was in partnership with S.Pellegrino, but all thoughts and opinions are our own. Be sure to check out S.Pellegrino on Facebook and Instagram, and thank you for supporting Map & Menu’s partners, who help to make this adventure of ours a possibility.
Hearing that Small Axe truck would be closing in favor of a brick and mortar location last year was a bittersweet moment for Meredith and myself. In their first year, a Saturday morning coffee from Tandem, breakfast at Small Axe, and a trip to the farmer’s market had become our norm, and in their second year, anytime we found ourselves remotely near Congress Square Park, you could guarantee we’d be stopping by. Their shrimp & grits and fried chicken biscuits at the Portland Flea-for-All was one of our favorite meals of 2013, and it seemed as though their breakfast and rice bowls could simply do no wrong. What would happen when they closed? Would the new restaurant deviate from the tried & true offerings that garnered – and deserved – national attention?
It turns out that all of our worrying was for naught because now that we’ve tried Karl Deuben & Bill Leavy’s reincarnation of the East Ender on our favorite block of Middle Street (read: one of the most delicious blocks in all of Portland), we realized that it’s not the truck that made the meal, but the chefs behind the grill.
Meredith and I are minimalists at heart, so the clean, open, light-filled interior of the new East Ender is a welcome sight. We stopped by for lunch this week and were happy to see familiar favorites like the cold smoked burger and the rice bowl, alongside new additions like the BLT and the fried chicken sandwich. On this trip, one of what will surely be many, Meredith ordered her beloved rice bowl with bok choy and potatoes and I went with the suggestion of our waitress – the BLT. Adding a little flavor and lair, my BLT was made with two thick pieces of pork belly in lieu of bacon, and finished with avocado and a miso mayo. I’ve been heralding the BLT at Blue Spoon as my favorite in town for years, but this one definitely gives it a run for its money. Ignoring our full stomachs, we even rallied and ordered the roasted pineapple hand pies with coconut sorbet – a delightful combination of tropical flavors not typically found in Maine.
In retrospect, we realize our lamenting over Small Axe’s closing was a little ill-founded, and now that we’ve fallen for their new menu, we couldn’t be more excited to taste what Karl & Bill cook up next at the East Ender.
All photos taken by Meredith Perdue for Map & Menu.
One of the best parts of all the snow we had this winter was the amount of time it afforded us to spend at my family’s farm in Wiscasset. While the farm is shut down for the season, it becomes our snowy getaway. A short drive up Route 1 and we’re settled in Wiscasset, ready for a weekend of cozy dinners by the fire, snacks from Treats, brunches at Crissy’s, and so much snowshoeing with Orvis on the farm and around the river. As the weather warms up and the melt begins, we love looking back at some of the memories made at the farm this season.
Photos taken by Meredith Perdue for Map & Menu.
Earlier this week, Meredith and I had the opportunity to drop by Portland’s newest wine shop – Maine & Loire. We’ve been anxiously anticipating their opening ever since meeting the co-owners, Peter and Orenda, and having the opportunity to hear about their ideas and inspiration for the shop. Concentrating on organic and natural wines, many of which are new to Maine, just about every hand-selected bottle from their selection is unique. Bright and open, with friendly, casual branding, the shop itself feels much more relaxed than most other wine stores. Meredith and I spent plenty of time browsing the selection of bottles – many with humorous and helpful handwritten notes – and found ourselves with a handful of new French and Italian wines to try over the coming weeks. When you visit, be sure to introduce yourself to the owners for a fantastic recommendation, and check out their Instagram feed for new wines as they arrive… you can bet that we’ll be glued to it for our next bottle!
A few weeks ago, Meredith and I found ourselves needing a good excuse to leave the house and do some last minute Christmas shopping, so we did what all food-loving Portlanders should and decided to make a brunch date out of it. We already have a number of go-to brunch spots in town, but given that every other experience we’ve had at Central Provisions – from drinks through dessert – has been outstanding, we thought we’d see if the same held true for my own favorite meal of the day, the coveted breakfast-lunch tweener spot. To be honest, it wasn’t even a contest. Warm and gooey skillet cornbread, crispy and savory scrapple, and a ham and cheese slider that absolutely blew my mind helped make our meal one of the best brunches I can remember, moving Central Provisions right to the top of our favorite Portland brunches, alongside Piccolo and a handful of others. Now, it’s only a matter of finding another flimsy excuse to return soon…
We’re finishing up our Best of 2014 posts with the most challenging to whittle down and write – our favorite food (and drinks!) from our home state of Maine. There are plenty of spots in Portland and beyond that we wish we could include on this list, these are simply the dishes and restaurants that stood out to us and kept us coming back for more in 2014. Of course, we’d love to hear about some of your Maine favorites in the comments below!
Michael: It’s going to take a lot to remove Hunt and Alpine from its seat of Maine cocktail supremacy in my mind, and when you add the Deviled Smoked Trout to snack on, competitors might as well just throw in the towel.
Meredith: Lately, I’ve been a fan of the Fancy Gin Cocktail – Bread & Butter combination at the downstairs bar at Central Provisions – a prime place for people watching on the corner of Wharf Street.
Michael: The seasonal fall Roast chicken and pureed buttercup squash from Central Provisions is one of the better dishes I can ever recall – we order it every time we’re there and it’s on the menu (and sometimes more than once in a sitting).
Meredith: I’ve never met a rice bowl variation from Long Grain that I didn’t just love.
Michael: I’m going to go ahead and double up on the Central Provisions… try the spicy beef salad, the combination of flavors, spices, and textures is hard to beat.
Meredith: I was introduced to the roasted vegetable cassoulet from Lolita during a shoot for Down East this year and after sampling a bit (job perk number one!) I made it a priority to return to Lolita for one of my very own soon thereafter.
Michael: Mmmm… donuts. The Urban Sugar food truck turns out bite-sized gourmet donuts with an assortment of creative toppings (like their Cap’n Crunch glazed, breakfast cereal variety) that are sure to impress the Homer Simpson in each of us.
Meredith: Four months later, I remember exactly how deliciously decadent the salted butter semifreddo was during our chef’s tasting menu dinner at Vinland this summer. Crunchy, sweet, amazing.
Michael & Meredith: This one’s a toss-up between our tried and true neighborhood heavyweight, Scratch Baking Co., with its amazing bagels, cookies, and coconut creme cake, and the relative newcomer, Tandem Bakery, where every bite of the savory scones or sweet cinnamon rolls is better than the previous (it doesn’t hurt that they’re paired with the best coffee around).
Michael: Taking the most classic of American dining styles and establishments, and then injecting an attention to detail and flavor completely foreign to the prefabricated diner world, it’s easy to see why Palace Diner has caught the attention of so many. Get anything on the menu, it’s all amazing.
Meredith: There’s nothing cozier than ducking inside Piccolo on a chilly day for a tasty, comforting brunch that always includes the zeppoli.
Michael & Meredith: This is one of our precious neighborhood secrets, but for the better part of two years, Scratch Baking Co. has somewhat quietly been producing some of the most consistently creative and delicious sandwiches that we can find anywhere – Maine or not.
Michael and Meredith: We enjoy most any meal outdoors with Orvis by our side, but when the food is truly exceptional, the whole experience certainly stands out. This is why we make a point to visit The Well at Jordan’s Farm multiple times over the summer and early fall. It’s a must in our books – even if you aren’t lucky enough to dine alongside your dog – their farm-fresh ingredients and mastery of simple yet classic dishes makes The Well one of the best meals in Maine.
Michael & Meredith: Even though the truck is up for sale and they’re moving their business into a brick and mortar restaurant next year, the meals we enjoyed truckside from Small Axe – at Congress Square Park (or Tandem Coffee in the early days) – will always be some of our favorites from a food truck.
Michael: “Experience” seems like the perfect descriptor to define our Chef’s tasting menu dinner at Vinland late this past summer. Between courses and entremets, sixteen delightful dishes came together to create a truly outstanding experience.
Meredith: We dined at Nebo Lodge two nights in a row during our October trip to North Haven and both nights we could haven’t been happier with the flavor and atmosphere. To enjoy such quality food on an island thirteen miles from the mainland is truly exceptional, in my opinion. A meal at Nebo Lodge is well worth adding to your dining bucket lists!
Off the Beaten Path
Michael & Meredith: Brunch at Crissy’s in Damariscotta is part of every single weekend trip we make up to Wiscasset during the winter. We’re big fans of the huevos rancheros, the veggie hash’n’eggs, and the famous blueberry coffee cake, of course.
Michael & Meredith: Central Provisions might seem like the popular choice for this one, but never before have we, time and time again, had meals where every bite of every dish is its own fantastic experience. It’s that simple.
We returned late Saturday evening from another whirlwind trip to North Carolina, visiting our family and friends for Thanksgiving, and although exhausted from the sixteen hour drive, one of the first things we wanted to do on Sunday was to continue a tradition started three years ago – cutting down our Christmas tree from The Old Farm Christmas Place. Cutting down a Christmas tree always puts us in the mood for the holiday season, but this year’s visit felt even more festive since the farm was still coated in a layer of snow from the week before.
Michael and I began our search, weaving through row after row of available firs, hoping to find the perfect tree for our tiny living room. Thankfully we found the one, not too long after we began looking, and Michael made quick work with the saw. A short tractor ride down the hill later and we were tying our tree to the top of the Subaru, always the most nerve-racking part of the process.
There’s just something special about finding and cutting down your own tree that makes you appreciate the living room centerpiece that much more throughout the holidays. I couldn’t be more excited about winter drinks and good books, wrapped up in the cozy light of our Christmas tree.
For more photos of our first visit to The Old Farm Christmas Place, click here.
Almost every fall since moving to Maine, Meredith and I have found the time to do a little apple picking of our own, and almost every fall, we’ve chosen a new orchard to try, but after our trip to Hansel’s Apple Orchard this year, we might have found the orchard that will become as much a part of our tradition as the flannel shirts and bean boots we wear.
Hansel’s is a smaller, family-owned orchard in North Yarmouth that is somewhat unlike the other orchards we’ve visited in the past few years. Without the pumpkin patch, barn store, tour bus turn-around, or long lines, Hansel’s is refreshingly all about the apples. Nestled on a cozy patch of land, you can walk up, grab a real basket (from quarter-peck to full bushel), and get to picking your McIntosh, Cortlands, Macouns, Jonagolds, a Honeycrisp or two, and even a mystery varietal of their own. Meredith and I filled our peck in no time, snapped a few photos, and returned home to days of apple snacks, crisps, and homemade applesauce.
If you’re looking for a new orchard to try this year or next, we highly recommend checking out Hansel’s – we think you’ll really enjoy the change of pace.
Eager to take advantage of a wedding-free weekend, Michael and I headed up the coast on Friday evening after work to spend a night at my family’s home in Wiscasset. Whenever our schedules slow down in the fall and winter, we love using this spot as a jumping-off point to explore other parts of Maine.
Saturday’s destination was a tried & true favorite day trip – Camden. While I’ve been sneaking in work-related trips to Long Grain since our first visit in 2012, Michael on the other hand, hadn’t been as fortunate, so we set our sights tastebuds on a lunch at the wonderful establishment. After our fill of some delicious pork belly pad kee mao, a tasty crab fried rice bowl, and “the spring rolls that ruined all other spring rolls for us”, we were anxious to stretch our legs, so we ventured up Maiden’s Cliff, eager to take in the colorful foliage and the beautiful view of Megunticook Lake. Even Orvis, whose tail is always happily spinning in search of the next adventure, seemed to be taken with the stunning vista before our eyes, and laid down for a bit at the top.
On Sunday we enjoyed a slow morning around the house – made complete with breakfast from Scratch – before meeting some friends for a hike at Wolfe’s Neck. Spending time outdoors both days this weekend reminded us how thankful we are to live in such a richly beautiful state, and even though our hikes will soon lack the vibrant fall color of October (and will require many more layers), it’ll be enjoyable to welcome all of the new fun that the next season brings.
All photos taken by Meredith Perdue for Map & Menu.