A couple of weeks ago, Meredith and I had the opportunity to sit down with Palace Diner’s Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell for the first of a new interview series that we’re starting on the site. We were particularly excited to kick off the series with Chad and Greg, after they recently closed the diner for a month for some much needed rest and two pretty amazing trips. Chad spent his vacation with friends in Panama and Toronto, while Greg and his fiance Meg traveled west to southern California, Hawaii, and the other Portland. After an (always) outstanding meal at Palace, we spoke with them about their trips, their travel styles, and the community they’re building around the diner. The way that they both use food and cooking to get a better feeling for an area’s culture is something that Meredith and I can certainly appreciate, while their authentic, relaxed approach to exploring the places they visit will no doubt serve as inspiration on our own future trips.
M&M: Of your trips, do you have any that you might consider to be the most memorable?
CC: This trip (to Bastamentos) was a particularly good one for me, especially because I was visiting a friend who’s been in this totally foreign – totally foreign to me – culture, so I was able to show up in a situation that would normally be really intimidating for me and just be at home. His girlfriend’s family welcomed me, I got to meet all of her huge extended family, I got to party with them, I got to eat with them everyday, I got to get to know all of his friends there and that part of the experience is pretty rare for someone traveling to a place that’s that foreign. It made it pretty special, having access to foods and all sorts of cultural experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t visiting him.
GM: Similarly with what Chad’s saying, a lot of traveling I do at this point, it ends up working out well but it’s definitely because of financial reasons, too – you end up traveling where you have friends or family and it turns out to be a really great thing because you’re immersed in the culture. Probably the most memorable memory from my trip was visiting some friends from Los Angeles who are both botanists and they took us out to Joshua Tree National Park and gave us a botany tour of the park. We picked up a bunch of ingredients at this Mexican supermarket in Pasadena before we left and went camping in Joshua Tree and made a Mexican taco feast in the desert, camped out, and drank beers. That was probably the best food experience of the trip. In thinking about the trip, we ate a lot of really great meals out but the most memorable one was just being out in the middle of the desert and grilling.
M&M: You just returned from traveling, so you might not even have an answer right away, but are there any places you’re hoping to visit next?
CC: This part of Canada around Maine is really fascinating to me and I’d like to explore it a bit. Across the border in a few different areas, but I would love to go farther north and east. I also like the idea of going up there because there are parts of the experience that are really closely related to living here, but the differences really stand out in a fun way because of that similarity.
GM: I really want to do a Southeast Asia trip and check out Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and probably parts of Thailand. I think that part of the world is becoming more and more popular for people who like to travel and people who like to eat, and I would love to see parts of it before they’re totally destroyed by tourism. I know the north of thailand is less touched than the south, and even that’s a popular place right now. I’d love to get there before the next ten years of tourism make it less interesting. I love Asian food. I like to cook Asian food. I like to eat Asian food.
M&M: What about your perfect day off in Maine – what does that look like for you?
GM: I wake up really late and come to Palace Diner and watch everyone work… No, I had a pretty perfect day off yesterday. It usually involves two or three things – one is a great breakfast which is usually not at home – I like to cook at home, I just don’t like to cook breakfast at home because we do so much of that here. We went to Saigon and got banh mi for breakfast, took our dog for a walk in the Standish, Sebago Lake area, and then came back to town and went food shopping and made an awesome dinner. That’s the trifecta. Something outdoors like a good walk and two good meals – two of the three pillars are good meals.
CC: Sleeping in and going out to breakfast is a great start. A motorcycle ride at some point – whether it’s to get from point A to point B, or just for the hell of it. That is a great thing.
GM: Yes, when a motorcycle ride can be intertwined with your outdoor activity that’s even better. A summer evening motorcycle ride for a drink or dinner, that’s nice.
CC: Going to the beach in the summertime, going to Ferry Beach. On my days off I like to be social at least one part of the day – whether that’s going to a party or having people over for drinks. To me that’s my day off, hanging out with people.
M&M: And cooking at home, you like to cook Asian food at home, Greg?
GM: I attempt to cook Asian at home. I have no background, I’ve never worked in an Asian restaurant. I have a few cookbooks.
CC: We both bought rice cookers this past fall.
GM: Chad got one. That sounded awesome to me. I really love Asian food and there’s not a ton of it around here – there’s a few places to go for certain things, but there’s not a huge variety of Asian food in Maine, and it’s very different from what we do here so I enjoy the challenge. We cook a lot of American, fun, rich foods here, and when I’m at home I want to eat spicy rice, different meats, lots of herbs, soy sauce, fish sauce, lime. I just crave those flavors all the time, so on my days off after being here and snacking on tuna and eggs for five days straight I just want to eat nothing but Asian food.
CC: I’m a much less ambitious home cook than Greg. I cook a lot of – think of it as healthy bachelor pad food. Simple vegetables, rice. If we make breakfast at home, just pancakes or eggs and toast. I like to eat very simply. When Rachel was away for a month this past fall, that’s when I bought the rice cooker. And that’s how I found myself eating brown rice and vegetables, things that came together pretty quickly and were really healthy.
GM: The other thing I like to make is pasta. I worked in Rome for a bit, so Roman pasta is cacio e pepe, alla gricia, carbonara, and for me those dishes are very homey and simple. I can whip up a simple Roman pasta in 15 minutes and that’s a good trick to have up your sleeve.
M&M: What are your go-to restaurants in Portland?
CC: The Phoenix did a thing about my go-to restaurant a couple months ago and I think many of the other people that they interviewed for this series chose more high-end places and I chose Pizza Villa which is by far my favorite restaurant. I go there at least once a week, hang out and get beers, catch up with friends, or hang out with Rachel. I love it there.
GM: My current favorite is Saigon, a super simple family-run Vietnamese restaurant. They have really great pho. After being in a restaurant, you don’t always want to have a restaurant experience. I don’t always want to be presented with a very thoughtful service. I just want to get a bowl of noodle soup and talk to my fiance or friends. We went to Huong’s the other evening on St. John’s and it’s the same thing, the service is simple and the food is tasty, and back to Asian food, it lends itself to sharing. It’s a fun cuisine to go out and share with friends.
CC: Greg & I go to meetings at Becky’s, too. We like it there.
GM: If I want a nicer meal, I tend to end up at Eventide. I like what those guys do a lot.
At this point, the conversation meandered for a little bit while we discussed favorite restaurants, keeping up with the growing Portland food scene, and and the community of regulars they’re building in Biddeford.
GM: When you get to build a sense of community in a restaurant or cafe, it’s pretty awesome. When Tandem first opened in Portland, it was a spot where we’d both grab a coffee and end up spending an hour there because all your friends were there or because you’d meet new people and make friends there. When we opened this place, we thought how cool it would be if that happened here, and to not only see that happen here but happen in Biddeford makes us really happy.
M&M: It’s even more special because people are having to drive a bit further to get here.
GM: It’s a huge compliment to be 20 miles south of a thriving food city and people are leaving it to come eat here. It shows promise.
M&M: Do you have any holdovers from the old Palace?
CC: There’s a handful of people, that it wouldn’t matter who owned it, they’d come in.
GM: There are the real holdovers, the guy who comes in and says he hasn’t been here since 1950. We had a guy who came in last weekend, pretty surly and he looked miserable, wasn’t being very friendly, and he hadn’t been in for years. We get these old timers occasionally where they see a review and they don’t get it. they don’t understand what’s happening with all the tattoos, and the young people and the music. I think, for me, the most satisfying customers are those ones that we then serve our flapjacks and they’re like “oh, this is a delicious stack of flapjacks, I don’t give a shit about anything else. I’ll be back.” That’s really satisfying. Our prices are a little higher, the quality of our ingredients is a little higher, so when an old timer can recognize that we make some damn good food and that they’ll be back even though it’s more money than the place around the corner, it’s awesome. There are a lot of people who get what we’re doing and think it’s great – that’s what keeps us going, but it’s a lot of fun when someone doesn’t get what you’re doing but they still can see that you’re doing a good job making food and making people happy.
M&M: What is your favorite Palace dish to cook or eat?
GM: I think my favorite thing to eat is the Deluxe and my favorite thing to cook is flapjacks. I get a lot of satisfaction out of making perfectly round, perfectly golden flapjacks, and they smell delicious – that smell never gets old.
CC: The Deluxe is probably my favorite to eat. Our food is so simple to cook. I just enjoy that process, cooking as a whole. There’s not just one item that I look forward to cooking. I do like assembling the fried chicken sandwich, actually. That’s a fun one. Every time we put it in the window, I love looking at people’s faces when they see it. People laugh and smile. I love that we are able to create that moment for people.
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.