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.
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.
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Last week, Meredith and I were fortunate to be invited to attend the most recent wine tasting collaboration between Rosemont Market Productions, Tandem Coffee Roasters, and a featured wine producer – this time with Slovenian winery, Kabaj, and its winemaker, Jean-Michel Morel. In a recurring series hosted at Tandem, a vineyard selected by Rosemont’s Joe Appel is paired with regionally-inspired cuisine by chef Brad Messier and coupled with an evening of good conversation and company. If the event that we attended was a fair sampling, these pairings should be a must-try for anyone interested in wines that are slightly outside of the mainstream, great food, and a fantastic weeknight away from the Netflix queue.
The vineyard of the evening, Kabaj, has been garnering a good bit of praise from the wine-loving community recently. With mentions by the New York Times, The Art of Eating, and Wine Enthusiast, the vineyard was named one of Wine & Spirits‘ 2013 Wineries of the Year, and its complexly delicious “orange wines” have had Meredith and I popping into different Rosemont locations in search of a few bottles ever since the event. The wines get their color from the varying amounts of time that they’re left to ferment on the grape skins, creating a savory selection that age well and can be sipped over the course of an evening. I won’t pretend to be an expert, so suffice it to say that we truly enjoyed the contrast of the Kabaj wines against the Sonoma County varietals with which we recently fell in love. The winemaker, Jean-Michel was one of the most genuinely affable people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. You’d think that being a world-renowned winemaker could go to one’s head, but in a room full of interested oenophiles, he took the time to speak to each of us, sharing his winemaking passion and methodology, and his awesomely positive outlook on life – reminding us that good wine connects people and pursuing one’s passion can be wildly fulfilling.
Throughout the evening, Brad Messier was quickly serving up Slavic dishes to pair with our wines. Learning a new cuisine in the weeks leading up to the event proved to be an easy task for the talented chef, and we were fortunate to enjoy meats that he had cured himself, a regional bean, pork, and cabbage soup, potica nut rolls, and a tasty salted bread that accompanies many Slovenian meals. The night was capped off with an optional cup of the best espresso in town, and as Meredith and I made our way home that evening, we couldn’t help but think of what an enjoyable date night these pairings might make in the months to come.
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Meredith and I don’t often visit new restaurants in their first week of operation. We typically like to avoid the crowds and let the establishment work out the kinks, but after a few days of hearing and reading so many good things about the newly renovated, re-geared, and renamed Empire Chinese Kitchen, we decided that an early dim sum lunch was just a little too tempting to delay.
The new owners of Empire have done an awesome job with the renovation. Long before our meals had arrived, Meredith was happily snapping photos of all the details of the dining room and gushing about the natural light, open space, and relaxed feel of the room. We arrived right as the doors opened and were lucky to get a booth by a window before the room (and waiting list) quickly filled up.
We started with a couple of tasty cocktails (the Yellow Fever and the Dragon’s Milk) and ordered a handful of small plate and dim sum dishes which arrived in a slightly staggered fashion, leading to a leisurely tapas-style lunch. First up were the delicious peking duck buns (my personal favorite) and the har gow (one of a few of the gluten-free options on the menu). It’s a standard rule of thumb for me that pretty much anything served in a steamed bun will be awesome, and the savory peking duck didn’t disappoint – I’d highly recommend trying it. We also tried the lobster dumplings and the unique Empire egg roll, made with pastrami and asparagus and served with honey dijon. We thoroughly enjoyed each of the dishes we tried, and the three-count dumplings led to a number of small chopstick sword fighting battles.
All in all, I think we’re both glad that we ignored our recently-opened restaurant ban this time around, and can’t wait for a revisit to try the remaining items on the menu. Anyone want to join us?
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With my family in town from Wyoming, we had a chance to partake in many of our favorite activities (read: eat at some of our favorite restaurants) this weekend! On Friday night we met friends at Hunt & Alpine for drinks and then we made our way to Flea Bites for some dinner from Small Axe and ran into even more friends. Saturday was spent working, but on Sunday we celebrated my dad’s birthday by brunching at The Good Table, hiking at Wolfe’s Neck, and dining at Local 188 + Gorgeous Gelato that evening. A wonderfully delicious, fun-filled weekend with family that we don’t see nearly enough!
On Tuesday evening, Meredith and I had the chance to do something we’ve been looking forward to for a very long time – visit Portland Hunt & Alpine Club. Tuesday night was just the soft opening leading up to Thursday’s grand opening, but after months of getting excited from Hush Hush preview events and watching construction and planning updates on their facebook and Instagram feeds, we could barely contain our excitement for what is hands-down one of Portland’s absolute best bars and sure to be a regular hang-out spot for the two of us.
Owners Andrew and Briana Volk have done an outstanding job designing their new space on Market Street. A clean, modern interior with dark wood accents, Eames and Tolix furnishings, floor to ceiling windows, and of course, a large metal-topped bar make for the kind of place that I could easily imagine spending an afternoon, evening, or multi-night stint. Details like the stamped leather drink menus, the map-printed house menus and coasters, and the lighted, mounted antlers in The Lodge are just added eye candy, and we haven’t even discussed the mouth-watering cocktails yet.
Oh, those cocktails. I’ve already spent a fair amount of time on this blog writing about how Andrew can absolutely kill it when it comes to creative, beautiful, and delicious libations, but when I say that he’s outdone himself with the menu at Hunt & Alpine, I mean it. With pretty much something for anyone, I won’t try to dictate what you order, but from the soft opening, I can personally vouch for the Old Fashioned-esque Toronto, and my favorite from the evening, the Chilton County, with bourbon, lemon, peach butter, and egg white. Meredith was a huge fan of her White Noise, made with St. Germain, Cocchi Americano, and grapefruit zest, and has barely stopped talking about it. As we watched our friends at the opening sample their own drinks, the response was pretty much a unanimous “wow” from everyone in the room. If you’re having a hard time deciding, I wholly recommend taking it to the maestro himself with a few parameters and letting Andrew make an excellent recommendation.
I’m getting a little long-winded and could probably rave about the cocktails, chef Ricky Penatzer’s small plates (like the open-faced sandwiches, “The Hunter” charcuterie plate, “The Skier” cheese selection, or the savory popcorn), the atmosphere, or how we’ve already made plans with half a dozen friends to meet here over the next couple of weeks, for another few paragraphs, but I won’t. Simply try Portland Hunt & Alpine for yourself, you definitely won’t regret the choice.
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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?
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it one thousand times… brunch is by far my favorite meal of any day. Heavy, filling, and unabashedly obvious in its ability to set any day straight (especially when accompanied by a good cup of coffee). Living in a town like Portland, there’s no shortage of places to grab a mid-morning bite, but that’s probably what surprised me most when Meredith suggested that we try the brunch at Pai Men Miyake one morning a few weeks back.
Don’t get me wrong, Meredith and I are huge fans of Pai Men – its lunch is hands-down one of the tastiest deals in town and its beer list and cocktail menu are very far from wanting – it had just never occurred to me that their hardly-advertised brunch could live up to the lofty bar set by their other specialties.
Brunch at Pai Men Miyake is far from your typical pancake and egg pick me up. They have them, just with enough Miyake flair to make you forget that you’re sticking with an old-fashioned staple. The Okono Miyake – Japanese egg pancakes with Miyake farm pork, cabbage, scallions, ginger, fried egg, and topped with kewpie mayo and tonkatsu sauce – was deliciously flavorful. Every bite was a savory surprise, playing tricks on my traditional pancake-trained mind. Meredith loved her fried rice with bok choy, chinese chives, ginger, and a Miyake farm poached egg, and after we added a cup of always-amazing Tandem coffee, brunch at Miyake had easily been cemented in our minds as a new Portland brunch must.
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In the past couple of weeks, Meredith and I have been undertaking the extremely enjoyable challenge of trying as many of Portland’s food trucks as possible. While we missed a few (that we’ll be sure to add as time goes on), the ones we visited spelled out a bright future for the Portland food truck scene. The general gist from all of them was that a tasty breakfast, lunch, late night, or dessert doesn’t necessarily need to come from a brick and mortar establishment – if you concentrate on doing a few things very well, your next great Portland meal might come from the curb.
It was also awesome to see other local food service businesses getting behind Portland’s mobile eateries. Tandem Coffee and Bunker Brewing have opened their parking lot to Small Axe for breakfast (making that amazing cup of coffee all that much more delicious), and Rising Tide brewery is doing a weekly Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon food truck rotation that adds a filling pairing to their tasty selection of brews.
Bite Into Maine
Parked at Fort Williams, just over the hill from the Portland Head Light, Bite Into Maine serves up one of the best lobster rolls in the area. I realize that this is no small statement, as seemingly every restaurant and roadside stop between Kittery and Lubec claims to have “Maine’s Best Lobster Roll”, but it’ll take only a few bites of this amazing roll to know that it’s the real deal. On our trip, Meredith and I grabbed a couple of lobster rolls, and a side of the must-try corn, cucumber, and blueberry salad, and settled on our blanket with Orvis for a gorgeous picnic overlooking Casco Bay, followed by a stroll along the cliff walk – the makings of a the perfect summer afternoon in Maine.
Small Axe Truck
We were particularly excited to hear about the highly-anticipated opening of the Small Axe Truck, and since they spent their first morning parked outside of Tandem Coffee Roasters, we worked breakfast and coffee into our Saturday morning farmer’s market routine. Meredith ordered the seasonal vegetable and goat ricotta bowl, and I opted for the sausage and green chili gravy bowl. We both enjoyed our breakfasts so much, that when we heard that the Small Axe Truck would be taking their show to Rising Tide’s Saturday food truck lunch later that same day, we went back home, grabbed our friends Cory and Robyn, and made the return trip for some afternoon beers, the cheeseburger-stuffed handpies, and a few pork sandwiches.
Meredith and I grabbed lunch from Mainely Burgers outside of City Hall (also where Small Axe will be taking up a more permanent spot), and were absolutely blown away by the handcut fries and The Mainah burger – a delightful burger with applewood smoked bacon, green apples, cheddar, and maple mayo (seriously, try one). After we were finished with lunch and the crowd had died down, owners Ben Berman and Jack Barber took a few minutes to introduce themselves. During our conversation about lunch in Portland, their approach to cooking a great meal from a mobile kitchen, and the number of trucks popping up around town. One thing that was said has really stuck with me: the two opened Mainely Burgers with the goal that a person could visit Portland and have lunch with them, then dinner at a place like Fore Street, and leave town completely blown away by the food scene. When the duo opens their new truck, Mainely Treats next week, you can bet that we’ll be waiting in line.
We found El Corazon last week parked at the intersection of India and Commercial, right across from Benkay. A delicious carne asada burrito, a couple of tacos, and two refreshing pineapple ginger agua frescas later, and we were stuffed and smiling in the shade of a stoop across the street, watching the constant stream of patrons lining up at the truck.
After our lunch from El Corazon, Meredith saw on facebook that Love Cupcakes‘s Falmouth trailer would be open that afternoon, so we promptly headed up 295 for a little lunchtime dessert (we’re fans of dessert after all three meals… and sometimes in between). Although not technically their Portland truck, the cupcakes served up from this picturesque stand, parked beneath an apple tree beside Foreside Antiques on Route 1 was easily Meredith’s favorite truck to shoot. The chocolate-iced, vanilla cupcakes were obviously a required staple, but the lime and coconut-iced, chocolate cupcake stole the show and make me want to return in the near future for their next special.
We were driving around Portland’s Longfellow Square the other day when we spotted the new umbrellas outside one of our favorite restaurants in town, Petite Jacqueline, and it made us so excited for the many al fresco meals we hope to enjoy there this summer. Soon after I stopped daydreaming about all of the cheese and rosé I plan on consuming at Petite, I received these scans from a forgotten roll of film I’d shot back in February. A trio of tasty cheeses, a seasonal salad, and an order of Michael’s favorite, the beef bourguignon – I’m sure you’ll find a similar spread on our table this summer!
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