Meredith and I often get emails and comments from Map & Menu readers asking for help in planning their own Portland adventures. While we love that people are finding and using the site for the exact reason we created it – to be a tried and true travel resource – we’ve only had a few first-hand accommodation experiences in our hometown of Portland – all from before we moved to Maine, and long before Map & Menu. Thus, when we saw one of our favorite branding agencies in town share some of the recent work they’d done for a new Portland inn, we quickly searched for more information and reached out to its owners to setup a visit.
The Mercury Inn has many of the things that typically draw us to the places we stay on our travels – creative taste, a clean aesthetic, cozy accommodations, and great branding. During our tour of the property, we had the chance to speak to the co-owners, Tim and Jake, about their experience in running, then renovating the previous inn at the State Street location, and their passion for the food and service industries that led them toward owning a bed and breakfast. After managing what was formerly the Wild Iris Inn for part of the season prior to re-opening as the Mercury Inn, Tim and Jake began to renovate according to the experiences they had gleaned from patrons, the property, and the sustainable vision they had brought with them. The design of the interior came from Tim’s sister’s firm, Landing Design & Development and has a clean, contemporary feel that meshes perfectly with the branding done by Might & Main. Details like the custom Sea Bags pillows, roman numeral door lettering, and large-printed shower curtains add fun accents and give the space plenty of its own personality. On top of being within walking distance to some of our favorite restaurants in Portland’s West End and on Congress Street, Tim and Jake use their culinary experience to provide homemade breakfasts to visitors, which we’re looking forward to trying at some future date.
We’re thrilled to add the aptly-named Mercury Inn (Mercury was the Roman patron god of travelers) to our list of places to stay in Portland. We’re sure that given it’s design and comfort it’ll be the perfect fit for many Map & Menu readers in the future.
Photos taken by Meredith Perdue for Map & Menu.
Contact Information - Mercury Inn
Portland, Maine 04101
March’s “spring forward” daylight saving time has become a celebration for Meredith and I in recent years. After a full winter of lunch posts and dimly-lit dinners, all at once the light returns to our suppertime, and it’s Map & Menu business as usual. In the days leading up to daylight saving time, we anxiously sift through our dining choices and make a reservation for a (still somewhat early) dinner date that we know will taste exquisite and look spectacular. This year, there was hardly a question of where that reservation would be – Portland’s Central Provisions.
Central Provisions is one of the latest in a stocked season of great openings in Portland. Piccolo, Hunt + Alpine, and Miyake Diner have already deservedly garnered rave reviews and national recognition, but after a couple of meals at Central Provisions, there is no doubt in our minds that they belong near the top of the list of Portland’s best restaurants and bars. Owners Chris and Paige Gould have done an exceptional job with both the space and the menu, and bar manager Patrick McDonald and wine director Chris Peterman have put together an amazing selection of drinks to boot. In fact, this is the one thing that stands out to Meredith and I about our experiences at Central Provisions more than anything else – how equally fantastic each part of our meals have been. The space gives credence to the historic nature of the building, the drinks – whether beer, wine, or spirit – are well chosen and deliciously crafted, and the food is simply outstanding. Try the farm fresh bread and butter, the yellowfin tuna crudo that’s a delight to both taste and see, the savory suckling pig, the perfectly seared scallops, the brussels sprouts, the croquette, the spicy fried Maine potatoes, the beet salad, the shrimp a la plancha… it’s not an exaggeration to say that you should try everything on the menu, you absolutely won’t be disappointed. Typically, when describing a restaurant’s drink menu, I use a colloquialism like “wash it all down with…”, but at Central Provision, this simply doesn’t do the libations justice. Whether it’s a cocktail from their house menu or their prohibition-era list (Meredith is obsessed with the Fancy Gin Cocktail), a pint of their great selection of beers (like the in-demand Bissell Brothers Substance IPA), or a glass of wine from their wine list, we wager you’ll be as enthusiastic about the drinks as you are the eats.
From literal top to bottom (the dining room is on the Fore Street-facing second floor, while the bar is on the Wharf Street-facing first) Central Provisions provides one of the best dining experiences in Portland, and we simply couldn’t be happier to see the city’s selection continue to grow and improve – we’re going to need those extra hours of daylight just to keep up.
Contact Information - Central Provisions
Portland, Maine 04101
This Is Love. The motto of More & Co.’s current collection rang especially true to me when I walked through the door. It’s plain to see that this is a special collection for the partners of this Portland-based creative studio – the goods they’ve personally fallen in love with since opening their storefront last year, the products in which they wholeheartedly believe and want to share with their loved ones… except they’re sharing it with anyone and everyone who drops into the shop. It does kind of feel as though you’ve walked into a friend’s home (your friend with the very best taste, that is), with the expectation that there is a remarkable story behind each item you see.
The handmade polka dot mug from which I’m currently drinking, the bright Jenny Pennywood textiles, the Maine-made ANK Ceramics, and the colorful Grimms wooden block sets – all fit perfectly together and convey that sense of happy, minimal, creative style that Michael and I have come to appreciate and admire from More & Co, having followed their blog and watched their branding projects for years.
You can always take a peek at the collection online, but if you have the time, I highly recommend stopping by the shop to see these objects in person - This Is Love is available through the end of May.
Photos taken by Meredith Perdue for Map & Menu.
Contact Information - More & Co.: This Is Love
Portland, Maine 04101
Meredith and I don’t consider ourselves food critics or traditional reviewers in any way. Map & Menu was started simply to share the places to eat, things to do, and places to visit we’ve come to love from our home in Portland and elsewhere among our travels. We share them in hopes that other people will find them approachable and useful for their own inspiration and travels. In that vein of writing about inspiring and delicious places, we thought we’d share some photos of brunch at Portland’s Piccolo - it’s quickly becoming one of our new favorites, and should probably be one of yours too.
We’ve posted about dinner at Piccolo already (oh, that Wine and Cheese dessert!), but this time we wanted to share another awesome facet of this fantastic restaurant – its Sunday brunch. Twice now, we’ve had the opportunity to enjoy brunch at Piccolo, both times with good friends (obviously one of the best ways to enjoy any brunch), and both times we’ve been blown away by our meals and experiences. Although the menu changes slightly, between the eight of us we’ve tried a large portion of it, and I haven’t heard a single word of anything but praise for the dishes. Whether it be the decadent Italian Toast, the savory Modesto, or the scrumptious Zeppoli (which you should just go ahead and start with every time you visit) – the Sunday brunch at Piccolo is definitely one of the best in town, and is almost guaranteed to leave you with a smile on your face.
Photos taken by Meredith Perdue for Map & Menu.
Contact Information - Brunch at Piccolo
Portland, Maine 04101
The food scene in Portland outdid itself once again last year with plenty of new openings and the continued excellence of many of the city’s existing establishments. And while we tried our best to continue eating our way through town, keeping up proved to be a very tough undertaking. It’d be almost impossible to list all of our favorites, but from our meals of the past year, here are a few of the memorable ones that stood out to the two of us.
Michael & Meredith: There’s no question that our favorite place for drinks this year was Hunt & Alpine. Between Meredith’s standby, the White Noise, and mine, the Chilton County and the Toronto, I don’t know that you could find many better drinks – anywhere.
Michael: More than one person insisted we try the melanzane – roasted eggplant, sicilian oregano, and smoked ricotta – at Piccolo. If you are one of those people, thank you, it was every bit as good as you promised.
Meredith: Whitney, a reader who commented on our Portland in 10 Bites post, became our new favorite person this summer when she suggested we try the hamayaki from Pai Men Miyake. The decadent crab & scallop dish quickly became a favorite of ours, too!
Michael: The salmon I ordered early this year at Bar Lola was hands-down the best dish I had all year. It’s easy to mess salmon up by trying to get fancy and forgetting the basics, but this fillet was simple, fresh, and seared to perfection.
Meredith: The pan-seared hake on black rice with carrots in a lemon butter sauce at The Well takes the cake for me!
Michael: If you’ve talked to me at all about desserts in the past few months, you already know my answer to this one. The Wine & Cheese from Piccolo was one of the more creative and delicious sweets I’ve ever enjoyed, and I just can’t stop raving about it.
Meredith: One should always make room for a Duckfat milkshake! On a recent visit, the couple we were dining with started with one, and I think I might make that my own tradition.
Michael: When I want to start my day with an indulgence, I head over to Little Bigs, where I can’t stop myself from ordering half a dozen more donuts than I should be able to eat – and then I prove myself wrong, eating every last one.
Meredith: We count ourselves among the lucky Willard Beach residents who can smell the sweetness of Scratch Baking Co. right from our home. The croissants, bagels, almond cookies, scones, muffins – when you live across the street from a bakery, there’s not much you haven’t tried – are all on our regular rotation of morning treats.
Michael: This one is a fun selection because of how unusual it is (especially for a brunch traditionalist like myself). The Okono Miyake at Pai Men Miyake is a pancake on savory steroids – pork, cabbage, scallions, and fried egg come together to make any buttermilk fan rethink their stance.
Meredith: We were so totally committed to the Southern-inspired brunch that Small Axe served one Saturday morning, that we happily sat right out in the rain while cleaning our plates. The succotash grits made me feel as though I was back down South!
Dining with Orvis
Michael & Meredith: There are few things that make us happier than enjoying a good meal with our buddy, and sitting outside with him at The Well is possibly one of the best examples of this. Not only is there plenty of space for him to settle down, the staff loves to see him, and as I’m sure you’ll read elsewhere in this post, the meals are fantastic.
Michael: Salvage BBQ serves heaping portions of delicious Carolina pulled pork, brisket, collard greens, hushpuppies, and Cheerwine. I’ll leave it at that.
Meredith: During our first visit to Empire the kitchen unfortunately ran out of the spinach dumplings, but we had it on good authority that they were the best of the dim sum dumplings, so we were determined to try them on our next outing. As predicted, the spinach dumplings moved to the tip top of my list of Empire favorites the moment I took my first bite.
Michael & Meredith: When you’re looking for a late night bite, it’s hard to pass-up on a gourmet hot dog, tater tots, and brussels sprouts from Blue Rooster Food Co. In fact, the only part of that equation that isn’t a must is the late night – Blue Rooster is always delicious.
Food Truck Meal
Michael: Meredith and I built a Saturday morning tradition around Small Axe Truck bowls and Tandem Coffee, but in my book, no matter the meal, Small Axe can do no wrong.
Meredith: Applewood smoked bacon, maple mayo, green apples, and cheddar. Really, what more is there to say about the amazing Mainah Burger from Mainely Burgers?
Michael: The open space, natural light, and details like the hanging succulents make Empire Chinese Kitchen one of the more interesting new spaces in town. As soon as I walk through the door, I feel at ease in a place where I could stay awhile.
Meredith: Andrew & Briana Volk have done an outstanding job designing the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club. A clean, modern interior with dark wood accents, Eames furnishings, and details like the stamped leather drink menus and the map-printed house menus & coasters make their space on Market Street one of the best looking spots in Portland.
Michael: For my birthday this year, Meredith took me to Eventide for cocktails and oysters. The evening was an unforgettable one, filled with great food, drinks, and laughs.
Meredith: Having a meal at The Well is a special experience. You’re eating exceptional food in a unpretentious setting at a picnic table on a farm. While drinking a favorite bottle of wine (from your own collection), you can watch the colors change in the dusk sky, and have a delightful conversation with other friendly patrons. There’s nothing else like it.
Michael: This is a bittersweet category, because when I think of my favorite meal, start to finish, from this past year, our dinner at the now-closed Bar Lola immediately comes to mind. Each course, from the pimiento cheese, to the seared salmon, to the almond tart was simply unbelievable.
Meredith: I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but until you’ve tried a meal at The Well, you’re missing out. We’ve never had a dish we didn’t thoroughly enjoy, and for not being a bakery, their bread is easily some of the best in town.
Sometimes with Portland food, it feels like a list like this can only begin scratch the surface. If you’re looking for more of our Portland favorites, we still stand by last year’s Best of 2012, and of course don’t hesitate to check out our favorite 10 dishes in Portland, Maine or our top 10 Portland brunches!
Also, a big thanks to our readers that made suggestions on posts, twitter, and facebook this year – a number of those restaurants and dishes (both in and out of Portland) found their way onto our radar, and quite a few became our favorites! If you have any suggestions for places we should visit or dishes we should try for this coming year, please leave a comment for us below!
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.
Contact Information - Piccolo
Portland, Maine 04101
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.
Contact Information - Rosemont & Tandem Pairings: Slovenia Rising
Portland, Maine 04101
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?
Contact Information - Empire Chinese Kitchen
Portland, Maine 04101
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!