As much as I detest the word “foodie,” Portland, our own little sustainable, all-season banquet, has developed an international reputation for outstanding farmed, fished, and foraged fare. From foie gras gorge and tartare tours to Joe Ricchio’s legendary Deathmatch, Portland has grown from a three-restaurant backwater to Bon Appetit’s 2009 “Foodiest Small Town in America.” Portland’s culinary fame continues to grow as chefs, diners and restaurateurs arrive “from away,” adding to our ever-burgeoning local food scene.
Top of the Crop
On October 25 at Harvest on the Harbor, four outstanding Maine chefs will vie for Top of the Crop, Maine’s Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant competition. The fab four were selected based on their farm-to-table philosophy, relationship with local farms, and how well their restaurant menus reflect the farm-to-table movement year-round – not an easy task. The event will host an international crowd, from 48 states and the Netherlands, UK, and Canada.
The who’s who of Chef all-stars include Harraseeket Inn’s Executive Chef Eric Flynn, whose refined style, contemporary New England flair, and French flamboyance has put him solidly on the radar. “Doing business with local purveyors helps the community by keeping its economy strong. Our first priority is purchasing locally grown and harvested foods. We purchase organically grown produce whenever possible because we believe it is a healthier choice for our customers and our planet.” – Eric Flynn
Jeff Landry, Executive Chef and Owner of The Farmer’s Table, formerly at Portland’s Cinque Terre and Freeport’s Harraseeket Inn, was selected Maine Restaurant Association‘s Chef of the Year in 2007. “As our name implies, we feel strongly about supporting the local farm to table movement. Also, we embrace every opportunity to use organically farmed vegetables and fruit. We believe in simplicity of our food and commend those who raise it that way.” – Jeff Landry
Shannon Bard of Zapoteca Restaurante Y Tequileria grew up in Oklahoma, where her grandmother owned a Mexican restaurant. Shannon’s father and grandfather were both small farmers whose hard work and dedication went into every crop. “Zapoteca’s menu has a strong Oaxacan influence and is comprised of unique, wood fired dishes with bold, authentic flavors that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else in New England.” – Shannon Bard
And Chef Kevin Walsh of Earth At Hidden Pond, formerly of Baldwin’s on Elm; Radius in Boston; James Beard-nominated Flour and Water in San Francisco; and Deuxave in Boston. “We believe that the quality of a menu begins with how and where its ingredients are grown, and we are firm in supporting our local farm partners. We also have an incredible array of herbs, vegetables, fruits and edible flowers right outside our back door.” – Kevin Walsh
Top of the Crop will be moderated by international chef and restaurateur, Elliott Prag, who specializes in natural foods and healthy world cuisine. He is the creator of Kibea Restaurant in Sofia, Bulgaria, the first health-supportive restaurant in the Balkans. Prag worked in numerous New York natural food restaurants before developing his private chef business, Siegfried & Prag. He is also a frequent contributor to Vegetarian Times.
The four chefs will prepare a dish using local, organic, and farm-raised beef, lamb, chicken, pork or venison. The lucky Harvest on the Harbor audience will nibble on bread, cheese and olive oil as they watch the talented quartet demonstrate their cheftastic techniques, then taste what is sure to be four amazing dishes in small-plate portions. Complementing the chefs’ creations will be sophisticated wine pairings.
The event wraps on a sweet note with a dessert demo and tasting, caffeinated by Portland’s favorite micro-roaster, Coffee by Design, who themselves make it their mission to educate you about specialty coffee, provide superior quality coffee beans, beverages, and food products, and to fulfill their commitment to environmental and economic sustainability.
More, More More
Top of the Crop is just one of many tastings, savory samplings, and culinary events at this year’s Harvest on the Harbor festival. Check out the array of offerings, learn about Maine’s farm-to-table movement, taste the difference growing organically can make, and rub elbows with famous and not-so-famous foodies while sipping Maine wines, listening to some great music, and sampling some wicked good food at Maine’s premier food and wine event.
Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com.
Camden and Rockland team up for a four-day cinematic celebration of documentary film on the foggy coast of Maine, with food & wine, music, and community events – a great excuse for a weekend away.
Small Towns, Big Films
I love sitting in the dark with a bag of popcorn, and this year I am lucky enough to have four days at Camden International Film Festival (CIFF), now in its 8th year and more popular than ever. The convivial opening night crowd is eager, greeting each other and each film with affection and enthusiasm. Although there is rain in the weekend forecast, this crowd is warm and sunny.
As film-goers are seated for opening night, CIFF nails “festive” with music by the Toughcats, a tuneful mash-up of harmony, bluegrass, and a wonderful hint of Klezmer. Colin Gulley plays his banjo with a bow, a first for this newly minted Toughcats fan.
The opening night film, Betting the Farm, has been awarded major grants from well-known funding organizations Chicken and Egg Films and the LEF Foundation and is a dramatic and unsentimental look at a breakaway group of dairy farmers right here in Maine. It is the festival’s first-ever sold-out opening night screening, replete with directors, producers, and the film’s Maine “all stars.” Betting the Farm is a raw look at a struggling industry and the courageous and self-sacrificing Maine farmers who stage what we hope is a daring industry rescue. The film left me with a serious takeaway imperative: Find MOO (Maine’s Own Organic) milk, buy MOO milk.
Every day begins with a series of short films and is very well attended – no, it is crowded. I go to the shorts all three mornings and see remarkable stuff. Favorites include: I Beat Mike Tyson, The Gambling Man, and The Love Competition. A fascinating short called CatCam is a crazy look at the world through the eyes of a cat, filmed by a cat – yes, by a cat.
“Wonderful Work!” says Ben Fowlie, the founder and director of the festival, in his curtain speech, and he’s not kidding. When he asks if the filmmakers want to say a few words, they call back, “We love you Ben!”
Venues include the Strand Theater and Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, and Camden Opera House and the old but still serviceable Bayview Cinema in Camden. Nearly 70 documentary features and shorts are shown over the four days. Audiences are engaged in relaxed, informal settings for Q&A with visiting filmmakers. Fowlie keeps several surprises up his sleeve each year, like the three “secret screenings” during this year’s festival.
The Festival closes with a free community screening of Chasing Ice, a fragile, haunting look at climate change through time-lapse cameras in a brutal Arctic setting – undeniable evidence of our changing planet. Astonishing, revelatory work. Fowlie was surprised at the near sellout crowd for Chasing Ice. “Camden Opera House seats 514, and we were up around 500 – and this is after the weekenders are gone; after the filmmakers and special guests. I am amazed.”
“Taste what the area has to offer!” says Fowlie, and he’s right. The culinary artistry of the mid-coast is a huge festival draw. Sitting at the bar at In Good Company in Rockland with a plate of stuffed roasted peppers and a minerally Italian verdicchio is a first-night pleasure. The chef’s starter menu is a longtime favorite – her small plates and sturdy wine list sway.
I also thoroughly enjoy Camden’s Café Miranda where I reflect on the cinematic wonders at a small corner table over a robust hot slurry of roasted gorgonzola and garlic. I dip baguette, sip and think. Miranda’s signature meatballs are an astonishingly light, flavorful combination of pork and veal, and the wood-fired pizza is legendary. In late afternoon, this end of town fills with a beautiful haze of woodsmoke, a sign of good things to come.
Dolcelinos by Swan’s Way are the official festival dessert, made with Maine milk and cream. Don’t miss the lemon ginger, wow, it’s beautiful. And Cellardoor Winery’s Bettina Doulton proves her unflagging support for CIFF yet again, with sponsorships, signature wines and special events. Doulton represents the kind of magical community spirit that makes this festival so successful.
The Camden International Film Festival offers a perfect opportunity for foggy coastal walks, high tides and big moons, gallery hopping, musical interludes, exquisite mid-coast flavor and a four-day celebration of extraordinary international documentary film. In my world, doesn’t get any better.
Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com.
Cambridge sits across the Charles River from Boston like a naughty and fascinating older sibling. Home to two famous institutions of higher learning, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this wonderful Left Bank is and loaded with cafés, bookstores, and world-class museums. Steeped in history, literature, and the spirit of the American Revolution, this leafy little city began as George Washington’s headquarters and became home to Maine’s most beloved poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Room with a View
The Cambridge Royal Sonesta’s riverside retreat is one of Boston’s best-kept secrets. The hotel sits on the bank of the Charles River with 180 ° views of the Boston skyline-glorious by night. Rooms are priced by the glass or by the bottle, i.e., views that range from stellar to breathtaking. The contemporary art collection is a knockout with over 700 works displayed throughout the capacious hotel. The concierge offers a map and guide to the collection, which can be cruised in under three hours – two, if you’re in a rush. The Warhols, Stellas, Oldenburgs, and LeWitts will blow you away, and those are just the allstars. I counted 30 blueprints and designs by Buckminster Fuller in a nondescript hallway, from the sublime to the ridiculous – wonderful. There is a Josef Albers minding its own business over the copy machine.
The hotel’s aptly named ArtBar with outdoor seating on the riverbank is perfect on a balmy fall evening. Preppy gents on my left discuss golf strategies as boats pass and passengers wave. Stylish women on my right compare the day’s conquests: a colorful scarf and “cute” dog carrier. Boston’s beautiful skyline shimmers across the River. Not bad.
Wining and Dining
Food at ArtBar is locally sourced, and Chef D’Andro lists his New England farms, beekeepers, fisheries and smokehouses on the side of his menu like a new-age board of directors. Tasting menu standouts include a roasted trout resting on a pillow of silky mashed potato, and a quartet of briny raw oysters with a sweet-sour pomegranate foam ”” I could eat several dozen. My companion admired his à ¼ber-simple preparation of two enormous Georges bank sea scallops, expertly seared and served straight up with a few herbs and a sprinkle of the most amazing sea salt – I have never tasted better.
I recommend you skip the lobster corn dogs. Almost every other table is enjoying them, and I just don’t get it. I am from Maine, okay, so to me this preparation seems a real cultural offense. But, truly, there is no accounting for taste. I get over it quickly with the chef’s rhubarb crumble, which cuts through any lingering anxiety like a warm knife through sweet butter.
For the record, the hotel’s second bistro, Café Dante, makes a perfect Gray Goose martini, and their sturdy Italian wine list doesn’t disappoint. The cocktail crowd can be overwhelming at Danté so take your vitamins and do a few push-ups before making the scene. Best to go in the early evening unless you’re in the mood for a mob.
In-town options are many and varied. In Harvard Square, don’t miss gastro-pub Russell Square Tavern whose brunchy menu delights and comforts all day and all night. They do an amazing fried poached egg ”” try it. The beer list is respectable, local, and ever-changing. I sipped a hoppy BBC Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale and watched Vincent, the adorable oyster shucker, prying open the day’s catch.
Don’t miss the L.A. Burdick chocolates where I picked up some adorable chocolate mice for the kids and a penguin for myself. The kids say they don’t like chocolate. Speaking for all of us, it is a big fat lie ”” what we don’t like is BAD chocolate. No chance of bad chocolate at L.A. Burdick. My penguin, filled with silky and unctuous chocolate truffle and flavored with orange, is a real wow.
There is an exquisite walking-running-biking trail that the Sonesta calls a “jogging path.” Guests can trot or meander as far as they want, past MIT, across the B.U. and Harvard Bridges and all the way up to Harvard Square and back. All told, that stretch is about 8 miles. For the less ambitious like me, I “walk it off” in about 40 minutes, to MIT and back. Cool off in the Sonesta’s salt-water pool with retracting walls and ceiling in summer that allows guests to feel they’re dogpaddling in the Charles.
Family-friendly, the Museum of Science is just around the corner. Check out the IMAX theatre’s ever-changing hands-on activities-the museum’s lightning storm is dazzling. If you don’t like crowds of sniffly kids, be warned: this world-class science mecca is a very popular spot. CambridgeSide offers relaxing riverboat tours, a great way to get your bearings. You’ll pass MIT, the Fenway, iconic Citgo sign, the Boston University campus and little church where Martin Luther King, Jr., preached early sermons. Highlights include wild graffiti under the bridges and crazy salad of local lore and gossip from the tour guide. Kids dig a calming hour on this legendary river and adults seem to chill as well. Note: the boat offers a small bar with wine and beer, which doesn’t hurt.
Check out MIT’s amazing public art collection, a 20-minute walk from the hotel. One of the best public art collections in the country, this campus-wide treasure boasts works by Calder, Picasso, Jennifer Bartlett, Maine’s own Louise Nevelson and many more, with design superstars like Alvar Aalto and Harry Bertoia represented as well. Best of all, the collection is mostly outdoors and free. The wild contours of Frank Gehry’s Stata Center set the freewheeling tone with shiny surfaces that appear to twist and wiggle in the sun.
But it’s not too serious here: MIT is also home to the world’s only museum of pranks, IHTFP Gallery, named for the unofficial motto of MIT (“I Hate This ”¦ Place” ). Most impressive prank: A police car atop the MIT dome with uniformed policeman at the wheel. Particularly impressive: the policeman holds a box of donuts. Learn how they got that police car up there in the first place at the IHTFP Gallery.
From MIT, it’s a short T-ride to Harvard Square. A leafy walk through historic Harvard Yard gets you to the Sackler Museum and their massive collection of ancient art from Europe, Africa, and Asia, plus several galleries of modern art on loan from the Fogg Museum, now closed for renovation. The 1927 tuxedoed self-portrait of Max Beckmann is as wry and dry as the best Grey Goose martini.
It’s another short stroll to Harvard’s Museum of Natural History, home to a 42-foot Kronosaurus, an enormous Triceratops, and whale skeletons big enough to stand up in. Kids murmur “cool” as they run their hands over real meteors from outer space and peer into a 1,642-pound amethyst geode. I’m charmed by the museum’s collection of 3,000 glass Blashka flowers, minutely detailed models created at the turn of the 19th century as teaching aids ”” amazing. In short: the Harvard museums are a gas.
On the Boards
I bid a fond au revoir to Cambridge with a matinee performance at A.R.T., the American Repertory Theatre, of Marie Antoinette, “Heads Will Roll” – just the kind of barbed tragi-comedy I’m in the mood for. If your idea of comedy includes a mean girl’s descent into madness. Ricardo Hernandez’s set design is elegant and vibrant , the shocking palette works. The costumes and lighting are brilliant, and Marie herself doesn’t disappoint. In a word: GO.
Art Soaked Retreat
When I’m in the mood for an arty and enlightening getaway, Cambridge is at the top if my list. Leave the car at home – it’s a couple of stops via the T (red line) across the Charles to the intriguing parallel universe that is Boston’s Left Bank. Enjoy!
Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com.
Ah, Rockland. This lovely seaside town on Penobscot Bay in Maine has both the salty soul of a working waterfront and a nifty hipster vibe. “Rock City” could be the poster child for the creative economy’s power to heal and restore, with a vibrant museum and gallery scene, amazing restaurants, bustling boutiques and enough lobster and lighthouses for the tourist crowd.
Galleries and Museums
Galleries and studios open their doors each month to First Friday Art Walks, as does the venerable Farnsworth Museum. Their current exhibition, Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent and Monhegan, runs all summer. Wyeth’s connection to Monhegan dates back to trips with his father Andrew in the 1950s, and his association with Rockwell Kent goes back nearly as far. The exhibition features works from the craggy Maine island that inspired them all.
The Island Institute’s high-end crafts support local artisans, and their Archipelago Gallery shows works exclusively by Maine artists. Henry Isaacs’ Lessons from an Island is up through July. Be among the first to see the latest works by Eric Hopkins at his gallery on Winter Street. Don’t miss Harbor Square Gallery’s rooftop garden with contemporary sculpture and stunning views of Rockland’s breakwater and lighthouse, Owls Head, and Vinalhaven. Climb the stairs and prepare to be dazzled.
The historic brick downtown offers Fiore olive oils and vinegars flavored with herbs and citrus-try the blood orange. Rockland’s witty Wine Seller says, “If it tastes good it is,” and holds monthly tastings to prove it. My retail therapy of choice is Caravans on Main Street. Tourists and locals shop ‘til they drop at the quirky, locally owned Grasshopper Shop where you can find everything from wind-chimes to woodenware.
Where to Stay
The Old Granite Inn is a favorite B&B and a perfect base to explore Rockland’s arty ambiance. Overlooking the harbor, the inn’s contemporary style blends family antiques and mid-century modern furniture. Bright paintings and books line the living room, which opens onto an airy, Bauhaus-y dining room. Upscale and uncluttered guest rooms have great views of Rockland Harbor, free WiFi, and fireplaces.
Breakfast at the inn is fresh and locally sourced-savor Joan’s “egg nests” topped with lobster, her sweet Maine blueberry crepes, or Ed’s cheesy strata. The aroma of coffee from Rock City Roasters will summon the sleepiest guest to the table. This environmentally certified inn is both family- and pet-friendly. Best of all, innkeepers Ed and Joan are friendly, savvy, and genuine.
Music and Theater
Check out the historic Strand Theatre, whose summer happenings include a music series for First Friday art walks. July 6 brings the Sweetback Sisters’ swinging brand of honky-tonk rockabilly all the way from Brooklyn. August 3 will bring the Occidental Gypsy quintet, pioneers of up-tempo gypsy-pop. Concerts are free and family-friendly, with sustenance, beer, and wine for sale.
Bay Chamber Concerts summer series brings Movies and Music to the Strand Theatre with three classic silent films and original scores performed live. Jazz royalty returns with the Brubeck Brothers and their combination of Brubeck classics and new works. Concerts continue through August at the Farnsworth’s beautiful Wyeth Gallery with works by Schubert, Beethoven, Haydn, Rameau, and Handel.
Enjoy music three nights a week at Rock City Cafe & Bookstore, Rockland’s unofficial Town Hall. Don’t miss their mussels-and-beer tastings. And I’m really looking forward to the North Atlantic Blues Festival, two days of great music and a seaworthy pub-crawl overlooking the harbor-“blues with a view.”
Bike past lakes, lighthouses and lobsterboats with Rockland’s Lobster Ride and Roll, capped by a lobster roll lunch. Get a prime spot on the mile of Rockland’s breakwater for a bird’s-eye view of the Windjammer Parade and see the whole fleet. Endless fresh lobster plus maritime displays and cruises rock the Rockland Lobster Festival each year. The Boats and Harbors show has 70 boats in the water and 150 exhibitors on land and boasts the “world championship boatyard dog trials.” Seriously.
What to Eat
In Good Company restaurant is an elegant spot for a casual upscale meal or special occasion. Diners are bathed in candlelight and tantalizing aromas from the kitchen. Chef Melody Wolfertz’s go-to summer preparations include a Lobster Cobb salad and her delicate crab and white-bean gazpacho. I’m a glutton for her “molten” baked Brie in all its seasonal variations.
The magical farm-to-table flavors at Primo are definitely worth the splurge. Locally foraged and farmed, Primo has been winning awards and turning heads for 13 years. Set against the craggy Maine coast, chef Melissa Kelly makes magic with sunchokes, beets, ramps and herbs, herbs, herbs. Try the wood-fired pizza with roasted garlic, grilled Vidalias, herbs, fresh cheeses and arugula. Maybe they’ll throw on a little house-cured prosciutto. This food is as tasty as it is gorgeous.
Despite all its sophistication, Rockland manages to feel authentic, not gentrified – as different as starfish and Starbucks. For a daytrip or weekend, Rock City rocks.
For more information check out the Rockland Event Calendar
Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com.
In 1979, I landed in Portland, Maine, a gritty tidal treasure of brick wharf buildings, cobblestone streets, and working waterfront overlooking beautiful Casco Bay. In the historic Old Port and downtown Arts District is a vibrant and flourishing dining scene. The new green markets, CSAs (community shared agriculture) and local-food movement are growing in strength and popularity. Even for long-time residents like me, Portland can still delight and astonish.
Portland’s ever-changing restaurant scene is rumored to now be second only to San Francisco. Some of my favorites: Duckfat‘s Belgian fries, Fore Street‘s mussels, The Front Room‘s poached eggs with gnocchi and spinach. And don’t forget Emilitsa‘s chicken livers: savory and delicious, with a glass of crisp Cambas. There is always a new place just opening around the corner or across town, many find a way to become part of the city’s ongoing love affair with good food – to impress, beguile, and remain.
This small city’s many chefs, bakers, farmers and food enthusiasts – amateur and professional – collaborate, conspire, and compete to create a rich food scene. The farm-to-table movement has taken root here with people from around the world fascinated by the specific brand of sustainable agriculture in an decidedly unforgiving climate.
Last year, we hosted Tuscan chef Nicola Bochicchio of restaurant Officina della Cucina Popolare in Siena, Italy. Portland wowed Nicola and his wife, Chiara – Tuscan locavores – with Portland’s fresh take on local fare. Their refrain: “We need more time here!”
Several years ago, friends visited from New York. I asked if they enjoyed the Portland Museum of Art. That was okay, they said, but could they tell me about the duck frisee salad at Hugo’s restaurant. Did they visit the Old Port and explore the galleries and boutiques? Yes, but could they first tell me about the pork belly at Fore Street. It began to dawn that Portland was suddenly on the culinary map. Here’s a sampling of Portland’s Epicurious Pioneers:
Fore Street Restaurant [Map]
Sam Hayward of Fore Street restaurant blazed an early trail. “Good food travels the shortest distance,” Sam said, well before it was fashionable. Late nights with friends over big sizzling pans of mussels, roasted over a wood fire with butter, herbs, vermouth, and the surprising crunch of almonds – ridiculously rich and flavorful.
We ordered most of Fore Street’s bar menu last week over Cold River martinis in their comfy bar – wood-grilled foie gras, robust lamb heart confit, duck paté, a tangle of crunchy organic Maine greens, and the legendary mussels. Confirmed: They’re still wonderful.
Hugo’s Restaurant [Map]
Hugo’s Restaurant celebrates Maine’s native fare with award winning chef Rob Evans. Try his grilled Scottish salmon, roasted duck or locally sourced meats – perfection. Across the street at DuckFat, Evans celebrates the humble Maine potato by frying it in duck fat, twice(!) for incredible richness and flavor. Try the Belgian fries with horseradish mayo, garlic aioli or truffle ketchup – wow.
Note: Both Hayward and Evans are James Beard award winners and have received countless kudos locally and “from away.”
“Travel far. Eat well. Live long.” Words to live by and the tagline of Vervacious, an intriguing, slightly exotic addition to the waterfront food scene of Portland. Their artisanal culinary condiments include balsamic drizzles, Fleur de Sel, grilling rubs, specialty sauces and amazing mignonettes. Even the packaging is beautiful. Check out our delicious recent arrival, Vervacious!
Friends recently invited us to join them at LFK, a new bar in an old bookstore in Longfellow Square. The huge windows in front, high ceilings, handcrafted tables and old typewriters give it a nifty, writerly vibe. Paintings of Longfellow decorate the men’s room (I looked), and Emily Dickenson’s “After great pain, a formal feeling comes–” winds all the way around the bar. I love the L-Squared, a refreshing iced shandy made with Maine Mead Works Lavender Mead, lemonade, and soda. The rich LFK burger with garlic mayo and cheddar has a growing legion of fans – we are now among them. With a Reverse Happy Hour and Late Night Handheld Food Specials, the place is a quirky addition to the salty seaside flavors of Portland, Maine.