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.

Jeff Landry of Farmer’s Table, Eric Flynn of Haraseeket Inn, Shannon Bard of Zapoteca, and Kevin Walsh of Earth At Hidden Pond (from left to right)

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.

Sustainable Show-Down

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.

Longfellow Square and LFK Restaurant (photo courtesy Nathaniel Meiklejohn)

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.”

Vervacious [Map]

“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!

LFK [Map]

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.