A $100 Day of Love in Portland

Stretching the Valentine dollar into a full day eating and hanging out in Portland, Maine.

The Hallmark-sanctioned day of romance is right around the corner and food bloggers around town are writing about love stinking and where to go to avoid the love-dovey among us. As one of the lovey-dovey, I’ve decided to diverge. Read on (if you dare) as I blather on about stretching the Valentine dollar into an all-day date.

Sure I could (and certainly have been known to) throw down a wad (say $200) for a marvelous prixe fixe dinner with pre-meal cocktails, pricey wine and tip in Portland.  But if you, like me, are both watching your nickels and wishing for more together time you’ll need to be more creative this year. So what’s a happily hitched couple to do? Well, Adam and I have set aside half that aforementioned dinner wad to spend for a full day of fun, gifts and noshing. Here’s our agenda:

1. First, we’ve postponed the celebration until March 2. Sharp-eyed folks will immediately note that is the next First Friday. We’re taking the day off.

2. After sleeping in (what would that be like?), we’ll stroll over to Bard ’round 10:00 to kick-start our day with caffeine and sugar. I’ll have an large Ethiopian drip and he’ll have a large latte. We’ll each have a Holy Donut and canoodle on the leather couch. Cost: $9.50

3. After sipping slowly and marveling at the pure heaven that is Holy Donut’s chocolate glazed, we’ll head over to Find at 11:00-ish to, well, find Adam a “new” tee-shirt. This cool vintage consignment store often features gently worn Rouges Gallery tees for between $10-$20. Projected cost: $12

4. We’ll trip back across the street to the Nickelodeon and catch a matinee. Perhaps an arty-farty flick that recently won an Oscar (remember, this is March 2). Cost: $12

5. Peckish after a movie without popcorn, we’ll amble off to the Portland Public Market and up the stairs to Kamasouptra. If it’s on the menu that day, I’ll choose the “creamy with a kick” Red Pepper Gouda. Adam the Clam Chowder. Other sublime choices: Cream of Broccoli and Veggie Chili.  Cost: $11

6. Once we’ve slurped our soups, people watched and read the Phoenix from cover to cover, we’ll continue up Congress to Material Objects. My turn for something “new to me.” As spring is around the corner, I’ll opt for a flirty skirt. Projected cost: $10

7. First Friday will be beginning to bustle as we pop out the door at 5:00. We’ll check out Rose Contemporary, Space, MECA and more before heading to Portland Museum of Art, where we’ll take our time perusing Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, the museum’s first major Degas exhibit (February 23 – May 28). Cost: Free

8. Nearing 8:00, we’ll attempt to wedge ourselves into the bar at Enzo and order two slices of Otto and a beer each. I’ve developed a weird affinity for the ever-present Mashed Potato, Bacon and Scallion. Cost: $26

9. We’ll split a bottle of Lunch (Maine Beer Company’s herby, awesome IPA) and end the evening listening to a folk, jazz or blues artist (looks like it will be Roving Soul on March 2), and First Friday favs, Okbari at Blue. Total with tips (bartender and artists): $20

Blogger’s Note: For more Valentine suggestions, check out the round-up on Portland Food Map.

Much ado about a fast food burger

Okay. I’ll try and keep this in perspective. The double-pattied burger was pretty tasty and was certainly light-years better than most fast food burgers. I mean, unlike my last Burger King experience (years ago) it didn’t cause massive gastrointestinal distress or make me feel like I’d swallowed a pregnant gerbil.

The grand logo of Elevation Burger.

I appreciate the company’s organic, fresh philosophy and commitment to producing food that can’t sit on a counter for a year and remain virtually unchanged.

The use of bamboo, sorghum and recycled materials in the store architecture itself and other sustainable practices (such as donating waste oil and use of post-consumer content paper) are admirable. And, the optional ingredient list earned my respect right off the bat. You sure won’t find caramelized onions, balsamic mustard and hot pepper relish at Wendy’s.

Bottom line: It truly is a good option for a quick bite if you happen to be in the Maine Mall area.

But it ain’t no In-N-Out Burger.

I feel Elevation Burger, with a newly opened franchise on Westbrook Ave., goes awry on a few fronts.

1. The Beef. I get the idea. Less saturated fat, blah, blah, blah. But organic, grass-fed cows don’t really make the best meat for a burger. It works beautifully for steaks, but – IMHO – burgers depend on a good mix of beef and fat mixed together. Without a healthy dose of fat, the hamburger tastes kinda empty. When I plucked a chunk of the meat away from all the fixins, my reaction was, “Meh.”

2. The Fries. The olive oil fries (again, I appreciate the gesture) were flat-out soggy and tasted like oil rather than good, fresh potato. In-N-Out’s approach of cooking fries in 100% pure, cholesterol-free vegetable oil produces a crisper, more flavorful fry.

The double-pattied Elevation Burger.

3. The Price. I was a tad tweaked that I had to pay an extra $.40 for the good cheddar cheese. This brought my burger and fries alone to $9.00 before tax. Not to say it’s not worth the price compared to other fast food restaurants, but for $4.00 more I could be enjoying crispy hand cut fries and noshing an awesome, medium rare burger in a brioche bun right in downtown Portland (granted, no tip is necessary at Elevation).

I’m willing to say that my expectations were too high. Perhaps 13 years in San Francisco enjoying In-N-Out corrupted me. I really do give Elevation props for their “closest thing to healthy” approach and general commitment to sustainability, but why not go all the way and remove the high fructose corn syrup from the premises? A whiz-bang high tech soda machine does offer seltzer water as an option among the Coke products (great for someone like me who shuns traditional soda), but why not a healthier approach on that front?

When you’re running to Home Depot or a movie and feel peckish, there are many worse options than Elevation Burger. The burger WAS pretty good. And, you could feel about good eating it. I guess that is what really matters. Besides, the closest In-N-Out is in Nevada.

For other perspectives on Elevation Burger, read the write-ups at The Blueberry Files, Chubby Werewolf, and Edible Obsessions.

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Tasting the Holiday Spirit(s) – Round 3

Vrylena's contribution: Whispers of the Frost

It didn’t sneak up on me this year. I planned, recruited cohorts to bring cocktails, secured last-minute kitchen help (thank you S.!), invited new bloggers, and – in an uncharacteristic flash of Martha Stewart-like craftiness – made a center piece. Don’t know what that was about. . .

In year three, Obscure Holiday Cocktails officially became a tradition.

S. outdid herself (again) with cheese pairings, and the cocktails kicked ass! Seriously. All (at least to my taste) were great. So much so, that I actually got a little nostalgic about the gnarly Grinch and the revolting Christmas Pudding – ghosts of cocktail parties past.

But on to the details of 2011:

First Up – Christmas Bellringer
My contribution was this citrusy, boozy little number. A cousin to last year’s tropical crowd pleaser, The Ulimate Holiday, the Bellringer was tart with a nutty edge. More complex than a Screwdriver, but orange-juicy and pleasant, it’s the kind of drink that sneaks up on you. Again, more Santa Monica than Santa Claus, but whose judging? Methinks the dark of early December makes me crave the beach.

Fixin’s:
1 oz Gin
1 oz Cointreau
1 oz Frangelico
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
Orange twist

Pairing: Caprichio De Cabra, a Spanish goat cheese high in fat and protein plowed through the drink’s tart sweetness and draped my tongue in a happy hug.
Bottom Line: The fruity cointreau and the nutty frangelico totally mask the gin. Proceed carefully.

Next – Greek Airmail
A. twisted this vintage spirit around with a liquor from his heritage (the Greek Metaxa subbed for rum) and produced a fragrant winner. Earthy from the biting tonic and bitters, sweet from the honey, tart from the lime and fresh from the mint. Balanced is the word. Much like the man, himself.

1-1/2 oz Metaxa
3/4 oz Lime juice
1 oz Honey
Splash Q Tonic
Dash of bitters
Muddled mint

Pairing: England’s Keen’s cheddar – more nutty than sharp – added one more dimension to the flavor frenzy. Nice.
Bottom Line:
A terrific aperitif. I recommend it as a start to an evening.

Kate stirs the Tom & Jerry's.

Then – Lion’s Pride
Adam took delicious liberties with a seasonal tipple revealed by the bartender at Brunswick’s beer mecca. Hence the name. Very, very adult with a peppery finish, this frothy concoction won my heart. It featured bitters (a popular ingredient this year) and was like nothing I’ve sipped before. Herbal, with a smooth base from the egg white, it rolled around in my mouth like a savory sauce until the twin kicks of lime and pepper asserted themselves. Sublime.

Fixin’s:
1 oz St.Germain
1 oz Gin
Portion of egg white
Dash Peychaud Bitters
Lime juice
Shake and top with lime zest and black pepper

Pairing: Valencay, a goat’s milk covered in ash, was a grown up cheese for a grown up drink. Instead of countering the Lion’s Pride’s flavors, it matched them. Brilliant.
Bottom Line: Classic yet original. Smooth yet spicy. If only folks referred to me this way!

And Then – Whispers of the Frost
I adore the name (so, granted, I was predisposed) but Vrylena’s beverage continued the evening’s winning streak. Culled from Old Mr. Boston De Luxe Official Bartender’s Guide (I sense V is just as enamored by such-titled things as I) this delicately named drink is anything but. Powered sugar and citrus barely tame three dark, potent alcohols. Subtle it is not. But truly luscious. It went straight to my head.

1 oz Bourbon
1 oz Sherry
1 oz Port
Dash of Powdered Sugar
Serve with slices of lemon and orange

Pairing: My pick for best pairing of the night. A Bayley Hazen Blue stared the high alcohol content of Whispers of the Frost right in the eye and didn’t back down.
Bottom Line: A couple of these and you’ll be ho ho ho-ing. Ergo, this cocktail is not advisable for office parties.

Finally – Tom & Jerry
Kate continued her nog-ish ways again this year with a creamy warm Tom & Jerry.  Two years ago, I dissed the Rye Flip for being an anemic cousin to Egg Nog. Tom & Jerry caused me to reconsider that assessment. Like the flip, it’s thinner and less weighty than nog, but offers the same velvety, pie-like spice that saucily chortles, “Christmas.”  Without the heaviness.

12 eggs
1 Cup Sugar
1 Bottle Brandy
Ground allspice
Ground cinnamon
Ground cloves
Dark rum
Milk
Nutmeg

Pairing: S. rightly skipped the cheese this round and presented us with not one, but TWO, delectable homemade chocolates: Ghost Chili Salt Bark (with salt from Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants in Dresden, ME) and Guittard Chocolate with Candied and Roasted Marcona Almonds and Sea Salt. Yes, the women is my hero.
Bottom Line: A lovely way to end a lovely evening.

Other highlights? S. brought the best deviled eggs I’ve ever had the honor of devouring and Steffi (the awesome owner of Schulte & Herr) popped in for the Christmas Bellringer round and left behind (bless her) a plate of her restaurant’s signature lox. All and all, a successful night of imbibing, noshing and gaiety.

Blogger’s Note: Check out the insights and thoughts of the other participants at their blogs at the links above!

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Book Review O-Rama: Odd Bits

Granted, I’d never cooked a pig’s head until a few weeks ago (more on that below), but offal has been an awfully big part of my life for years (as have shanks, livers and marrow). Brains and tongues of various creatures enliven trips abroad, and sojourns to Au Pied du Cochon for its namesake dish fill my calendar whenever possible.

A great holiday gift for serious cooks.

I was even born into eating bits. A “whole animal” philosophy has governed my, um – let’s say “down home” – south Georgia relatives for decades.

So Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal seemed right down my alley for this food blogger “o-rama” assignment (Made possible by our friends at Rabelais. Also, check out other books and reviews here). A cookbook dedicated to poaching, roasting, braising, and stewing the wobbly, dense, bony, protruding and down-right weird parts of animals?

Sign me up.

So what did I think of it?

The review part

For the most part, I loved it. Author Jennifer McLagan (renown scribe of James Beard Award-winning, Fat) presents most recipes with charming personal stories and clever insight.  A dish for Navarin (lamb cheek stew) reads as a wistful love letter to her dear French friends Ted and Giselle (Their English. . .was so full of wonderful 40’s slang I felt like I was in a black and white movie”) while also crisply instructing (“Pat the lamb cheeks dry and season well with salt and pepper.”).

Quotes from other notable food writers and chefs sprinkle each chapter with whimsy, gravity – or a wink and a nod (“Chef Daniel used to say that they should have the feel of a firm, young breast.” – Susan Spicer, referring to the thymus gland of a calf.)

Interim sections discuss the culinary origins and historic uses of such funky animal nether-regions as the cockscomb. Did you know the wiggly red growth crowning a chicken’s head was a favorite of Catherine de Medicis, wife of French king Francois I? Now you do.

Best of all, McLagan makes every recipe sound manageable – be they challenging, day-long adventures or quick dinners. Many re-imagine the common with odd bits. Ravoli of Brains and Morels, for example, sounds simple and succulent. While copping to it as a way to sneak brain to the unsuspecting, she insists that the recipe also plays to calf brains’ rich texture. I’ve dog-eared that page for a future meal – if I can find brain anywhere in the mad-cow fearing US!

From blood sausages to goat shoulder to several preparations of the much-maligned tripe, McLagan tackles it all. Some recipes made Adam cringe in the reading (Testicles with Caramelized Onion and Double Smoked Bacon) and others barely qualify as “odd bitty” (Wild Boar Shanks with Cranberries and Chocolate). One I’m particularly looking forward to trying is Pig’s Tail and Rabbit Stew. Not only does the combination of mild meat and flavorful fat sound delicious, but I cracked up at her frank instruction, “If your rabbit comes with its head, add it in with any trimmings to the stew.”

My only issue with the book was the long, dual-purpose “preaching to the choir while scolding the unbelieving” introduction. It set me on edge. Perhaps not every reader considers sweetbreads a staple like I do, but surely those who would pluck this tome off the shelf would be cognizant of humane animal husbandry, no? Do we really need paragraphs lecturing us about how “today we are so removed from the sources of our food that we rarely think of meat coming from living, breathing animals.” I think not.

Head of the beast

To test McLagan’s recipes, I decided to dive into the deep end and roast what she calls a “cornucopia of odd bits” – the pig’s head. Or, rather, my friend Evelyn decided and I decided I was up for it! In fact, Adam and I took a back seat to these foodie phenom friends (Evelyn – who researched and purchased the head – and her husband, David) and we tackled the challenge in their commercial kitchen in Vermont. The night before Thanksgiving (crazy, I know). While the fat level in the head makes pork belly seem like child’s play, the flavor is superb. Jowl, brain and snout are greasy-luscious gifts from the Gods. Crisp cheek skin and ears are an adult (and MUCH better!) version of pork rinds.

While I’ve included McLagan’s ingredients below, for cooking instruction, I highly recommend this video of acclaimed chef Fergus Henderson doing the deed.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pig’s head (about 5-1/4 pounds)
  • Course sea salt and ground pepper
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons lard
  • 2 Vidalia or other sweet onions, halved and thickly sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme, 4 large rosemary springs, 4 juniper berries, crushed
  • 4 cups poultry stock
  • 4 cardamom pods, 2 star anise (broken into bits)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds and 1 small dried red chile
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or verjuice
  • 1 bunch watercress, trimmed

Here’s our story in pictures:

Evelyn pulls the head out of the fridge

David frees her from plastic. Evelyn named her "tres cher," which I misheard as Cher at first!



Evelyn thanks tres cher properly while Adam looks on.

I wash off extra hairy bits from her teeth and jowl area.

She's ready to hit the oven.

A final baste and she's done.

Adam eats the eye. Doesn't he look thrilled!

Maxed out on fat!

We save the rest for stock and such.

Baking with a Maine Stout

I was thwarted from the beginning. How could it possibly have turned out well?

My final stout choices - Sebago and Rising Tide

Let me explain.

My chosen Maine beverage for this joint-blogger post proved an elusive prey. I hunted it at RSVP, Maine Beer & Beverage at the Public Market, Whole Foods, and Downeast Beverage. I even called friends intending to pilfer their coffers. To no avail.

Maine Beer Company’s Mean Old Tom Stout was apparently hiding in the bush (at least from November 9-11).

Aged in vanilla beans with a creamy head and roasty nose, I could just taste it’s coffee-ish, toasty malt in the Orange Chocolate Stout Cake recipe (below) I was borrowing from Evil Shenanigans. Her clever description and love of beer had inspired me. I was convinced Mean Old Tom was just the ticket to make her recipe sing.

Sigh. It wasn’t to be.

After half a day pondering my next move, I plodded back to the store and purchased a special Sebago Lake Trout Stout (aged in bourbon barrels) and *Rising Tide’s Ursa Minor (a weizen stout). I have to admit, in my deflated state I wasn’t giving these nice beers their due. Thirty minutes of searching my kitchen for my 8-inch cake pans put me in an even fouler mood. Apparently they were hiding with Tom. Grumpily, I grabbed the 16-inch sheet cake pan, hastily chose the Sebago and began baking.

Music cranked, measuring cups clanked. I slipped into baking mode and relaxed. Zesting the orange made me particularly happy. Bright fruit tickled my nose as I danced around to Guster and began whisking. A lick of the batter had me hoping again. Bitter notes from the bourbony beer and the sassy citrus blended well. That extra kick of vanilla I was hoping for from Tom became beside the point.

35 minutes in the oven, 10 minutes of cooling and I appeared to have a lovely confection. A nibble from the corner revealed a spongey, moist crumb. Nice.

The cavernous crack in the cake.

That’s when I made a crucial error in judgment.

Focused like a laser on stirring butter into darkness for the Brown Butter Frosting, I called Adam to help remove the cake from the pan per instruction.

Now, Adam’s a great chef, but he’s not a baker and I should have known better than to ask him for assistance. His food is fabulous, but he slams around the kitchen like a bear. Instead of gently prying the cake from the pan, he chose to flip it onto a plate. You can see the caverous split down the middle in the photo (left). At this crucial juncture I knew it would mean dryness, and I struggled not to slug him.

After banishing him from the kitchen and finishing the frosting, I gingerly flipped the cake over into another plate, layered on the icing and cut a slice.

The result? Not bad, but not as I had hoped. The cake was indeed a tad dry from the manhandling and the frosting proved too cloying for my taste. Sweet-tooths would love it, though.

To add insult to injury, that’s when A. called with the news – Whole Foods had just restocked Mean Old Tom.

Drat!

Evil Shenanigans’ Orange Chocolate Stout Cake (Yield 8-10 servings)

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
  • 1 cup stout beer, at room temperature
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For the frosting:

Adding the stout to the wet ingredients

  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter
  • 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup whole milk

Instructions

  • Heat the oven to 350 F and spray two 8″ cake pans with non-stick cooking spray.
  • In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
  • In a medium bowl combine the melted butter, beer, eggs, orange zest, orange juice, and vanilla.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk until well combined and no large lumps of flour remain.  Do not over-mix.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center springs back when lightly pressed.  Let the cakes cool in the pan for ten minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.
  • While the cake cools prepare the frosting.
  • In a small pan over medium heat brown the butter until it is nut brown.  Be sure to stir the butter constantly.  Allow the butter to cool to room temperature.
  • Beat the butter, powdered sugar and vanilla until combined.  Add the milk, a little at a time, until you reach your preferred spreading consistency.
  • Place one of the cakes on your serving plate, or board.  Spread 1/3 of the frosting evenly over the cake.  Top with the second cake.  Spread 1/2 of the remaining frosting evenly on the top, making sure you go all the way to the edge, then frost the sides with the remaining frosting.

Blogger’s note: Visit Portland Food Map for a round-up and links to other blogger’s experiences cooking or baking with a Maine-made beverage.

*BTW – Rising Tide recently released a new black ale with smoky notes called Atlantis. Killer!

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Yakitori!!

Yakitori is now served at Pai Men Miyake.

Planned a “catch up” dinner with my pal A. from Portland Food Map last night and his suggestion of Pai Men Miyake proved inspired.

It was the restaurant’s first night serving Yakitori (A. swears he didn’t know!) and we happily gnawed away on charred crisp bits of Kawa (chicken skin), Reba (chicken liver) and pork intestine.

Yakitori literally means “grilled chicken,” but refers generally to skewered meats cooked on a skinny open-flame grill just wide enough to char the meat without setting the wood skewers aflame.

Pai Men offers quite a lengthy list of chicken, duck, pork and beef yakitori. More than 15 skewer choices ranging in price from $2.00 to $7.00. Only wish I’d had the presence of mind to snap a shot of the menu!

On this first visit, our favorite was the chicken liver — which rivals the stunning preparation at Emilitsa in that “close your eyes and imagine yourself hand fed by a Persian prince” kinda way.  All three choices, however, were rich, oily and pungent. The way animal parts and innards should be.

A great addition to solid restaurant that keeps getting better and better. I’m looking forward to trying the beef tongue skewer next.

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Fall into Winter Favorites

As the temps drop my focus shifts to comfort food. The stewed and brothy. The ample and starchy. The earthy and rich. I scan menus for things I’d never consider in warmer weather. Cheesy noodles. Heavy sauces.

The Remedy. A wonderful cocktail at Kennebunk's 50 Local

I know, I know – I’m hardly alone in this. And, of course, restaurants embrace the season and showcase their heartier options. Never-the-less I humbly offer a little list of my four latest “fall into winter” favorites – two from here in Portland and two along coastal Maine.

And nary a one has meat!

Mushroom Tagliatelle
50 Local – Kennebunk
I’ve rarely tasted a better mushroom dish. Apparently, foraging fungi is a favorite pastime of chef David Ross and his 3-year-old son. It shows. Pungent earthy flavor and overtones of roasted garlic infuse every mouthful. Homemade tagliatelle pasta fresh and springy. Pecorino cheese adds a bonding creaminess.  While the mushrooms surely vary according to discovery, an online video of Ross shows him preparing the dish with black trumpets, hedgehog mushrooms, lobster mushrooms and chanterelles. Whatever the mixture, it’s truly marvelous. Dip in the restaurant’s thick and spongy focaccia bread and sip on a signature cocktail. It’s a cold weather meal to savor.

And, about that cocktail? If you’re like me and enjoy caramely liquors in the autumn and winter, don’t miss The Remedy – bourbon, cayenne simple syrup, lemon, and a gingered rim (see pic).

Ribollita
Ribollita – Portland
Okay, yes, this is their signature dish – available year round – but I only crave the hearty potage as late October arrives. Tuscany’s famous vegetable and bread soup is simmered to perfection at this Portland institution and warms me to my toes. As with everything that has peasant origins, the “from the earth” ingredients and basic presentation make Ribollita the ultimate comfort food. Pair it with the restaurant’s sizable Hearts of Romaine salad and a glass of Italian wine and you’ve got an affordable meal for around $20.


Shulte & Herr's spaetzle


Squash & Pesto Lasagna
Chase’s Daily – Belfast
We journeyed to the Midcoast for last Saturday’s Marshal Wharf Beer and Mussel Fest (totally worth the hangover) and – despite a swath of reserved tables – lucked into seats at Chase’s counter the night before. An acclaimed vegetarian breakfast and lunch destination, Chase’s only serves dinner on Friday’s. I’m hearby advising you to make reservations, stay the night and avail yourself of this lasagna. I’ve never, EVER raved about lasagna before. In fact, I didn’t even order it this time. I ate over half of Adam’s and have dreamed about the dish ever since. Layers of thin and crisped wide noodles housed “fresh from the farm” golden squash, spinach, cheese and a light pesto. Seemingly so simple, but stunning. A side of crispy kale also was spot on. On second thought, skip the reservation and sit at the counter. Soak in Chase’s “boho” vibe and enjoy the view of the kitchen.

Spaetzle
Schulte & Herr – Portland
I’ve loved every morsel I’ve eaten at this new German gem, but the Spaetzle takes the prize for “things I really want when it’s cold and rainy.”  The pile of swirly egg noodles topped with chives may not look like much (see pic), but it’s a filling feast that will pleasantly expand your stomach and make you crave a nap.  Carmelized onions and ementhal cheese (a type of Swiss) shift Schulte & Herr’s version to the sweet side, so I advise balancing with the crisp cucumber salad doused with dill.

Blogger’s Note: Check out Kate’s list of Fall & Winter drinks at The Blueberry Files.

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Wunderbar!!

I haven’t been this excited about something German since they reintroduced the Volkswagen Beetle.

Schulte & Herr's fantastic lox and potato pancakes

Just three blocks from my house – under a lime green awning – is the new culinary object of my affection.

Schulte & Herr.

Run by the former Fräulein Schulte and her husband Herr Herr (no kidding!), this breakfast and lunch joint serves hearty heaps of homemade food straight from Berlin. Having never fullfilled my fantasy of a Bavarian getaway, I have no idea how authentic it is.  But judging by her accent and the sheer marvelousness of the dishes – it’s spot on.

My first encounter was a lunch of bratwurst, sauerkraut, German potato salad and a side of beets. All for the ridiculously reasonable price of $12. I was blown away by the generous portions and the pungent sharpness of the sauerkraut. This is no Americanized “dog cart kraut.” A tart punch and a hefty fullness kick it into another realm. Sizable chunks of skin-on red potatoes bless the creamy salad, and beets of both ruby and gold sparkle with pickled perfection.

It truly was surprising that I polished it off, as I couldn’t keep myself from snarfing the homemade rye bread that preceded my meal.

A second lunch was a $10 daily special that featured two chubby beef mounds that resembled burgers, but tasted like meatloaf. Paired with pickles and an enormous pile of mashed potatoes (that miraculously can be described as both “velvety” and “chunky”), it filled me up so much that I skipped dinner.

The vibrant awning of Schulte & Herr in Portland, Maine.

But it was my first breakfast at Schulte & Herr that moved me from fan to neighborhood regular. Melt-on-your-tongue house cured lox ($9) had me at first bite. Cured in salt, sugar and orange juice and edged with a thick fringe of fresh dill, it elicited a long breathy “oh my” that started in my brain and hissed from my mouth in a loving growl. Pile it on a forkful of crackly potato pancakes with a swab of the horseradish sauce, capers and slices of gherkin pickles and you’ve got yourself a mini tower of heaven.

Next I’m gunning for the Bergmannkiez, a German breakfast plate that includes sliced hams, two kinds of cheese, jam, fruit, and a bread basket for $10.

In addition to the outstanding cuisine, the service from Frau Herr couldn’t be more charming. As the frontwoman of the two-person operation, she’s warmly welcoming and prompt with water and coffee refills. She and American-born chef Herr have years of restaurant experience in the kitchens of Berlin and western Massachusetts, but – thankfully – decided to put down roots and open their own place here. They arrived in May and opened their Cumberland Street bistro just a few weeks ago.

Not only does Schulte & Herr brighten Portland’s food scene with a solid “old world” European option, it also brightens Bayside – a place blessed with Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but cursed with a dearth of good restaurants.

As a Bayside resident, I couldn’t be more thrilled.

My only complaints are that the coffee is a bit weak and that they are closed on the brunchiest of days – Sunday. But I guess they deserve ONE day off!

Schulte & Herr on Urbanspoon

Portland Breakfast on the “Go”

The item varies. It depends on the precise hour. Some things are best (or only available) at a certain tick of the morning clock. But the place is always the same. When someone says “breakfast on the go” in Portland – I can only picture myself strolling out of one glass door – fresh pastry in hand.

Standard Baking Company's absolutely perfect almond crossiant

It’s not original, but it is classic: Standard Baking Co.

7:00 breakfast: Morning bun with nuts. Always my choice if I’m there when the door creaks open. Sticky, oozy warm. Nuts still crunchy and pert. A perfect counterpoint to the SBC dark coffee – roasted special by CBD.

8:00 breakfast: Gingerbread. Though available from minute one, the gingerbread (for my money) is best an hour in. Icing top has had time to harden and form a crackly hat, and the moist, dense cake has cooled just enough to let the ginger flavor shine past the sweet. Lovely.

9:15 breakfast: Almond croissant. Don’t even think you’re gonna get one any earlier than this. I’ve learned that hard lesson. My favorite item by a nose, the almond croissant fits best for me as a “sleep-in day” ritual. Sundays more often than not. Arrive a tad past 9:00 and you’ll catch them coming out of the oven – the marzipan center melty from steam. Mass of almonds on top toasty crisp. One bite and you can sense loads of butter charging toward your arteries. But you frankly don’t give a damn.

10:00 breakfast: Chocolate cork. As an early riser, this falls more into the category of “breakfast dessert” or “sweet brunch” for me. Intense chocolate explodes oily rich, yet somehow light on the tongue – miraculously avoiding gumming up in your mouth like so many lesser brownie-ish things. Adam loves the cork and could write odes. If I come back from a stroll to Standard (no matter what the hour) without one, I get a steely stare full of hurt (and a touch of malice).

11:00 breakfast: Cheddar cheese scone. When the time pushes closer to noon, this cheesy, chivey option fits the bill. Not a scone fan by nature, I can’t get enough of Standard’s savory, flaky version. Not always available, I make sure and snag it when I see it.  Back home, perched on my kitchen stool, it’s awesome with a glass of cold milk.

Blogger’s note: Visit Portland Food Map for a round-up and links to other blogger reviews of favorite “Breakfast on the Go” places.

Standard Baking Co on Urbanspoon

A Very Pleasing “Pig”

After the anger subsided, I believe I openly wept – right there in the grocery store – when the stock boy confirmed what I’d feared.

Gotta love the sign at The Thirsty Pig in Portland!

Classico no longer offered “Italian Sausage with Fennel.”

Further research revealed the pasta sauce’s fate. The company had callously yanked it from the shelves – replacing it with the far more pedestrian “Italian Sausage with Peppers and Onions.

A sad, sad development in my book. This was years ago – before Adam and I steered toward homemade – and it still stings.

Why am I telling you this?

To establish just how serious I am about the marriage of fennel and pork. Truly one of life’s great twosomes – like Bogie and Bacall, or, dare I say, Will and Jada.

When I find this divine coupling I celebrate like Princess Beatrice with a new hat.

I chair danced like a fool at The Thirsty Pig.

The Exchange street purveyor of tasty pig parts slings a Sweet Italian that fairly bursts with fennel flavor. Slapped into a hot-pressed Italian roll and piled high with caramelized red peppers – it truly doesn’t get much better than this juicy, herbed-up sausage. A side of cole slaw also satisfies. Crisp strings of carrot and cabbage float in a light mayo puddle – a gaggle of poppy seeds swimming freely.

Adam tends toward the Lithuanian Kielbasa drenched with a tart sauerkraut. Although my local Lithuanian connection arches her eyebrow at the moniker Kielbasa (“for the Lithuanians, sausage is sausage…it’s what you do with the left-over pork”), the fat frank is winning none-the-less.

A tasty Greek Chicken sausage offers a slightly lighter option to the the pork links.

Slightly smoky from its steam bath in Shipyard Export, the kielbasa boasts hints of mustard seed and a hefty dose of garlic.

When I can be wooed away from the Sweet Italian, the Greek Chicken fits the bill with its veggie overtones of spinach and tomato. Topped with a healthy sprinkle of feta and pickled onions, it’s a great lighter option.  But the fowl is a bit drier than the swine, so I rarely diverge.

Links are hand made right here in the Forest City – soon to be made onsite. Menu items include a Veggie Dog, Classic Dog, Apple Chicken, BBQ Banger, and a handful of seafood selections (including a promising looking clam chowder).

While the beer list doesn’t (to my taste) represent the absolute BEST of the Pine State’s brews (why not Marshal Wharf?), it is good.  And, nothing beats sipping one on The Thirsty Pig’s back deck while sucking in a breath of fresh autumnal air as Maine summer slips into Fall.

Here’s hoping this affable, affordable – and very, VERY welcome – bar/bovine cafe stays put in Portland.

The Thirsty Pig on Urbanspoon

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