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