Lily O'Gara

Lily O'Gara

Updated cocktails, accessible fare: Old Port Sea Grill welcomes new chef

In a foodie city like Portland, restaurants sometimes come and go like the tide. The Old Port Sea Grill and Raw Bar, however, has been in business since 2002 and seems to be here to stay. In fact, the Grill just hired a new executive chef.

According to General Manager Justin C. St. Louis, guests can expect to experience an “elevated Old Port Sea Grill” in the coming weeks, as new Executive Chef Christopher Pierce takes the reins. Pierce, formerly of Denver, has an impressive resume: he’s staged at the prestigious Alinea in Chicago, and also worked for several Michelin-starred restaurants and under James Beard Award-winning chefs.

St. Louis said that Pierce’s interview speaks for itself. Usually, candidates provide a restaurant with a list of supplies needed to prepare their signature dishes. Pierce, however, made his with ingredients the Grill already had on hand, much like on the Food Network Show “Chopped,” St. Louis joked.

“The most important thing about his food is that it’s memorable,” St. Louis said.

Pierce has wholeheartedly embraced the restaurant’s philosophies, including fresh, simple preparation, St. Louis said, and will be adding dishes to the menu and making some changes in the near future. 

According to St. Louis, the secret to the restaurant’s longevity is consistent quality.

“We’re maintaining the philosophy of bringing in the freshest seafood,” St. Louis said, noting that this almost always means local.

The restaurant is not part of the “foodie movement,” St. Louis explained, but instead offers simple, quality fare and great value. It’s a comfortable place in which to kick back and relax on the weekends or to grab a drink after work.

“We have one of the best lobster rolls in town,” St. Louis said, noting that all of the crustaceans’ meat is packed into the menu item, rather than just claw meat, and that all of the rolls are made in-house.

One of the restaurant’s best sellers is the Maine lobster bake, a 1.5-pound lobster served with corn and clams. Oysters are also a huge seller, as is the salmon. The Grill procures its salmon from Faroe Island, off the coast of Scotland, where the most humane farming techniques are used.

“You can taste the difference,” St. Louis said.
St. Louis said that, personally, if he were to dine at the Grill, he would opt for the blood orange margarita, followed by shrimp cocktail and then either the lobster roll or the scallops, which are “grilled to perfection.”

St. Louis himself is relatively new and has been at the Grill for about three months, though he’s managed before, at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth and the SeaGrass Bistro in Yarmouth.

His main focus once starting at the Grill was to revamp the cocktail menu. St. Louis said it seemed almost out of date and “foreign.”

“We needed something that our guests can access,” St. Louis said.

The menu now reads like a love letter to the classics, with some personal twists. The Painkiller, a seasonal drink made with Pusser’s Rum, orange, pineapple, cream of coconut, and ground nutmeg, is one of the bestselling cocktails.

The Grill’s Happy Hour is unique because it runs from 3-6 p.m. every single day of the week. This means that you don’t have to be coming off of a stressful day at work to enjoy Happy Hour perks, which include $3 beers, $5 glasses of wine, $5 cosmos and Manhattans, and $2 oysters.

If you’re looking for a time-tested Portland classic with killer Happy Hour drinks (again, every day of the week) and authentic Maine seafood, get to Commercial St. stat. Not that there’s any rush- this restaurant is not going anywhere.


The Old Port Sea Grill and Raw Bar is located at 93 Commercial St. and is open Monday-Sunday from 11:30am until 9:00pm. For more information, visit oldportseagrill.com or call 207.879.6100.

North Point hospitality: Silver Street eatery builds repeat business

Dan Talmatch, owner of The North Point, said he often feels like Mr. Rogers. He shared this opinion while sitting on the sidewalk patio outside of the restaurant, after waving at about five passerby, including his produce vendor, several regulars, and even a few strangers.

“It’s what I love about Portland,” Talmatch said.

That Talmatch is friendly and hospitable is an understatement, and he passes these traits onto his business. In fact, part of the restaurant’s motto — Fine Food and Drink, Old Fashioned Friendly Service — hinges on this philosophy.

It’s The North Point’s easygoing staff and atmosphere, paired with an enticing menu, that is putting the Silver Street eatery and, indeed, Silver Street itself, on the map. A seat at the sophisticated bar, inside the artsy lounge area, or outside on the flowered walk is well worth the short five-minute walk from touristy Commercial Street. And while it’s a popular joint, its location means that fighting rowdy summer crowds for a seat is not the norm.

“Every night, there’s at least one or two couples that have never been here, never heard of us, they just happened by … and then they love it and they come back two nights in a row,” Talmatch said. “If I ever have a doubt about how popular we are or how popular we may become, it reminds me that there are still plenty of people we haven’t reached yet.”

The North Point is sandwiched in the middle of an old brick building, and the kitchen does not allow for open flame or a stove hood, which is “somewhat limiting” in terms of menu items, Talmatch said.

Looking at the menu, though, one feels anything but limited. Guests can build their own meat and cheese boards, or choose from “lite bites,” including savory salads, dips, and even items like nachos and chicken skewers. The North Point’s main entrees are its stuffed flatbread sandwiches, the most popular of which is the Maine Mushroom, which consists of “caramelized Portabella mushrooms, truffle oil, Feta, roasted shallots, and sundried Maine blueberries.” If that’s not up a diner’s alley, there’s a wide variety of flatbreads from which to choose, encompassing everything from pork to salmon to the “ultimate” grilled cheese.

“There are no smoke and mirrors,” Talmatch explained. “We wow with the service and quality of what we’re providing.

The beverage menu wows as well, with 10 quality red wines, 10 white, 10 rotating beer taps, and a sharp cocktail list, which includes the bestselling cucumber gin martini. Talmatch purchases torpedo kegs, smaller units that produce about 70 pints, and allow for smaller batches of local beer and more turnover. For example, the two current rotating beers are Foundation Afterglow and Rising Tide’s Ishmael Copper Ale. What will come next is a mystery to customers, perhaps adding to the allure of The North Point’s famed Happy Hour. On Mondays, from 6 p.m. on, diners can snag half-priced bottles of wine. Tuesdays bring $6 mojitos, and on Monday-Friday from 4-6 p.m., guests can enjoy $5 beers, $6 wines, $7 cocktails and select lite bites for $6 each.

Talmatch and his brother, Noah, opened the spot in February 2013, a year after their brother Ezra’s untimely death. In fact, much of Ezra’s artwork decorates the restaurant’s interior. Talmatch and Noah came together after this sad event and decided to open a restaurant in Portland. Noah had been managing restaurants in New York for upwards of 30 years, while Dan had been living in Scandinavia and working in the business world. His restaurant experience up until that point, he said, had been as a busboy at 18 and a guest bartending shift in 2000.

“I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it,” Talmatch said, laughing.

 

The North Point is located at 35 Silver St. and is open Monday-Wednesday from 4-11 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 4 p.m. until 1 a.m., Saturday from noon until 1 a.m. and Sunday from noon until 11 p.m. For more information, visit northpointportland.com or call (207) 899-3778.

Young and vegan: Vegetarian Food Festival salutes Millennials as part of celebration

The Maine Animal Coalition’s 12th annual Vegetarian Food Festival on Saturday, June 4, will celebrate going meat-free and give a tip of the hat to a significant group invested in this lifestyle: Millennials.

According to MAC President Beth Gallie, approximately 700 people pack the East End School on Munjoy Hill each year to learn more about veganism and vegetarianism. This year, there will be 30 exhibitors and vendors on site, as well as food (including free ice cream), a raffle and silent auction, and showings of the documentary film “PlantPure Nation” and the television show “Vegan Mashup.”

One of the festival’s biggest draws, however, is its lineup of distinguished speakers. The Portland Press Herald’s “Vegetarian Kitchen” columnist Avery Yale Kamila will be kicking things off at 11:15 a.m., followed by dietician Ginny Kisch Messina at 12:45 p.m. and then Alex Shopov of marine conservation society Sea Shepherd at 2 p.m. Messina will be presenting a lecture called “The 7 Habits of Healthy, Happy Vegans,” while Shopov will discuss veganism as it relates to the rest of the world in his lecture,"Veganism and the Laws of Ecology: The Global Impact of Local Food Choices."

Kamila’s presentation, “It's a Great Time to Be Veg: How Vegans and Vegetarians Are Changing the Way We Eat in Maine and the Nation," will focus on just why it’s easier to be a vegetarian in today’s society.

“Vegetarianism is as old as recorded history and its popularity has waxed and waned over time,” Kamila said. “I'll be talking about why now — 2016 — is one of the best times to be vegetarian. One of the big trends I'll be discussing is the role of young people — so-called Millennials — in reshaping our food landscape. Want to know why restaurants and grocery stores are scrambling to add veg items? Ask a Millennial.”

According to Kamila, who has been a vegetarian for 28 years and a vegan for 25, 6 percent of Millenials report being full-time vegetarians versus just 2 percent of people 65 years and older. In addition, 45 percent of Millenials who are not committed to vegetarian diets eat vegetarian foods regularly, while only 30 percent of people in the older age brackets eat this way regularly.

Kamila said that her decision to stop eating meat came from two things. She grew up on a farm in Litchfield “being served the bodies of the pigs I'd played with and listening to the sad cries of the cows whose infants had been taken from them an hour after birth,” and also later discovered factory farming in high school.

According to Gallie, the majority of the members of the Coalition are ethical vegetarians, like Kamila, meaning that they abstain from eating meat for the animals’ sakes. However, health and global impacts are also factors in many people’s decisions to adopt this new way of living.

“We are also excited about the mounting scientific evidence that being vegan is great for one's health,” Gallie said. “[In addition], a United Nations study found that the meat industry pollutes more than the transportation sector, so going vegan is a great way to curb global warming.”

The festival, Gallie explained, is a great way to bring together a diverse community of people.

“People are vegans/vegetarians for multiple reasons … for their health, for the animals and for the environment,” Gallie said. “So we try to have something for everybody.”

 

The Vegetarian Festival will be held on Saturday, June 4, from 11:00am to 3:00pm at the East End School, located at 195 North St., Portland. Everything at the festival is free (except lunch), and proceeds from the raffle will go to support the continuation of the event. For more information, visit maineanimalcoalition.org.

Full bill: Maine Playwrights Festival unveils its busy May lineup

It is no easy feat to stage a play. Consider the various components that need to mesh — direction, acting, sets, lighting, costumes — and then consider that Acorn Productions is producing six plays in just four days.

Earlier this month, Acorn Productions (www.acorn-productions.org) released its slate of performances. As part of the 14th annual Maine Playwrights Festival, which will take place from May 4-7, six Maine writers will see their work brought to life, right on Munjoy Hill.

The plays, which were penned by Greater Portland residents Carolyn Gage, Bess Welden, Jennifer Jensen, Richard Sewell, Delvyn Case and Saco resident David Susman, were selected from nearly 50 submissions from around the state.

Obviously, all 50 of the scripts submitted could not be produced. However, four submissions not chosen for production will be featured in a dramatic reading on April 30 in the ballroom at Mechanics Hall, 519 Congress St. The plays, written by Jennifer Reck, Nicole d’Entremont, Elaine Ford and Erica Thompson, cover everything from finding one’s biological parent to marital reconciliation. Reck’s play, “How Things Sometimes Work Out,” is described as, “Two people meet, fall in love, get married, start a family, and divorce — in 10 minutes.” Talk about an ambitious performance.

The six winning plays, too, truly run the gamut in terms of content, and cover everything from sexual identity in 1879 coastal New Hampshire to college campus monsters. The selections vary in length from just 10 minutes to half an hour.

A five-person reading committee, which included MPF founder Michael Levine, considered many criteria when choosing the winners, including “quality of the dialogue, strength of the dramatic tension, believability of the backstory, theatricality, originality, and overall storytelling.”

“We specifically chose scripts with a variety of tones and subject matters, meaning that there is something for everyone,” Levine said.

This year’s group of plays is also unique because there are far more female roles than male parts, something that co-Artistic Director Daniel Burson said is still uncommon in the theater world.

“I think it's great to have so many women's roles and women's stories featured prominently in this year's group of new plays, and we're going to have some fantastic actresses performing in the festival bringing those characters to life,” Burson said.

Open auditions were held earlier this month to cast the plays, which will be directed by guest professionals from the Maine theater community. Karen Ball, Odelle Bowman, Al D'Andrea and Liz Rollins will assist Levine and Burson in directing the shows, an arrangement that will also showcase the directors’ talents. Playwright-in-residence William Donnelly will assist as well. The opportunity to work with seasoned directors — and to have actors, costumes, and sets bring the words to life — is something that not many playwrights are able to experience, especially if they are just starting out, Burson said.  

The fact, too, that there are six plays to produce means that some of the resources are shared, making for an interesting dynamic.

“All of the plays are fully staged with sets, lights and costumes,” Levine said. “Since there are six plays on the same bill, there will be some sharing of set pieces, which I find to be one of the more intriguing aspects of each year’s festival.”

The festival was born in 1999, beginning as a series of dramatic readings performed out of the old Acorn Academy for the Performing Arts on Congress St. Levine, formerly of the Portland Stage Company and founder of the now-closed Oak Street Theater, collaborated with the St. Lawrence Arts Center in 2000 and the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association in 2013 to renovate performance spaces in their respective buildings. The festival moved to its current home in the St. Lawrence in 2005. Acorn Productions, which was the in-house production company at Oak Street Theater, is still flourishing today, as evidenced by the MPF’s continuation. Burson, who formerly served as education and literary director at Portland Stage Company, joined forces with Levine and the MPF two years ago.

Burson and Levine are hopeful, as are the writers, that the public will flock to the theater, eager to see six world premieres and to support art here in Maine. 

“The Maine Playwrights Festival is fantastic because it's all about people living and writing and creating theater here in our state,” Burson said. “Attending the festival means supporting our local writers' creativity and providing them with the final, vital piece in bringing their plays to life: the audience.”

 

The plays will be performed at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. A detailed production calendar is currently in the works and will be released in early April. Tickets will range from $10-$15. For more information, visit acornproductionsportland.wordpress.com or call 207.650.3051. Full descriptions of the six winning pieces are listed below.

MEET THE AUTHOR, by David Susman
Romance blooms between a novelist and a reader—until a difference of literary opinion threatens everything.

NERDLORDS VS. THE THING UNDER THE BASEMENT, by Jennifer Jensen
A group of college students discover that they all have supernatural abilities and that there is a monster lurking underneath the campus, and they decide to work together to stop it.

OLIVE SHRINESHADE, by Richard Sewell
It seems Olive asked her daughter to come 420 miles just to open an urn, but was there another reason as well?

PLANCHETTE, by Carolyn Gage
During a nor-easter on the New Hampshire coast in 1879, two fourteen-year olds share their secrets about trauma they have survived and the deeper secrets about their sexual orientation and gender identities.

SOMETHING BLUE, by Delvyn Case
How can a Palestinian woman living in Gaza, separated by her fiancé living in the West Bank since their engagement three years ago and unable to get permission to travel to the West Bank for the wedding by three governmental authorities, be united with the love of her life?

WHATEVER YOU DECIDE, by Bess Welden
Fiercely independent American photojournalist Jamie Winter meets refugee kids all the time, but when Waleed, a shoeless, motherless teenager steps off the boat and in front of her lens, she is suddenly forced to confront her own cultural identity, family history, a complicated past relationship, and the undeniable compulsion to become the boys rescuer.

  • Published in Theater

Easter eats: Ways to dine, hunt eggs and remember the season

For Easter, usher in spring with a meal at one of Portland’s many stellar restaurants, or con your niece/nephew/friend’s kid/random child into going to an egg hunt. They won’t notice if a few pieces go missing, right? And, as usual, the Catholic Diocese provides moments of reflection for this season of renewal.

Restaurant Specials:

Liquid Riot Bottling Company, 250 Commercial St. — Beer is, of course, on the Easter menu at Liquid Riot. The resto-bar is actually releasing a new beer, Zombie Bunny (perfect timing), which is a strong blonde lager or a “spring bock.” The kitchen will also be serving up Easter dishes. For more information, visit liquidriot.com or call 207.221.8889.

Bayside American Café, 98 Portland St. — Naturally, Portland’s premiere brunch spot will be open on Easter. There will be brunch specials in addition to the normal menu, which is actually anything but normal. I’m looking at you, cinnamon bun pancake. For more information, visit baysideamericancafe.com or call 207.774.0005.

Portland Regency Hotel and Spa, 20 Milk St. — Head to the Atlantic Room between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for a lux Easter buffet, featuring a visit from the Easter Bunny. There will be a “grand” salad bar, pastries, a carving station with ham and lamb, desserts, and much more. Tickets are $34.95 for adults and $15.95 for children 12 and under. For reservations, call 207.774.4200

Five Fifty-Five, 555 Congress St. — Five Fifty-Five will feature some Easter specials alongside their already delectable menu. Brunch will be served from 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., and dinner starts at 5 p.m. Who knows what the creative minds at this local favorite will think up! For more information, visit fivefifty-five.com or call 207.761.0555.

Congress Squared, 157 High St. — Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., Congress Squared will be offering specials from an a la carte Easter menu. Dishes include everything from sticky buns to poached quail eggs and a lobster croissant. For reservations, call 207.517.8831 or visit congresssquared.com/reservations.

Eve’s at the Garden, Portland Harbor Hotel, 468 Fore St. — For the first time, the Portland Harbor Hotel will host Easter dinner at Eve’s at the Garden; reservations will be accepted from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eve’s at the Garden will be offering a delicious assortment. Seriously, the menu will make you drool. In addition to a salad bar, entrée buffet, soups, carving block, and assorted appetizers, there will also be a WAFFLE BAR and CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN! For reservations, which are required, call 207.523.2075. Tickets are $38/adults and $17 for children ages 5-12. Children 4 and under eat free.

Tiqa, 327 Commercial St. — Brunch lasts all day at Tiqa! Guests can order from a special Easter brunch menu — which includes an entire rack of lamb and corned beef hash — from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. The regular dinner menu kicks in at 5 p.m., but there will also be an assortment of Easter specials mixed in. For more information or to make reservations, call 207.808.8840.

Miss Portland Diner, 140 Marginal Way — On Easter, Miss Portland Diner will be adding a honey-roasted ham dinner special to the popular menu. The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. For more information, visit missportlanddiner.com or call 207.210.6673.

Sur Lie, 11 Free St. — For those fancying an Easter brunch, this tapas-style restaurant features brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and bottomless mimosas for $10. Call 207.956.7350 for reservations.

Ri Ra, 72 Commercial St. — Prime rib; seared venison tataki; duck liver mousse; smoked ham & white bean cassoulet; Easter Benedict; Toffee Crunch French Toast, granola crust, crème brulee batter, sourdough, house toffee, toasted pecans, Maine maple syrup. Call 207.761.4446.

Egg Hunts:

March 26, 9-10 a.m. — Before Hours Easter Egg Hunt: Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, 142 Free St. Hundreds of eggs will be hidden throughout the museum’s three stories of exhibits, and there will be snacks, too! BYOB (bring your own basket, obviously). Tickets are $8 for members, $10 for visitors. Visit kitetails.org to purchase tickets or call 207.828.1234.

March 26, 11a.m. to 1 p.m. — Falmouth Congregational Church, 267 Falmouth Rd., Falmouth (right next to Town Hall). The Easter Bunny might not show up to this hunt (he’s pretty busy), but Slugger the Sea Dog will be there rain or shine! Admission is free, and includes the egg hunt, games, bouncy houses, face painting, music, food, and even a cakewalk. Who doesn’t love cake? BYOB. For more information, call 207.781.3413.

March 26, 9 a.m. start — Rockin’ Easter Free Family Fun Egg’stravaganza, The Rock Church, 66 Gorham Rd., Scarborough. This church does not play around; there will be hourly egg hunts starting at 9 a.m. and over 20,000 eggs waiting to be found! There will also be a petting zoo, “games galore,” face painting, balloon twisting and, of course, an excessive amount of candy. Pre-register at trcportland.com or call 207.883.7625.

March 26, 10 a.m. to noon — Wilbur’s Annual Easter Egg Hunt, 174 Lower Main St., Freeport. If you don’t want a bunch of sugar high kids, this might be your best bet, as there is a 15-egg/piece limit per child. Still, free candy is free candy, and the Easter Bunny and Wilbur the Moose will also be available for photos. Afterwards, stop into Wilbur’s to purchase even more treats! This event is weather permitting. BYOB. For more information, visit wilburs.com or call 207.865.4071.

Other Observations:

March 26, at noon — Holy Saturday Blessing of the Baskets, at St. Louis Church on 279 Danforth St. in Portland. An Easter tradition for Polish Catholics, dating back to the early history of Poland, will be renewed at the Easter Baskets Blessing on Holy Saturday. Fr. Mariusz Lis, a visiting priest, will bless the baskets which are filled with bread, eggs, kielbasa, fish, chocolate, and many other items. For a slate of other events at Catholic parishes, such as daily prayers and reflections, and other resources, visit www.portlanddiocese.org/holy-week-2016.

  • Published in Food

Food, drink options for your St. Patrick's Day enjoyment

A quote on one of the green, metal interior beams of the Guinness Factory in Dublin reads, “Everyone’s Irish on March 17.” This is especially true in New England, and Portland is no exception. Festivities and, most importantly, food and drink specials, abound in the city this St. Patrick’s Day. Whether or not you are truly Irish, do as the Irish do and grab a pint (or three) and be merry. Sláinte — cheers!

Bull Feeney’s, 375 Fore St. — “Join us for Kegs and Eggs at 6 and stay all day!” Entertainment: downstairs, 7-9 a.m., Tom and Don; 9 a.m. to noon, Dave Rowe; 1-4 p.m., The Milliners; 5-8 p.m., Napper Tandies; 9 p.m. to midnight, Jake McCurdy; upstairs, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Maine Public Safety Pipe & Drum Corps; 2-5 p.m., S.F. Jones Band; 6-9 p.m., Wrong Side of the Tracks; 10 p.m. to close, Hello Newman. For the latest information, visit https://www.facebook.com/BullFeeneys.

Rí Rá Irish Pub, 72 Commercial St. — Rí Rá is celebrating all March long with Guinness mixology drinks (yum!) and will be hosting St. Patrick’s Day festivities as well. The 15th annual St. Patty’s Day Plunge will take place at 5:30 a.m. at East End Beach and proceeds will benefit the Portland Firefighter's Children's Burn Foundation. The $50 ticket gets one VIP entrance into the pub (between 6 and 7 a.m.), Irish breakfast, a Guinness, and a Guinness Glass. Even if you do not wish to brave the icy waters, you can make a donation to the foundation and are also welcome to visit the pub for breakfast and for food, drinks, and live music all day! For event tickets, visit rirastpatricksday.eventbrite.com. Irish breakfast will be served all day, and there’s a plethora of delicious-sounding food specials, including Guinness stew and Guinness meatloaf, potato cakes and, of course, corned beef. Live music for the day includes the Maine Public Safety Pipe Band at 9:30 a.m., Stillson School of Irish Dance Step Dancers at 11:45 a.m., The Keenans Irish Duo from 10 a.m. to 1p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Kilcollins from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The Great Lost Bear, 540 Forest Ave. — Venture off the peninsula from 5-9 p.m. for St. Patty’s Day specials at Portland’s beer capital! The Great Lost Bear’s “International Stout Bout” features $2.99 pints and $4.99 tulips (for high-test stouts). Drafts include Gritty’s Black Fly Stout, Fore River’s John Henry Milk Stout, Marsh Island Flag Stout, Tributary Milk Stout, Two Roads Unorthodox Imperial Stout, Blue Point Sour Cherry Imperial Stout, Left Hand Milk Stout, and Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout. And, of course, there will be plenty of Guinness!

Timber Steakhouse & Rotisserie, 106 Exchange St. — Timber will be offering a traditional four-course meal for $29, a great deal for this sometimes-pricier joint! Courses include 1) Potato Leek and Turnip Bisque (Yukon potato, leeks, turnip, rosemary, Celtic ale, carrots, celery root, shallot cream, soda bread crostini), 2) Bangers and Cabbage Puffs (Irish sausage, Celtic ale braised cabbage, Irish cheddar cheese, puff pastry, Allagash Black Stout mustard sauce), 3) Braised Corned Beef and Cabbage (new potato, carrot, celery, pearl onion, Allagash Black Stout broth, cabbage and Irish soda bread), and 4) Sea Salted Allagash Black Chocolate Genoise(Allagash Black Stout-Chocolate Cake, Irish Whiskey simple syrup, Sea Salted Dark Chocolate Icing). Sign me up! For reservations, call 207.805.1469. Or visit https://www.facebook.com/timberportland/?fref=ts.

Brian Boru, 57 Center St. — This lively Irish pub (easily spotted by Guinness’ Gilroy the toucan on the exterior) will be open from “dawn until 1 a.m.” on St. Patrick’s Day for food, beer and craic (pronounced “crack,” a Gaelic word for “fun”). Traditional Irish breakfast will be served at 6 a.m., followed by live music all day. The lineup includes Rum Riot at 7:30 a.m., the Pipers at 11 a.m., the Stillson Stepdancers at noon, the Pubcrawlers at 1 p.m., Jason Spooner at 5 p.m., and OC and the Offbeats at 9 p.m. For details, visit https://www.facebook.com/bboru2/?fref=ts.

  • Published in News

Five Fifty-Five among buy local pioneers

There isn’t any cryptic meaning behind Five Fifty-Five’s name; the popular restaurant is, after all, located at 555 Congress St. There is no mystery, either, as to why the upscale eatery is a favorite of many. Savory menu offerings, plus an extensive wine list, renowned personal service and, of course, prime real estate on Congress are just a few of the restaurant’s perks. Since 2003, Five-Fifty Five has won numerous awards and solidified its spot in Portland’s dining scene. For many, it’s the go-to place for special occasions.

Co-proprietor Stephen Corry, also of Petite Jacqueline and Portland Patisserie and Grand Café, graciously took time out of what is surely a very busy schedule to speak with The Phoenix about the philosophy behind Five Fifty-Five.

 

Lily O’Gara: How did you first get into the restaurant industry?

Stephen Corry: The proverbial "I got my start in this industry washing dishes" bit actually applies to me. At 15 years of age, I landed a job at a local restaurant working a couple of shifts after school to earn some pocket money. From that point until I finished college, I would find myself working in kitchens and for caterers. After obtaining my degree in biology from UMass, I headed out to the Bay area and pursued a career as a craft brewer. It was not until a failed attempt to secure the financing for a start-up brewery in North Conway, N.H. that I decided to change my focus to cooking and I enrolled in the New England Culinary Institute in Burlington, Vt. There was no looking back.

 

LO: Can you tell me a little bit about the concept behind Five Fifty-Five’s menu?

SC: The menu at 555 can be best described as New New England Cuisine. We consider ourselves to be pioneers in the “buy local” creed and structure the menu to change with the availability of the best of what we can source locally.

 

LO: What are some of your best sellers? What is your personal favorite dish?

SC: While 90 percent of the menu items change in this manner (based on local, seasonal availability), there are a few dishes that have become mainstays on the menu due to overwhelming demand. Tops on this list would be the Truffled Lobster Mac and Cheese, followed closely by the Grilled Caesar Salad and The Bangs Island Mussels with pickled cherry peppers, roasted garlic and chive butter.  After 13 years, I still would say that the Grilled Caesar Salad is my personal favorite.

 

LO: Is Five Fifty-Five able to accommodate diners with dietary and/or allergy preferences or restrictions?

SC: Much to the chagrin of my chefs and cooks, we are a "yes" restaurant. What this means is simply that we will say yes to any and all customer requests, provided that there is no legitimate reason that we can not. If a customer wants a side of ketchup for his or her Lobster Mac and Cheese, we are happy to oblige. As much as it pains me to do so, who am I to say no? Allergies and dietary restrictions have been and always will be taken very seriously at 555 and, as such, we will go to great lengths to accommodate them. 

 

LO: What do you feel makes Five Fifty-Five stand out from the competition in Portland?

SC: There are many reasons that 555 has remained highly competitive over the years, so it’s difficult to really pinpoint just one. In addition to a tireless effort to provide the best possible food, service and experience, I think it comes down to the little things, like the personal touches, that allow our guests to leave with the feeling that they would like to come back.

 

Five Fifty-Five is open for dinner Monday-Thursday and on Sunday from 5-9:30 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 5-10:30 p.m. The restaurant is also open for brunch on Sunday from 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. For more information, call 207.761.0555 or visit fivefifty-five.com.

 

Slow-food aficionados: Vignola Cinque Terre taps traditions of Italy

At Vignola Cinque Terre, the delightful, ivy-covered restaurant at 10 Dana St., diners get the best of two great places: Maine and Italy. While it might seem a strange combination, the restaurant’s commitment to farm-to-table cooking and its goal of producing authentic Italian cuisine mesh extremely well. It’s Italian food made with fresh Maine ingredients.

The restaurant’s owners, Dan and Michelle Kary, live on and operate Grand View Farm in Greene. The farm’s gardens and orchards supply much of the restaurant’s produce, most notably tomatoes, basil, hot peppers, beets and fennel, according to Executive Sous Chef Mitchell Ryan. New additions to the farm include bees, from which the restaurant receives all of its honey, and pigs. The pigs were introduced just two years ago; now there are 28.

“It’s quite a large investment of time,” Ryan said, laughing, noting that Dan Kary, a retired physician, cares for the animals.  

The chefs travel to the farm several times a year to see just where their ingredients are produced.

“It’s not an instant process,” Ryan said. “It takes a long time, and that’s an eye-opener for them, to go up four or five times a year.”
Each October, the public is also invited to attend the restaurant’s annual Harvest Dinner, a six-course meal centered around what the farm is producing.

While the pigs are sourced from Grand View, the rest of the establishment’s meat comes from a butcher in Windham. Vignola Cinque Terre splits a cow with Hugo’s, another fine dining restaurant in town, every few weeks. Half broken down lambs and sometimes even deer make their way through the restaurant’s doors as well.

“We try not to order from the bigger meat purveyors,” Ryan said. “We like to get in animals that are half broken down, and then we break them down from there. So, all of the prime ribs and things like that are done in-house, which is nice.”

Vignola Cinque Terre is also a proponent of the slow-food movement, meaning that its staff strives to source nearby to both support local businesses and to reduce the environmental damage caused by transporting far-off supplies.

“I think it developed later on, more or less,” Ryan said of the slow food and farm-to-table tendencies. “I noticed it’s something that people are sort of pulling away from and I think it’s important to bring it back. That’s how food started in the first place.”

In addition to taking trips to the farm, head chef Lee Skawinski also takes members of his staff to Italy twice a year.

“It gives you a wider view of what their food is like and what they’re used to,” Ryan said, noting that it’s not anything like the Italian-American chain restaurants we are used to in the States.

There, Skawinski also cultivates the restaurant’s impressive wine list, which consists of over 200 bottles, by visiting up-and-coming vineyards and wineries.  

“He’ll talk to the smaller people that have quality wine and he wants to get that, because it’s not something you’d see on a shelf in the grocery store,” Ryan said.  

The wine list changes frequently, much like the menu, which Ryan said changes about twice a week, depending on which products the kitchen has on hand. Even the regulars are sometimes surprised by the constant variety. Ryan’s current personal favorite is the crispy duck breast.

Still, there are some items that rarely leave the menu, like the best-selling, house-made Bolognese sauce.

“It’s what we’re known for,” Ryan said. “We’ve made Bolognese here for years.”
The staff at Vignola Cinque Terre seek to create a new type of dining experience, one that Ryan believes makes the restaurant stand out from some of the faster-dining options in the city.

“It’s the overall ambience. You’re not trying to push people out the door,” he said. “You want people to come in and relax for at least an hour and have a nice meal. It’s not even necessarily a one-course meal: you want them to sit down and have the whole experience, and maybe even sit here for three hours and have a couple bottles of wine. It’s really a different type of eating experience.”

 

For more about Vignola Cinque Terre, call 207.772-1330 or visit http://www.vignolamaine.com. The restaurant is participating in Restaurant Week (March 1-12) and will be offering a three-course menu for $35; visit http://www.mainerestaurantweek.com.

  • Published in Food

Fernet frontrunner: Liquid Riot taps into metro drinking-Renaissance trend

The folks at Liquid Riot Bottling Co. are making history: they’ve produced the first fernet in the state. If you’re not familiar with fernet, it’s an Italian type of amaro liquor, commonly used as a digestive and described as bitter and herbal. Liquid Riot’s Fernet Michaud, however, goes down smoothly. You can easily taste notes of many of the 22 herbs and botanicals used to create it, most notably in the minty finish. It’s also got a distinctly Maine touch, as it’s aged in Maine blueberry wine barrels.

Liquid Riot owner Eric Michaud said the idea to create the 82-proof fernet came from his time traveling in Europe, where drinking is ingrained in social tradition.

“It’s not frowned upon … you have some of this liquor at the end of a meal, as a digestive, and it helps you feel better and it’s just part of the culture,” Michaud said. “And so I want to try to bring that here.”

According to Michaud, fernet is also becoming trendy in metropolitan areas.

“I didn’t see anyone else doing it, and fernet is pretty hip right now,” he said. “It’s definitely hip in the big cities that have a strong cocktail Renaissance, and I feel like Portland is part of that scene.”

The road to actually being allowed to produce and sell fernet, however, was a rocky one. Michaud said that federal and state regulations sometimes restrict creativity in the distilled spirits industry, and that fernet didn’t fit into any of the government’s “boxes.” After a period of back and forth with the feds, though, Michaud was given the green light. This was great news for Liquid Riot customers, who seem to enjoy the new product so much so that Michaud is considering expanding and entering the Boston and New York City markets.

Meanwhile, Liquid Riot is enjoying prosperity, despite the name change (it was previously called In’finiti), which still has some customers confused as to what exactly Liquid Riot is.

“People try to group us into something. They say, ‘Okay, well you’re a brew pub,’ so they expect a typical brew pub experience,” Michaud said. “Other people think it’s just a distillery … and some people just treat it as a regular restaurant, and they expect certain things out of a restaurant.”

Michaud wants customers to realize that Liquid Riot encompasses all of these areas, but is not specifically tied to any one of them. It’s a place where alcohol, alcohol tasting and dining meet.

In addition to the name change, the layout, now consisting of an open area, changed to make things more convenient for staff members and more comfortable for customers, Michaud said. Previously, an upper deck area sectioned off part of the room and many customers felt it was an area for dining only. The open layout brings the space together, and has more of a tasting room feel.

The menu, too, has changed but, then again, it’s constantly changing. The goal is to always be in flux and always experimenting with new dishes, all of which are made in-house, Michaud said. Currently, the most popular items are the burger, which Michaud said “fly out the door,” and the soft pretzel.

“We’ve had it (the pretzel) from day one, and we probably always will,” Michaud said.

In terms of beer, IPAs are the most popular. In fact, Michaud’s current favorite is “What’s in the Box?, a double IPA.

However, Michaud said that he tries to write recipes that span the beer spectrum, resulting in over 16 beers on tap.

“If you like beer, we should be able to find a beer for you,” Michaud said.

Diners can experience the wonders of Liquid Riot during Maine Restaurant Week, which is really two weeks, March 1-12. For $25, customers have access to a special, three-course tasting menu, with the option to pair beer or cocktails with their meals.

“We’re the only restaurant that can pair house-made food with house-made alcohol,” Michaud said. “We’re the only ones that make everything.”

 

For more about Liquid Riot, visit http://liquidriot.com.

  • Published in Drink

Foundation grant boosts campaign for ARLGP facility

The residents of the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland’s Westbrook shelter have something new to wag their tails about: The Elmina B. Sewall Foundation has awarded a $300,000 matching grant to the ARLGP to be used towards completion of a new, state-of-the-art facility.

The ARLGP has raised $5.9 million of its $6.5 million campaign goal. With the recent matching grant, and contributions from the public, the League hopes to close the remaining $600,000 gap by March 31. As part of the Sewall Match Challenge, members of the community and animal lovers are urged to donate to support the 4,000 animals served annually by the ARLGP. Every donation will be matched, no matter the amount.

“No contribution is too small: every dollar will help the ARLGP hit the finish line strong,” read the League’s press release.

The new facility, which is currently being constructed on a lot behind the existing shelter, is expected to open its doors in the fall. It will include the Arthur P. Girard adoption center, a community center, a classroom for outreach programs, an updated clinic and intake area and, most importantly, roomier accommodations for the animals.

The Sewall Foundation seeks to continue the philanthropic work of its late namesake, a native of Kennebunk who focused on animal welfare, human well being, and land conservation, according to its website.  

Donations can be made online at arlgp.org/match. The ARLGP is also selling commemorative bricks that will be laid in the pathways leading to the building’s main entrances. Order forms can be found at arlgp.org/bricks.

  • Published in Pets
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