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Rob Gould

Rob works as a digital marketing & public relations consultant to agencies, brands, and individuals. He has 20 years of marketing experience. He also currently serves in a volunteer capacity as director of pr/communications for TEDxDirigo. From 2005-2011, Rob served as director of social media & agency communications at The VIA Agency (Portland). Prior to VIA, Rob worked with several PR & advertising agencies in London & Boston. He is a graduate of The University of Vermont (UVM) and a Maine transplant (2002). Follow Rob on Twitter at @bobbbyg His real-life interests include art, travel, writing, design, psychology, the beach, & exercise (grudgingly at times).

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Posted: July 11, 2014

7 dining options Portland seriously needs | By Brett Willis

Written by: Rob Gould
Illustration by Brett Willis

Illustration by Brett Willis

It’s Friday! I’m taking the day off (again). Today, I have the great pleasure of introducing you (again) to Brett Willis. Brett is a writer from away but a native Mainer at heart. He currently works at The VIA Agency writing ads for clients like Welch’s and 1800 Tequila. Outside of work, you can find him either hidden among a stack of books or typing away at his computer in the beautiful wilds of Maine, sometimes both.

More important, Brett is also the author of Drunch. Drunch is a blog where restaurant reviews meet fiction. Every Wednesday a new review, filled with wild and esoteric detail, appears. Drunch, in short, is a blog of restaurant reviews made for reading. I highly recommend checking it out, http://drunch.it/.

And, if you’re lucky, Brett will keep posting here each month. Please help me twist his arm (again).

If you haven’t had a chance yet, you can read his first Social Social post here.

“Portland, Maine has the second most restaurants per capita in American, behind only San Francisco.” If you’ve even been within sneezing distance of Portland, chances are you’ve heard this factoid spouted by either an overproud local or wide-eyed tourist. Yes, it is an impressive piece of information, one that went a long way to wooing me into taking up residence in this fair city.

But what does it mean, really?

It means that Portland, for a small New England city, has an impressive and diverse arsenal of restaurants and bars. It doesn’t mean that Portland has everything any culinary enthusiast could ever want.

Below, you’ll find the chasms in the Portland food scene that, if filled, would go a long way to solidifying Portland’s national reputation as the dark horse food mecca of America.

But just before we begin, if you’re wondering why this post is here in the social section, I can explain. I want to harness the very power of the Internet (AKA social media) to help make Portland a foodier paradise. Hopefully this little list will get the discussion going, leading to some real, tangible and delicious changes here in Portland, Maine.

Alright, here goes:

Korean BBQ

Though Portland does have its fair share of Asiatic cuisine, Korean Barbecue is a massive omission. Rumor has it there was a Korean BBQ place in Portland that disappeared. Saying it that way makes it sound like some spooky old mansion. In reality, it was apparently a wrong place/wrong time sort of affair. Regardless, someone should bring it back. For the 10+ months that are not summer in Maine, cozying up to an indoor grill for some sizzling, spiced meats sounds like just about the best cure for vitamin D deficiency outside of a growler of Allagash.

Vegetarian Fine Dining

If you are a vegetarian in Portland (I am not, obviously, I will eat anything that isn’t already a shoe or luxury car seat) your options are not immense. As it stands, Green Elephant and Local Sprouts are the two haunts that cater to a purely veggie diet. Of course, there are vegetarian — and a few vegan — options at many restaurants, but what I’m talking about is a place to sit down and enjoy some vegetarian-focused fine dining. We need a place whose menu is a list of ingenious ways to make vegetables and their ilk (legumes, tofu, seitan) something to celebrate. With so many adherents to the vegestafarian faith in Portland, it’s only right that we make it a joy for them to call this city their home.

Rooftop Biergarten

Portland has roofs. Roofs are meant to be drank upon. Yet, Portland has only one rooftop drinking venue — Top of the East — and it’s not even open to the elements. I know, Maine gets cold, but for those months where the wind does not seem as if it’s actively trying to murder you, an outdoor rooftop venue would be incredible. Imagine the outdoor deck-space of Novare Res but on a roof, with views of Portland’s downright orgasmic skyline: low, Victorian rooftops gently sloping to the wild beauty of the Portland waterfront. Add to that some light pub fare like brats, sliders and maybe a veggie burger or two and baby, we’re in business.

Southern Comfort Food

The arrival of Salvage BBQ has squashed the need for a solid barbecue joint in Portland. However, my yearning for true southern comfort food is equally immense. Don’t start to tell me that Hot Suppa! hits all those buttons. It comes close, but that’s not its strength. I’m talking heaping plates of beans and cornbread, Po’ Boys, Chicken ‘n’ Waffles, grits and jambalaya. The food of the south may be clogging the arteries of our nation, but here in Portland, we could use a little extra winter girth.

Late Night Grub

Late nights in Portland are a pleasure, but when it comes to finding a late (think 3:55 AM) place to quell the roaring beast that is drunk hunger, the options are few and disappointing. There’s 5 Guys, which I love but is always packed to the buns (and closes at 2:00). Other than that, we have Denny’s (nigh unreachable on foot), Benkay (which is fun, but not exactly the perfect spot), and maybe Otto (maybe). I’m talking, hole-in-the-wall, Philly cheese steak serving, burger slinging, open ‘til 5 in the morning style hangout where one can soak up the alcohol with something equally unhealthy. Also, this would cover off on another surfeit in Portland: super-cheap options. We’ve got mid – high scale dining pretty much nailed, but there are surprisingly few $5 to $7 bites. This needs to be rectified.

Lebanese Food

This list could have easily been a litany of which world cuisine Portland was lacking. To keep it short, it would be anywhere that’s not a Western nation or East Asia. South America, Africa and the Middle East especially are completely unrepresented. In my opinion, the herb-heavy, hummus-filled realm of Lebanese food would cover a sizeable swath of what’s missing. Think, rich, garlic-y chicken shawarma paired with homemade hummus, fresh parsley and pickled onion. Think steaming shish kabobs with kibbeh Nyeh (the steak tartare of Lebanon!) chilling on the side. Portland is looking for the next frontier of food, and Lebanon is it.

Another Diner

Yes, another Diner. Sure, this is a bit selfish since Brunch is my favorite meal, but have you ever tried to go to Portland’s best diners on the weekend? Bintliff’s’ wait spills onto the street. Caiola’s Brunch requires reservations days in advance. And you might as well get to Hot Suppa! on Friday night. Obviously, the people of Portland, like me, love they some weekend brunch. So let’s get more. Here, I’ll even hand out some diner thought starters to speed up the process. Make amazing egg + toast dishes and call it The Harvest. Or, add some cereal to the menu, chuck up some TVs playing episodes of Rocko’s Modern Life and call it ‘Toons. Or how about this, serve your signature dishes in the skillet they were made and call it Cast Iron. I don’t care what it is, just get to it!

Think I missed something? Of course you do. I audited many friends/twitter followers/Portland natives before writing, so I hope the majority of the dreams of a better Portland were involved in my synopsis. However, I can’t have gotten it all in just seven spots.

If you (yes you) have additional dining ideas, shout them out in the comments below. Maybe the restaurateurs of our sweet city by the sea will listen.

Brett Willis

Brett Willis

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