Wednesday April 16th 2014

Cocktails, brews, donuts and BBQ: A look back at the year in Maine food

By: Susan Axelrod

Clockwise from top left: a cocktail at Portland Hunt & Alpine Club; the real deal at Salvage BBQ; donuts from Urban Sugar Mobile Cafe; Funky Bow draft at Little Tap House (Photos: Ted Axelrod/Axelrod Photography)

“Big” doesn’t really do it justice: This was a ginormous year for everything food and drink in Maine. There were an astonishing number of restaurant and bar openings — 25 in Portland alone, by our count — an encouraging trend that shows no sign of slowing down.

Food trucks were also big news in 2013, thanks to new regulations permitting mobile kitchens to operate on the peninsula and elsewhere.

The brewpub that started it all — Gritty McDuff’s — celebrated its 25th anniversary, while new craft breweries and distilleries continue to crop up like mushrooms after a rain storm.

With so many good stories to cover, local food writers are a lucky bunch. But those from away, too, swoon over anything edible made in Maine, giving us plenty of national press over the last 12 months.

With the end of this notable food year looming, here’s a look back at 2013, the whole locally grown, dry-hopped, pork belly-topped, lobster-stuffed, deep-fried thing.

Clockwise from top left: Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room; Infiniti Fermentation & Distillation; Piccolo; Empire Chinese Kitchen; The North Point; Hugos (All photos: Press Herald archives except for The North Point – courtesy photo)

Notable newcomers:

Some of the restaurants that opened in 2013

3 Crow, Rockland — Chef Josh Hixson’s second midcoast restaurant (he also owns 40 Paper in Camden) serves Southern-leaning comfort food and at the bar, focuses on beer and whiskey.
Abbondante, Kennebunkport — One of several new partnerships between local chefs and the Kennebunkport Resort Collection, this casual Italian is managed by Merilee and Ross Paul, owners of 50 Local and Owen’s Farmhouse.
Blue Rooster Food Co., Portland — Former NYC chef Damian Sansonetti planned to open a high-end restaurant, but when a snack-shop-sized space became available in the Old Port, he jumped on it. His creative sandwiches and fried Brussels sprouts were an instant hit.
Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room, Portland — Harding Lee Smith’s fourth Portland restaurant resurrected a former waterfront landmark; its ambitious menu offers everything from lobster bakes to stir-fries.
Bresca and the Honey Bee, New Gloucester — Fans of Krista Desjarlais’ late lamented Bresca (see Kitchens Closed, below) were thrilled when she set up shop next to a bucolic lake in New Gloucester to serve her brand of summertime snack food.
C2 and Top of the East Lounge at the Westin Harborview, Portland — The spectacular lounge offers the best view in the city but in its early days, there’s often a line to get in. Those frustrated with the wait cluster at the sleek, big city-style bar and restaurant on the ground floor.
David’s KPT, Kennebunkport — In partnership with the Kennebunkport Resort Collection, Portland chef David Turin’s out-of-town venture offers water views from a stylish, blue-hued space.
Elsmere BBQ and Wood Grill, South Portland — SoPo’s dining fortunes improved significantly in 2013, thanks to this popular barbecue joint and a new Otto outpost (see Expanding Empires, below).
Empire Chinese Kitchen, Portland — Dim sum chefs imported from San Francisco turn out what many say is the city’s best, most authentic Chinese food.
Enio’s, South Portland — Former Portland restaurateurs Bob and Laura Butler returned from several years in Florida to open this casual neighborhood Italian.
Hugo’s, Portland — Following a complete renovation, the “new” Hugo’s is once again one of the city’s flagship restaurants, with a high-style tasting menu and theater seating facing the open kitchen.
Infiniti Fermentation & Distillation, Portland — The second act from Eric Michaud, who brought Portland the wildly popular Novare Res Bier Cafe, Infiniti offers a contemporary American menu and as the name suggests, beers and spirits made in-house.
Little Tap House, Portland — With plenty of elbow room and its location far from the Old Port crowds, LTH has been embraced by West Enders as their very own friendly, neighborhood pub.
Mi Sen Noodle Bar, Portland — The space is plain, but the soups allow plenty of creativity: mix and match noodles, broth, proteins and add-ons from the menu.
MJ’s Wine Bar, Portland — Mark Ohlson’s longtime dream has given Portland a true wine bar, where Sunday brunch means make-you-own waffles and sparkling wine.
Ocean, Kennebunkport — Another chef/Kennebunkport Resort Group match-up, with Pierre Gignac (former chef/owner of 98 Provence in Ogunquit) in the kitchen and a sweeping ocean view.
Oscar’s New American, Yarmouth — Chef Nick Krunkkala took over the former Sea Grass Bistro location (see Kitchens Closed, below) to open his first restaurant.
Outliers Eatery, Portland — The striking contemporary design and a Hunter S. Thompson-themed men’s room were the early draws to this West End newcomer, but seriously good food has kept fans coming back.
Piccolo, Portland — Husband and wife team Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez have a second home-run (see Blue Rooster Food Co., above) with this tiny, rustic Italian restaurant in the old Bresca space.
Porthole, Portland — The famous waterfront diner equally famously closed by a rat infestation in late 2012, reopened to major fanfare and sighs of relief.
Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, Portland — Bartender Andrew Volk and his wife Brianna preside over a modern, cocktail-centric bar serving Scandinavian-style snacks.
Portland & Rochester Public House, Portland — In restaurant-bereft Bayside, this upscale pub is an especially welcome addition.
Salt Water Farm at Union Hall, Rockport — After several years of teaching cooking classes and hosting “full moon” dinners at her Salt Water Farm, Annemarie Ahearn expanded to a stunning, harbor-side space to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner; there is has a market stocked with local goods.
Salvage BBQ, Portland — For his third Portland restaurant, chef Jay Villani gambled on an out-of-the-way location and spent months researching barbecue in the South. Fans of authentic ‘cue say it’s all paid off.
Seabright, Camden — James Beard Award-nominated chef Brian Hill (Shepherd’s Pie, Francine Bistro) had an instant hit with his latest venture, serving creative pizza.
The Gothic, Belfast — In the space vacated by The Lost Kitchen (see Kitchens Closed, below), celebrity chef Matthew Kenney has created a temple to (mostly) raw and vegan food.
The North Point, Portland — Brothers Noah and Dan Talmatch designed their cozy wine bar to be a welcoming gathering spot and a tribute to their late brother Ezra, whose quirky art festoons the walls. In 2014 they’ll open Timber, a classic steakhouse.
Vinland, Portland — Just under the 2013 wire after nearly two years of planning by chef David Levi, Portland most-local restaurant eschews lemons, olive oil and truffles for foods grown, fished or foraged in Maine.

Expanding Empires:

Local brands that grew

Otto Pizza, opened in South Portland, to the delight of residents who no longer have to cross the bridge for their Otto fix (and there’s delivery now, too)
The Holy Donut launched its second location on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port (dangerously close to the MaineToday.com office)
Orchid Thai  opened in Falmouth (owner Rattanaphorn Boobphachati also owns Thai Taste, Pom’s Thai — both in South Portland — and Pom’s Thai Taste in Portland.)

Short Stories:

Places that just didn’t catch on

Bono’s Pizzeria Grill, South Portland — opened in April; closed in September
Compass Rose, Portland — opened in July; closed in September
Wannawaf, Portland – opened in June; closed in October

Kitchen Closed:

Bar Lola, Portland
Bresca, Portland
Carmen at the Danforth, Portland
DiPietro’s, Portland
Fromviandoux, Camden
Korea House, Portland
Mike’s Restaurant, Portland
Mornings in Paris, Portland
Sea Grass Bistro, Yarmouth
The Farmers Table, Portland
The Lost Kitchen, Belfast
The Pepperland Cafe, South Berwick
The Oriental Table, Portland
The Wine Bar, Portland
Wok Inn, Portland

New brewers and distillers:

Banded Horn, Biddeford
Bissell Brothers, Portland
Friars’ Brewhouse, Bucksport
Funky Bow, Lyman
Gneiss, Limerick
Infiniti Fermentation & Distillation, Portland
Maine Craft Distilling, Portland
Rock Harbor, Rockland
SoMe Brewing Co., York
Tributary Brewing Co., Kittery

Clockwise from top left: Mainely Burgers; El Corazon; Urban Sugar Mobile Cafe; Small Axe (All photos, Press Herald archives)

Mobile eats:

Trucks that made their debut in 2013

Small Axe — chef-made, locally sourced comfort food for breakfast and lunch
Mainely Burgers added a second truck to serve Portland
El Corazon – Mexican street food
Wicked Good Street Kitchen — The diverse menu includes falafel, pad Thai, cheesesteak sandwiches, chicken and waffles
Urban Sugar Mobile Cafe – fried-to-order bite-sized donuts in a host of unusual flavor combinations.

Food crazes:

  • We don’t have the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) cronut, but we do have The Holy Donut’s lobster donut, which made its debut this year.
  • Outliers’ crispy pigs ears are Portland’s nod to the hot, nose-to-tail trend.
  • Other dishes that jumped to the top of the popular chart include various riffs on poutine:
    Blue Rooster swaps homemade tater-tots for fries and Little Tap House tops fried spuds with a pile braised beef instead of traditional gravy.
  • Barbecue is also having its moment in the sun, with two new restaurants — Elsmere and Salvage — each devoted to doing ‘cue their way.

From left: Bon Appetit in Bon Appetit (screen shot); Melissa Kelly of Primo at the James Beard Awards (Press Herald archives); Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley in Food & Wine (screen shot).

In the news:

The national press loves Maine food, beer and chefs. The following are some especially noteworthy mentions.

FEBRUARY
Bon Appetit restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton names Primo in Rockland to his list of “The 20 Most Important Restaurants in America”

MARCH
Chefs Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley of Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland share the accolade “People’s Best New Chef, New England” from Food & Wine
Bunker Brewing, Portland included as one of Bon Appetit’s “10 Favorite Nanobreweries”

APRIL
Eventide Oyster Co, Portland is included on Imbibe Magazine list of “10 Cocktail-Centric Oyster Bars”
Nebo Lodge on North Haven listed as one of “Top 10 Food Lovers Hotels in America” by Bon Appetit

MAY
Melissa Kelly, chef/owner of Primo in Rockland wins her second James Beard Award for Best Chef, Northeast. She is the only chef in the country to win a regional award twice.

JULY
Eventide Oyster Co., Portland is Departures Magazine’s “Kitchen of the Moment”
Allagash Curieux and Peak Organic named to Men’s Journal’s “25 Best Beers in the World”
Eventide Oyster Co., Portland featured in Martha Stewart Living

AUGUST
Maine Beer Co. cited on boston.com’s “10 Most Notable New(ish) Breweries in New England”
Eventide Oyster Co., Portland featured in Financial Times’ “How to Spend it”
Oxbox Brewing Co., Newcastle is one of Bon Appetit’s “10 Great American Farmhouse Breweries”
Eventide Oyster Co. named to  Bon Appetit Restaurant Editor Andrew Knowlton list of “Top 50 Best New Restaurants in America”

SEPTEMBER
Bon Appetit features the Sazerac cocktail by Andrew Volk of Portland Hunt & Alpine Club

OCTOBER
Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, Portland is one of Eater National’s “30 Hottest Cocktail Bars in America”
Mabel’s Lobster Claw, Kennebunkport on USA Today’s list of “10 Best Seafood Restaurants”

NOVEMBER
Allagash FV 13 is named by Wine Enthusiast as one of “Top 25 Beers of 2013″

DECEMBER
Bartender Henry Jost of El Rayo in Portland is featured in the December GQ as a regional finalist in the Bombay Sapphire Best Bartender Competition.
Thrillist dubs Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, Portland as one of  “33 Best New Bars in America”
Thrillist names Eventide Oyster Co., Portland as one of “The 33 Best Restaurants in America”