Occasionally, I get a little wistful about my former workplace in Portland, which was right in Monument Square, within walking distance of restaurants and coffee shops that are not fast-food chains. That feeling came over me again when I visited One Six Green, the new coffee shop and cafe located just steps from my old haunts.
First of all, there’s the “Aussie” iced coffee ($4.60 for 24 ounces). It’s made with espresso, milk, a little sugar and a little maple syrup. It’s called Aussie coffee because the owner of the cafe, Kharis Johnston, makes it, and she is Australian. The coffee is strong without being too strong, and there’s just a wee bit of sweetness – really, just a hint – to play against the robust flavor. The flavors felt perfectly balanced. I could drink it every day. (They say Australians know a lot about coffee.)
I also bought a sausage breakfast burrito ($6.50) and a falafel gyro ($6.99) to split with a friend. The burrito was better than average, filled with lots of scrambled eggs, sausage, red pepper, onion and a little cheese. It wasn’t opened until at least a half hour after I bought it, and it was still hot. The lunch specials looked really tempting, but I went with the falafel gyro because people have been raving online about Johnston’s falafel, saying it’s probably the best in town, which should appease fans of the former tenants – Spartan, then Monument Grill, which specialized in Greek fare.
I haven’t tried all the falafel in Portland, but I have to admit that this was a step above what I’ve had at many other lunch spots in the city. It was more strongly seasoned (lots more cumin), and chunks of chickpeas gave the falafel balls added texture and visual appeal, but were still cooked and soft enough to eat without feeling like you were biting into an undercooked chickpea. The falafel balls (I think there were four) were nestled into incredibly fresh pita bread. Two minor gripes: I thought there was too much lettuce packed into the pita – the falafel should be the star – and I would have liked more tzatziki sauce.
Those tempting lunch specials included a pepperjack-stuffed burger with caramelized onions on ciabatta and a pulled pork slider with housemade apple slaw and fries. Other breakfast options included ham, egg, gouda, avocado and tomato on a bagel and a spinach and feta “scramlette.”
One Six Green is a tiny place that packs a lot of character into a small space. The blackboard out front often carries a pithy little saying that’s a play on words. The day I was there, it was the definition of “procaffeinating” – the tendency to not start anything until you’ve had a coffee. And if you don’t do dairy, no worries; the cafe will make that coffee for you with soy, almond, coconut or goat’s milk.
There are just a half dozen stools in One Six Green, but you can take your food to go and sit in the sun in Monument Square and people watch while you eat.
You’re probably wondering about the unusual name. According to the cafe’s website, One Six Green is part of the address where Johnston’s grandparents lived and where she grew up. Green also refers to the color of coffee beans before they are roasted.
I plan to return at some point to try one of the cafe’s specialties, Coffee in a Cone, a product already popular in South Africa, Australia and Europe. One Six Green is the only place in Maine that sells these coffees, which are served in an ice cream waffle cone that’s been dipped in chocolate.
Sounds delicious, but if I were you, I’d start with the Aussie coffee.
WHERE: 23 Monument Way, Portland; 699-5577, onesixgreen.com
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WAIT: Five minutes
PARKING: Street parking, city garage nearby
WHEELCHAIR ACCESIBLE: Yes