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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business for 15 years before turning to journalism. By day, she is the social media editor for Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail or a Maine beer. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod@mainetoday.com On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Posted: February 17, 2015

Dining Guide: 5 places in Portland to indulge your craving for cheese

The cheese course, traditionally served after the entree, is increasingly popular in Maine restaurants as a precursor to, or substitute for, dessert. These five Portland restaurants offer well-curated selections of cheeses, many of them from Maine.

Written by: Susan Axelrod

For full listings and more restaurants, see our searchable Restaurant & Bar Guide.

Vignola Cinque Terre

Vignola Cinque Terre in the Old Port. Press Herald file photo

Vignola Cinque Terre in the Old Port. Press Herald file photo

10 Dana St. | 207-772-1330 | vignolamaine.com | $$$
Located in the heart of Portland’s Old Port, this warm and stylish Italian spot is a local favorite. The restaurant boasts what is probably the city’s most extensive selection of cheeses, which take up an entire page of the its large menu. They are divided by cow’s milk, sheep and goat milk, and bleu varieties, many, as you might expect, from Italy. Accoutrements, such as house-made moustarda or fig cake, are priced separately.

Fore Street

Line cooks preparing for dinner service at Fore Street. Press Herald file photo

Line cooks preparing for dinner service at Fore Street. Press Herald file photo

288 Fore St. | 207-775-2717 | forestreet.biz | $$$$
Since opening in 1996, Fore Street both launched the farm-to-table movement in the state and put Portland on the map as a food town. Now with owner Sam Hayward, winner of the 2004 James Beard award for Best Chef, Northeast, focusing on management and chef de cuisine Nate Nadeau in charge of the kitchen, it remains Maine’s signature five-star restaurant. The ever-changing menu reflects top-notch foraging and sourcing from farms around the state and beyond. An array of artisan cheeses from Maine and New England is offered as a dessert option.

Five Fifty-Five

The dining room at Five Fifty-Five. Press Herald file photo

The dining room at Five Fifty-Five. Press Herald file photo

555 Congress St. | 207-761-0555 | fivefifty-five.com | $$$$
For those seeking a high-end dining experience in Portland that recalls bits of Napa and Manhattan sensibilities, with a distinctly Maine twist, it does not get better than Five Fifty-Five. While the pricing might prohibit this as an everyday treat, for food lovers, chef Steve Corry makes sure a visit here is worth every single penny. The menu of cheese plates offers selections from New England, France, California, Spain and Great Britain, served with seasonal fruit compote, nut brittle and crostini.

Congress Squared

157 High St.| 207-517-8831 | congressquared.com | $$$$
In the meticulously renovated former Eastland Hotel transformed into the spanking new Westin Portland Harborview, Congress Squared is a chic, big-city venue in which to enjoy stylish American bistro fare. The kitchen strives to use locally sourced ingredients prepared simply and thoughtfully by chef Timothy Labonte. The dessert menu includes a cheese board with three selections from New England, served with rosemary-toasted walnuts and honey.

MJ’s Wine Bar

A selection of cheese at MJ's Wine Bar. Photo by Ted Axelrod

A selection of cheese at MJ’s Wine Bar. Photo by Ted Axelrod

1 City Center | 207-772-1400 | onecitywines.com | $$
On the ground floor of an office building, cozy and friendly MJ’s — named for owner Mark Ohlson’s mother — is a wine bar, not a full-service restaurant. It has no kitchen, but its small menu includes an international cheese selection – sourced from K. Horton Specialty Foods at the Portland Public Market House — to go with its wines. These are carefully portioned out behind the bar and plated with different accompaniments: the Dutch gouda with cranberry chutney and toasted pecans and the French bucheron with dried apricots and mint essence.

Key to prices

The approximate cost of two dinner entrees (not including appetizers, drinks, tax and gratuity).
$ – $15 and under
$$ – $16 to $25
$$$ – $26 to $45
$$$$ – $46 and up

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