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Susan and Ted Axelrod

Susan and Ted are a writer and photographer team who met while working for a magazine — Susan reviewing restaurants and writing food features, Ted photographing them. When Ted left the magazine for a freelance career, they launched their blog, Spoon & Shutter in 2010 as a way to keep doing what they love, together. After many years in Northern New Jersey, they are thrilled to be living in Maine, where Ted's clients occasionally include restaurants and food businesses. When they're not working, cooking, rehabbing their old farmhouse or hanging out with their two cool dogs – Ella and Dixie – they're having a blast exploring this spectacular state. To reach Susan, email saxelrod [at] mainetoday.com or follow her on Twitter: @susansaxelrod To reach Ted, email ted [at] axelrodphotography.com or follow him on Twitter @TedAxelRodPhoto .

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Spoon & Shutter with Susan and Ted Axelrod
Posted: January 17, 2014

Sampling the flavors of Longfellow Square with Portland Taste Tours, Maine Beer Co.

Tour participants hoist glasses of Maine Beer Co.’s Lunch at Boda, the third of four stops.

All photos by Ted Axelrod/Axelrod Photography

In 2013, beer and food pairing was touted as one of the top trends of the year, which was hardly news in Portland, where beer dinners and other pairing events have been part of the local food scene for a good while. Of course beer has always matched well with food, but with umpteen craft beer flavor profiles out there, we’ve come a long, long way from “I’ll have a burger and a Bud.” It’s still not complicated, for the most part; while most beer drinkers know that a crisp ale pairs nicely with seafood and stout goes beautifully with chocolate desserts, we’re happy to leave the “rules” to the wine world.

Some beers are easier to drink overall, making them good matches for a wide variety of foods. Maine Beer Company‘s softly-hopped range of American-style ales were featured on Portland Taste Tours‘ Wednesday evening excursion to four neighboring and well-regarded restaurants in Longfellow Square: Petite Jacqueline, Pai Men Miyake, Boda and LFK.

Dan Kleban, co-owner of Maine Beer Company, introduces his beers at Petite Jacqueline

The first beer of the night and Maine Beer Company’s first beer — easy drinking Peeper Ale

We gathered at Petite Jacqueline where chef Frederic Eliot’s classic French cuisine was recently rated “Extraordinary” by Portland Press Herald restaurant critic John Golden. At 7 p.m., the place was packed, but all 15 of us shimmied into a table along one wall, where we were taken excellent care of by owner/manager Liz Konigsberg and her striped-shirt wearing staff. Our first surprise was a full glass of Peeper Ale — not the expected sample size — the second was a simple looking but deeply flavored and luscious pork belly with beer-braised French lentils.

Beer-braised French lentils with Berkshire pork belly at Petite Jacqueline.

The chef briefly emerged from his busy kitchen to tell us that the belly was Berkshire pork which had been brined, braised, pressed, sliced and seared to achieve the just-crispy exterior giving way to soft, meat lightly marbled with tender fat. It was, to borrow a word often used by my friend John Golden, sublime.

Chef Frederic Eliot, right, assembles tasting plates in the Petite Jacqueline kitchen

The Portland Taste Tours table at Petite Jacqueline

Most Portland Taste Tours are walkable, but this one was especially so — our second stop was just a few feet away at Pai Men Miyake. Chef Masa and his partner Will Garfield were not there, busy getting ready for the launch of their third restaurant, Food Factory Miyake on Spring Street, the next day, but our group was once again warmly welcomed and served another pint of Maine Beer Company beer – MO (named for Kleban’s twins, Madeline and Oliver).

Dan Kleban tells the group about MO — Maine Beer Company’s American Pale Ale — at Pai Men Miyake

Slightly hoppier than Peeper, MO was paired with more pork belly (no one complained) in the form of two deservedly popular Pai Men Miyake signature dishes: steamed pork bun with gouchuchang mayo and pepper relish and nikuman pork bun with eel sauce.

At Pai Men Miyake: Nikuman pork bun (foreground) and steamed pork bun

Enjoying the steamed pork bun — immensely, I might add …

In addition to Dan Kleban, joining us regular folks for the tour were Maine Beer Company brewers Kevin Glessing, Mark Fulton and Dylan Webber, who provided their own commentary on the beers they make.

Dylan Webber showing his company pride

Porked out, we ventured out into the bracing night air for a slightly longer walk, across Congress Street to Boda. Once seated and served our third pint of the night — an IPA with the straightforward name of Lunch — we were served Thai dishes with some of the most complex flavors of the tour. Each of us was presented with a small tray on which was a chubby clay pot with a lid, a woven basket and a banana leaf packet. The pot held fragrantly spiced shrimp with a heat that crept up well after each bite was finished; in the basket were tender-chewy strips of what manager Jeremy Sossei called “fresh beef jerky” and in the banana leaf, sticky rice to balance both. The beer was a perfect match for the bold seasonings.

The beautiful plate at Boda.

His own glass of Maine Beer Company’s Lunch in hand, Boda manager Jeremy Sossei explains what’s being served to go with it.

If we had stopped right there, after three pints of beer and soulful, inventive, absolutely delicious tastes of French, Japanese and Thai food, I think we all would have been supremely satisfied. But back across Congress Street we went, faithfully shepherded by Portland Taste Tours founder Mary Soule, to the final stop and a distinctly American-style finish at LFK.

This way please: Mary Soule, owner of Portland Taste Tours, acting as crossing guard on Congress Street

Happily settled into tables and a squishy couch at the back of bustling, iconoclastic LFK, we were served a dessert that was pure genius: a mug holding mocha ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce and a pretzel tuile cookie, into which was poured Mean Old Tom — an American stout aged with vanilla beans. This was the most spectacular, grown-up ice cream float, and I may have been the only one to slurp up every last drop, the perfect finale to a well-orchestrated evening.

The Mean Old Tom ice cream float at LFK

Our hosts,from left, Kevin Glessing, Mark Fulton, Mary Soule, Dylan Webber, Dan Kleban

 

 

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