In May, I found out that there was a new food cart in Portland, specializing in clam chowder, and immediately began looking for Vantage Point Chowder, following the cart (and its proprietor, Garrett Patteson) on Instagram, checking his Facebook page and even sending him direct messages. But I kept missing him – either the weather was bad or he sold out or the spot he was supposed to be shifted last minute, like the time a brewery was double-booked with a sushi truck and Patteson had to go home.
Thus when I finally walked up to his cart, parked that steamy July day (and most others, when he’s not hitting breweries like Foundation or Goodfire to sell to beer lovers) on Commercial Street, right in front of No. 111, aka the Simon Pearce store, we were like pen pals finally connecting in person.
He’d opened in April with a purely chowder menu but done some necessary evolving since then. For one thing, on a hot day like this one, he said he was being mocked by people for trying to sell his Downeast clam chowder ($7 cup, $10 bowl) when the air was practically as hot as the soup. (Is anyone as cutting as a Mainer?) Last month, he changed the name to Vantage Point Provisions and included some items from the cool side, adding a chilled cucumber soup ($6 cup, $9 bowl), made with dill, mint, yogurt and scallions (he sources the cucumbers from a farm near his house in Windham), and lobster sliders. Patteson was making those with miniature hot dog buns from Botto’s, loaded with 2 ounce of lobster blended with a cucumber aioli and selling them for $9. He’d learned this after observing some of the successful food cart vendors around town and how so many items are geared toward portability.
“You have this thing in your hand and can keeping going and have your Maine lobster fix for less than $10,” Patteson said.
He meant to get the cart business going last fall, but there were complications he didn’t expect. And as he explained his routine – leave Windham, drive to Falmouth where the cart is stored, pick up the cart, drive it the location du jour in Portland, unhitch the cart, then go look for a parking spot for his Subaru, then serve and sell all day while planning runs to the parking meter to avoid getting a ticket, I started to understand exactly why it hadn’t been easy to connect with him. Oh, and he makes everything he sells in a commercial kitchen in Westbrook. It’s a complicated life, especially just starting out and especially while also working at Trader Joe’s part-time.
As he ladled out my bowl of chowder, we talked ingredients. It’s gluten free, and both of us are fine with that; a thinner clam chowder is better as far as I’m concerned. He uses apple-smoked bacon making the base, fresh local sea clams for the meat and dairy from Baker Brook Dairy Farm in Windham. It’s his own recipe, developed over 20 years in and out of the restaurant business. He went to Johnson & Wales for culinary training and worked at many restaurants and clubs around the Boston area, including Jamie Mammano’s restaurants. “I did the sous chef-sautee thing for a very long time,” he said.
He reached for a packet of oyster crackers as a strong wind ripped down Commercial Street, rattling his umbrella (he’s already lost a couple of those to weather). “It’s more like working on a boat than anything else I’ve ever done,” Patteson said.
When I got back to the office and tried the chowder, I was even gladder to have finally found him. It’s just the kind of chowder I like. He’d described his spin as “traditional but different,” and that was accurate, with fresh herbs floating in the broth but not taking away from the essential clam character. If you want to find him, keep a close eye on his Facebook page and Instagram account @vantagepointchowder, because he does do some roving. I forgave him all our missed connections, this entrepreneur who said he hasn’t borrowed a penny, and clearly cares so much about what he’s making. You can taste it.
WHERE: Changeable, but most often in front of 111 Commercial St., Portland. Garrett Patteson is often at Foundation Brewery or Maine Mead Works as well. No phone but he does respond to messages on his Instagram account, where he posts his weekly schedule. You can also check his Facebook page or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
HOURS: Variable although often 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday through Friday (he devotes Tuesday to prep work) and some weekends.
PARKING: Street or garage parking
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes (sidewalk)