So hurry up and get your take-out money – this delicious food is not to be missed.
It’s just February, so locals still have plenty of time to visit Portland restaurants that seem unattainable in July and August – like Duckfat, where I only do take-away during the busy season.
But don’t forget about chef/owner Rob Evans’ little duckling, the Duckfat Friteshack next to Oxbow Blending and Bottling on Washington Avenue. Opened last June, the walk-up window serves a lot more than Duckfat’s famous Belgian fries. And like the mother restaurant, it’s easier to visit in the winter months.
The Friteshack is in the same building as Coffee By Design, although this coffee shop location is scheduled to close at the end of the month. A sign on the wall points the way to the rear of the building, where you’ll find both the fry window and the Oxbow beer garden, a patio area with picnic tables and a fire pit. The best way to enjoy this place is to come when it’s nice enough to sit outside, or when you have the time to enjoy a farmhouse ale with your meal in the adjacent Oxbow bar. Indeed, this configuration is an ideal pairing of two ridiculously good Maine brands – Oxbow beer and James Beard award-winner Rob Evans, whose food rarely disappoints (and who was working in the kitchen on the day I visited).
The Friteshack has two windows, one for ordering and one for pickup. The friendly staffer who took my order handed me a buzzer and suggested I enjoy a beer at Oxbow until my order was ready. But the sun was out, finally, after a spate of rain, with temperatures in the mid-40s. I couldn’t resist just taking a quiet seat at one of the (damp) picnic tables and breathing in the fresh air. Since it’s a slow time of year, the same staffer kindly delivered my order to me personally when it was ready. I had assumed, since it’s a take-out window, that everything would be packaged for take-out, but it wasn’t. I felt bad sending it back to be wrapped up to go (glad I left a “fat tip,” as the cute tip jar with duck feet says), but I had to get to work. Be sure, if you go, to let them know when you order if you’re literally taking the food away.
I couldn’t resist trying the smoked duck and lentil soup with rosemary, sage and fried duck skins, listed on the specials board. The portion could have been a little more generous for $8, especially since I realized later they actually charged me $10, an error I noticed after I’d left. What the soup lacked in quantity, though, it made up for in quality. It was more like a duck chili – smoky, warm and satisfying. Bits of carrots and other veggies were mixed in with the duck and the fried duck skins. The tiny bits of fried duck skin were a little soggy by the time I ate them – my fault – but I picked a few out to taste separately and they were delicious, definitely adding to the layers of flavor.
I also tried another special, the smoked brisket sloppy Joe with cilantro, pickled jalapeno and Duckfat potato chips for $10. This was a small sandwich (more like a slider) but the smoked brisket filling was delicious, a big upgrade from the sloppy Joes you probably had as a kid. The chips were as good as their cousins, the Duckfat fries.
The regular menu at the Friteshack always includes the Belgian fries and a poutine made with those fries. I’ve had the poutine at Duckfat, and it’s one of the best – if not the best – in town. The Friteshack offers add-ons, such as extra gravy, an egg, or (swoon) duck confit. Or try a milkshake, or one of Evans’ craft sodas he created himself. (I found myself wishing I’d ordered a cherry phosphate.)
Other specials listed on the board were a cotechino slider, comte cheese, Oxbow mustard and cheesy pork rinds for $10; chili fries for $12; and pork cracklins dusted with “cheesy crack powder” for $5.
This is not your grandma’s take-out window. And that’s a good thing.
WHERE: 43 Washington Ave., Portland; (207) 774-8080. www.duckfat.com
HOURS: Noon to 9 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday; noon to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Monday and Tuesday
WAIT: 5-10 minutes
PARKING: On street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes