Embarrassing confession for someone who regularly writes for Source, the Maine Sunday Telegram’s weekly section about the farm-to-table movement and sustainability: I did not set foot in the beautiful Portland Food Co-op until last week. Embarrassing confession for anyone: I stopped there because I needed a bathroom (and was trying to rectify the subject of the first confession).
I also wanted lunch, and figured I’d find something good in there, even if it was just some deluxe Maine-made yogurt that came in some cunning package and cost me $8. I knew I’d find something healthy, or any rate, healthier than the muffuletta at Micucci’s, which was calling my name with its fatty, cheesy, meaty siren song.
Actually I found a lot of somethings. There are two kinds of organic soups ready to ladle into to-go cups (soups change daily) and the price was right ($3.50 for a small). I chose the mushroom barley, which was vegan (I felt instantly virtuous). Since that was so cheap, I also grabbed a couple of lunch-portioned salads from the cooler right near the soup: a half pound of “Awesome Chicken Salad” for $6.86 and an “Autumn Salad” with chickpeas, kale and pepitas, aka little pumpkin seeds, for $2.64.
I felt smug about getting that much food for $13. If I’d gone to my favorite over-priced salad spot near the office, I’d have spent $11.
I figured the leftovers could go in the office fridge and either be consumed by me the next day or forgotten in there until an office nag sends out a tsk tsk email.
Of course, the problem with the Co-op is, it’s hard to leave with just lunch. The place is gorgeous, all clean and bright and brimming with intriguing items, including, of course, tons of Maine-produced or grown foods. I contemplated a North Spore mushroom growing kit for $25, thinking someone I love should have that in their Christmas stocking (we go big in my household) then realized it was actually me who would want that kind of thing. I threw a mozzarella making kit ($17.99) in my cart, a Standard Baking baguette to bring home to my son, who turns up his nose at any baguette that doesn’t come from a fine bakery, and some toffee from Bigelow Candy Company.
Did I mention I write for Source?
I could have sat in the tiny corner they call the cafe, where there are a few tables and chairs, but I’d spent so much time drooling over all the goods in the rest of the place and debating whether I should just sign up for a Co-op membership (they are $100, but not required to shop) that I had to take it all to go.
Back at the newsroom I had to riffle my desk drawers for a salt packet because the chicken salad, despite having cranberries, was less awesome than under-seasoned, like the kind of chicken salad that your mother would have made you from the previous night’s leftover chicken, complete with bits of tendon. The soup was a little thin but nourishing, filled with good chunks of carrots and tons of deeply colored mushrooms.
The Autumn Salad was more chickpea than kale, but the flavors were well balanced and bright and the ingredients were all top notch. I forked up more than half of it and put it aside until later. Again, it was a meal that made me very virtuous, but I did feel wistful that I hadn’t just picked up some Maine-made, highly fatty cheese and eaten chunks of it with my son’s baguette. My last true confession is that when I lunch out, which is rarely – I try to bring something from home instead – I prefer some decadence to be involved. But I’ll definitely be back any time I need a good value that makes me feel pure and like I’m supporting the Maine food economy. Which, by the way, is awesome.
290 Congress St, Portland | 207-805-1599 | portlandfood.com
HOURS: Open 7 days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
WAIT: None, unless you are very indecisive
PARKING: Ample in lot
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes