Posted: February 2, 2017
From menus around Maine, food to warm you up in winter
Written by: Leslie Bridgers
Up Next: Wood beams, fireplaces and full-bodied brews make these tasting rooms cozier than most
Winter is comfort food season, and Maine eateries know how to fill you up right. We asked around about people’s go-to menu items when they need a meal to make them feel all warm and cozy from the inside out. We selected the following from among the suggestions because of the enthusiasm of the nominations, the number of people who recommended them or just because they sounded good.
Photo courtesy of The Front Room
Lamb shepherd's pie
The Front Room, 73 Congress St., Portland
The Front Room advertises that it specializes in "new American comfort food," so it's no surprise that it's on this list. There's a warmth to just being inside the neighborhood spot, where you can't help but feel part of the Munjoy Hill community amid the lively chatter coming from tables and booths, the regulars lingering over wine glasses at the bar and the smells and sounds emanating from the open kitchen. Several of its menu items could qualify for this list, including meatloaf, French onion soup, chicken pot pie and mac and cheese with hot dogs, but the lamb shepherd's pie takes the comfort-food cake. Made with local cheddar, bacon and scallion mashed potatoes, it's a whole mess of cheesy, creamy, hearty, meaty goodness.
Photo courtesy of Gritty McDuff's
Build your own mac and cheese
Gritty McDuff's, 396 Fore St., Portland; 187 Lower Main St., Freeport; 68 Main St., Auburn
Though the options vary slightly from one Gritty's location to the next, the build-your-own mac and cheese is always made with corkscrew pasta and served with cornbread and fried jalapeños. All locations offer blackened chicken and kielbasa as an add-in. Other proteins listed on Portland menu include lobster, Philly steak and fried shrimp. For 50 cents each, you can add vegetables like baby spinach, broccoli, mushrooms and squash, as well as bleu cheese crumbles, bacon and a sauce, such as Thai chili, buffalo or Black Fly Stout barbecue. Like the other establishments on this list, Gritty's is not at a loss for comfort foods. Among its more distinct options are lobster poutine and smoked pork fries.
Photo courtesy of Grant's Bakery
Hot salmon pie
Grant's Bakery, 525 Sabattus St., Lewiston
This family-owned bakery with a French-Canadian influence is a Lewiston institution. The Grants bake everything from hot dog rolls to wedding cakes, as well as a selection of savory pies that you can order any day or get hot and ready when they're on special. Except for around Christmas, when pork pie is all the rage, the hot salmon pie is the perennial favorite. It's the special on Fridays and comes smothered in egg sauce (a milk-based sauce with hard-boiled eggs) and served with a side of mac and cheese. That's three comfort foods in one.
Photo courtesy of The Red Barn
Laura's Famous Seafood Stew
The Red Barn, 455 Riverside Drive, Augusta
Chowder is one of the few soups people will eat during the summertime, because it comes from the ocean, so it still feels refreshing. It takes on a different purpose in winter, when it's not being cooled by the ocean breeze, but served steaming in a cozy room. The Red Barn is a community gathering spot in all seasons, whether for fried clam strips on a picnic table outside or whoopie pies in winter. Loaded with scallops, haddock, shrimp and lobster in a buttery, creamy broth, Laura's Famous Seafood Stew is something of a signature dish, and the restaurant gets requests for it be shipped by the quart all over the country – frequently from snowbirds who can't wait until summer to get their fix.
Staff photo by Gordon Chibroski
Saigon, 795 Forest Ave., Portland
As with most trends – food, fashion or otherwise – Maine was a tad behind the nationwide pho craze and only recently came into its own as a pho town. But now, you can't spit without hitting a restaurant that serves the Vietnamese noodle soup, whether it's the new take-out place in the Public Market or a tropical-themed pub in Yarmouth. Saigon on Forest Avenue consistently gets the mention for being the best around, and our own informal survey was no exception. Have it with rare beef, meatball, tendon or chicken, the broth is what makes Saigon's soup stand out from the pack. Plus, like everything else on the menu, this soup comes with a soup to start. It doesn't get much more belly-warming than that.
Photo courtesy of Union
Artisan rolled oatmeal
Union, Press Hotel, 119 Exchange St., Portland
Sure, we're a little biased, but we think others would agree that the Press Hotel can evoke quite a bit of nostalgia and all the warm and fuzzy feelings that go along with that. Now, add oatmeal on top, then this on top of your oatmeal: house-made raisins, brown sugar, local milk, fresh grated cinnamon and toasted walnuts. If your coziness level isn't maxed out by then, order a side of red flannel hash. Just saying the name should make you feel like you're bundled up by a wood stove watching snow fall outside.
Photo courtesy of The Liberal Cup
Beer cheese soup
Liberal Cup, 115 Water St., Hallowell, and Run of the Mill, 100 Main St., Saco
These sister brewpubs aren't afraid to cook with the beer they make on site, but nothing on the menu gets more action from the kegs than the beer cheese soup. It's made with different combinations of beers and cheeses every day, like Bug Lager and Parmesan or Alewife Ale and aged cheddar, and served with pretzels. These cozy pubs can transport you to the English countryside in a century long gone, and their menus are chock-full of comfort food. In fact, their shepherd's pie got a shout-out for this list, as well. There's also poutine served with duck confit and duck gravy, deep-fried croquettes filled with bacon and cheese, pot roast and bangers and smash.
Photo courtesy of Blue Rooster
Three Little Pigs
Blue Rooster, 5 Dana St., Portland
The largest section of Blue Rooster's menu is devoted to tater tots. Various combinations of sauces and fixin's make for everything from nacho tots to the Tot-Tanic, which comes with a fried hot dog and macaroni salad, among other things. There's tater tot poutine, made with housemade gravy and Pineland Farms cheese curds, which sounds tummy-filling enough, but kick it up three notches and you've got Three Little Pigs, served with seared pork belly, fresh sausage and bacon. That's some comfort meat.