More and more restaurants, eateries, bars, bakeries and pizza halls are in some sort of build-out phase in Portland, and the slate is in high gear for the newest to happen soon. Some will open this summer, others in the fall and still more by 2015. But they’re all on the books.
The biggest impediment for would-be entrepreneurs is getting their permits from the city. That process is not necessarily difficult. But town hall is notoriously slow and many have waited months before they can get the go-ahead.
Here’s a look at some of the more promising venues on the move.
Timber, 106 Exchange St. Their street-front windows are still papered over, but their debut is imminent. Timber is a steak house primarily with grilled and rotisserie meats, and chicken, pastas and other dishes. Comfort food is part of the mix too. Their preliminary menu shows, for instance, home-style meatloaf with a tomato sauce glaze and served with a—say, what?–Bordelaise sauce? Home-style?
Riff: good chance of being a sure-fire hit as Upper Exchange St. becomes a preeminent restaurant row.
Lolita, 90 Congress St. This is the little sister of the much loved Bar Lola that was two doors away. They’ve exchanged places with Hilltop Coffee, who took over Bar Lola’s much bigger spot, while Lolita edged into Hilltop’s smaller quarters. This, I find, is the most peculiar juxtaposition of trading places. Most winning restaurants expand if they’re successful, which Bar Lola certainly was. But in their cozier space they aimed to downsize. The food will be more Mediterranean than Italian (wasn’t that always the case?). A sample menu submitted to the city for their liquor license application shows foods like artisan cheese, charcuterie, soy braised chicken thigsh and main courses like rib-eye, fish of the day and rabbit. Rabbit—what no chicken? Opening soon.
Riff: They’re sure to be a hit because Bar Lola fans will certainly flock to the edgier Lolita. I peeked through the small glass pane of the front door, but all I could see was a nifty, sexy-looking bar.
Tandem Coffee Bakery, 742 Congress St. Originally this space was going to be developed by Local 188–Salvage–Sonny’s kingpin Jay Villani. Now Tandem Coffee has taken over the project to open up a bakery that will surely feature their very expensive coffees as well as being a pie-centric bake shop headed by baker Briana Holt. She hails from the far-flung headwinds of Brooklyn and Martha’s Vineyard, which seem to be the sum of her baking provenance. But evidently she’s destined to be the sweetheart (no pun intended) of this new sweet spot. Opening day is probably a few months away.
Riff: This is exactly what this neighborhood needs on the skirts of the West End and along this stretch of Congress St. hosting some of the best restaurants in the city.
211 Danforth. On the site where the downmarket Vespucci’s sat crumbling for years across from the much-loved dive bar Ruski,’s owners Keith Hickman and Josh Kaplan are turning this into a neighborhood restaurant where high-style comfort food will be served. It’s expected to open sometime in the fall.
Riff: This will be another surefire hit for West End locals IF the food and vibes are good.
King’s Head, Merrill Wharf. This project at the base of the Pierce Atwood building on the wharf has been ongoing for months. But after my site inspection this weekend it seems to be moving along finally. It’s a great spot, the space is enormous and this will certainly give nearby In’Finiti a run for its money.
Riff: Bring on good food, drink and cool vibes and it’s sure to be a success as Portland’s waterfront continues its much needed revival beyond the flailing fishing industry businesses.
Scales (?) Maine Wharf. The rumors are rampant. It’s generally believed, however, that Fore Street’s Dana Street is behind this project where the reincarnation of Scales, his fabulous fish-fry house, will fill this fantastic harborfront space. If you remember Scales used to be in the rear of the Public Market building, which will soon house Slab Sicilian Street Food, due to open soon. If Scales does open here, this Portland pier will finally be a destination. Boone’s is on the neighboring pier and doing gangbusters. And a place like Scales, with a much different format, should follow suit.
Riff: With Dana Street at the helm, this will most likely be a big hit with locals and tourists flocking to this great spot on the harbor. With so few waterfront restaurants in a peninsula city bound by water, anything new with such an orientation has the potential for him-impact success.