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John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

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Posted: June 16, 2014

Love for Little Bigs, Little Tap House & Louie’s Grille (and some disappointments elsewhere)

Look at this week’s picks and pans from great meals to tacos, wraps. BLTs, sweets and small-town farmer’s market.

Written by: John Golden

It was a week of picks, pans and other culinary musings in our high-velocity town of food and dining. Fittingly, perhaps, I had my first C&D (aka Crauxnut or Cronut) yesterday from Little Bigs in South Portland. It was reserved over a month ago.

All fat, butter, flour, yeast, milk and water, it’s rolled, chilled and turned several times, fried and voila! A donut-like croissant that’s circulated the world from Singapore to Saskatchewan with stops at the cardiovascular ward.  But truly, South Portland’s version is fantastic, and a month’s wait at that!  They’re very sweet, very flaky, very buttery and as addictively alluring as pummeling a bag of chips.

Little Big's take on Crauxnut, aka C&D

Little Big’s take on Crauxnut, aka C&D

Other musings this past week held some surprises, some disappointments and a few discoveries.

Little Tap House.  This is now on the top of my list  for inspired cooking.  This neighborhood watering hole has held its own nicely since it opened a year ago, but the food was not always consistent as chefs kept coming and going.  But now they have found a keeper.  His name is Cory Beckwith, who was number two man at Abby Harmon’s Caiola’s for many years.

Charred asparagus and feta bruschetta

Charred asparagus and feta bruschetta

He has brought over all that he’s learned from Harmon and put it to very good use.  From poutine to veal scallops over Parmesan risotto, his menu is chockablock with—yes—comfort food.  I chose two of the day’s specials: a bruschetta of charred asparagus, greens, olives and feta that I wolfed down because every bit tasted so good—especially the interplay of the sweet asparagus and salty feta.  An entrée of braised stuffed chicken with roast potatoes packed walloping flavor, too. The chicken was brined and the breast was rolled and stuffed with an aromatic filling of mushrooms, onions, garlic, celery and gorgonzola.  Dessert was an extremely well-made raspberry panna cotta—all velvet textured and just sweet enough. With great beers on tap, well-made cocktails and now terrific food,  Little Tap House is compelling.

Braised stuffed chicken and panna cotta

Braised stuffed chicken and panna cotta

Blue Rooster.  My chicken salad sandwich was a disappointment. Called the Cuckoo’s Nest, it’s made with chicken salad wrapped around almonds, fennel, tarragon, Dijon jus (what is Dijon jus?), greens and pickled red onion, and served in naan bread. Out came this goo wrapped in a gloppy burrito-textured naan (I absolutely abhor wraps) without a hint of flavor from any of the ingredients.

Cuckoo's Nest chicken wrap

Cuckoo’s Nest chicken wrap

I ate half and threw the rest away. I thought I’d reward myself with a brownie or cookie, which used to be so good here.  But alas, they stopped making them and the server behind the counter didn’t know why.  Hey guys, what’s up?  Maybe this was a one-off experience, which should not be repeated.

Taco Escobarr.  I haven’t been to this Congress Street taqueria in a long time.  I just wanted a quick lunch: two tacos, one puffy filled with chipotle chicken and soft taco with al pastor—pork with pineapple.  The chicken had lots of smoky chipotle flavor and the pork  was bland without discernible bits of the traditional grilled pineapple.  They were decent enough tacos, however, but I longed for something better.

Chipoltle chicken taco and al pastor taco

Chipotle chicken taco and al pastor taco

Louie’s Grille.  At this Cumberland Center hideaway, I had one of the best BLTs:  smoky, sweet bacon, good tomatoes, plenty of mayo on grilled buttery bread, and all in perfect proportion.  I can’t comment on the rest of the food served here, but in this little town center there are few choices, and this is the cutest place west of the Foreside.

Louie's Grille BLT and casual dining room

Louie’s Grille BLT and casual dining room

Cumberland Farmer’s Market.  This market has been around for years, but it keeps a low profile compared to the jam-packed ones in Portland and other places.  It’s a sweet little market where I picked up first-of-the season baby carrots (haven’t seen them elsewhere), the first crop of strawberries, some very good bread from a local baker and a brick of small-batch butter from Cabot that one of the vendors was selling.  It’s a nice change of pace from the more frenetic farmer’s markets.

The scene at the Cumberland Farmer's Market

The scene at the Cumberland Farmer’s Market

Empire Chinese.  New on the menu at this bustling Cantonese Imperial dining hall is the classic sweet and sour pork, a dish that practically defines Cantonese cooking.  Unlike the very Americanized version that drips with canned pineapple chunks, the pork is on the bone, simmered in orange and pineapple juice, soy and spices and served in a cabbage shell—and it’s just plain wonderful.

Sweet and sour pork at Empire Chinese

Sweet and sour pork at Empire Chinese

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