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One meal in Portland, ME - where should it be?

  • f

We're heading to Portland for a weekend-long family celebration, but we'll probably only have one meal in a restaurant. Where should we eat? Requirements are casual (everyone's bringing the kids) and seafood (naturally). Oysters would be a big plus. I imagine there must be tons of restaurants that fit the bill, but I'm hoping someone can steer us to "the" place.


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  1. Nothing. Don't eat a thing. Just go to a church (or some other house of worship), light a candle, and mourn the passing of The Magic Muffin.

    I'd type more but my fingers are trembling with emotion and grief. It's just too painful.


    10 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff


      I'm honored, yet mystified, by your response. I do feel your pain, but I could more easily empathize if I knew what the "Magic Muffin" was. I even did a Chowhound search and found nothing. So, I promise to do as you say (except for the "no eating" part - fat chance of that), if you (1) enlighten me and (2) tell me where to get the best oysters and lobster in the city of Portland.

      Yours reverentially,

      1. re: Fay

        I played at the Portland First Night (i.e. New Year's) celebration a few years ago. I awoke the next morning, as I always do in New England, totally excited about having a Great Breakfast.

        Everywhere we went, misfortune struck. We got directions to a great place, got miserably lost for an hour, finally found it recently out of business. One in our party was wearing a yarmulke, and a bigoted diner manager informed us there'd be a 45 minute wait (half the tables were empty). Etc etc.

        We were eventually so ravenous and frustrated that we were prepared to just grab an Egg McMuffin (I don't need to explain how low that made me feel), when suddenly, at the last possible second before giving up, we glimpsed The Magic Muffin.

        It was on the main drag in Portland, and breakfast was perfect. Friendly waitresses, too. They'd periodically roam around the room, dumping fresh-out-of-oven muffins (made from scratch) into breadbaskets. A muffin rodizio, if you will. Farm fresh eggs were served in individual cast iron skillets.

        I was happy.

        I only got to go there once, and recently heard from reliable sources that they're...they're....c....ccccc.......ccccclllllll

        I can't say it.

        1. re: Jim Leff

          I feel the same way about The Good Egg!! Used to be on Congress, until an untimely fire.
          Too bad!!!

          1. re: Mr. W.
            Susan Higgins

            Didn't the Good Egg morph into the "Brealu"? (Breakfast and Lunch combined!). It's still a great place, very much a "morning after" joint. Great pancakes. Now, of course, one must try the Bayou Cafe, at Woodford's Corner, with every imaginable type of hot sauce to slather on your gator eggs.

            1. re: Susan Higgins

              I'm new in town, so I could definitely be mistaken, but wasn't Ye Olde Pancake Shoppe the one on Congress that closed? Isn't the BreaLu on Forest? (BTW - thanks for clearing up the mystery about that name!) I haven't been there -- it's tough to lure me away from the Bayou, where I had kick-butt gingerbread pancakes this weekend.

              1. re: MU

                I think that Bayou has become my all time favorite breakfast place. And breakfast is my favorite meal.

                1. re: Tara

                  When I was at the Bayou a couple of weeks ago (actually, it was when we took Tara there) I mentioned my love of the coffee cake muffins to the owner (they didn't have them) and she said that if I call up the night before and ask her, she'll bake them for me! How's that for down home cooking?! My MOTHER never baked anything for me on request. Of course, my mother once baked a cake and forgot to put the flour in it, but that's another story.

                  - VF

                  Here's the address and phone number:

                  543 Deering Ave Portland, ME (207) 774-4935

            2. re: Mr. W.

              The Good Egg was the best! Almost as good as Dot's Diner was (and maybe still is) in Boulder, CO. And I believe that the Good Egg's owner was the same guy who now does Bella Cucina. Another good resto.

              1. re: DF

                The Good Egg is now doing business at the Pepper Club on Middle Street. Breakfast is usually pretty decent, although the last time I was there the eggs were runny and the tea was served with lukewarm water. (May have been an "off" morning.)

                1. re: CandyGirl13

                  I had the same experience. Very poor service and cold coffee.

      2. For plain ol' lobster, I suggest Newick's in South Portland just over the Casco Bay Bridge. It's a big homey room with picnic-style tables and really great prices for steamers and lobster and various other seafood combo dinners (steamed or fried). It's nothing fancy, but very reliable, and lots of kids and families go there, especially in large groups. If you're gonna eat lobster, you don't really want to go anywhere fancy, anyway. On doing a web search, I just discovered that it's a mini-chain, with other locations in New Hampshire. Don't hold that against it.

        BTW, in my experience, you can get oysters in Portland, but they aren't really the thing. It's like getting lobster in Baltimore.

        1 Reply
        1. re: MU

          I spent Thanksgiving weekend in Portland, and on Friday there was a general call from the visiting NYC folks for lobster. After the big to-do on Thursday, Stepmom, who's a native downeast'er and normally wouldn't THINK of going OUT for lobster, was not interested in dealing with a large number of crustaceans in the house, so the nine of us trooped over to Newick's. I hadn't been there in a few years, but I'm glad to report it's just as I remember it.

          The scene: [Cap'n] Newick's is a big barnlike place with a small giftshop in the front. I'm not sure who buys stuff there, because the substantial line of seniors and young families ahead of us waiting for tables was not made up of out-of-towners. Wrong season, I guess. One of the groups ahead of us had 18 people, so our 9 were no trouble. The place has the feel of a church community room done up with plastic tablecloths in preparation for the annual bean feed.

          Half of the group got lobsters (12.99 this time of year. It's 4.99/lb in the fish market.) They were fine. My stepbrother, who's 12, informed me that it was the first time he had ever eaten lobster away from home (I traded him some of my lobster for some of his fried clams). Plastic bibs and picks all around, but not enough napkins. This reminded me why I would not want to eat a whole lobster in anyplace fancier than this.

          Newick's has the best fried food I've had ANYWHERE. We started with a large order of onion rings, which was about $6 for enough shoestring-thin rings to supply a good fistful to every person at the table. I've been on a fruitless quest to find onion rings like this in NYC -- most places have the half-inch thick ones with way too much breading, while these were harmoniously balanced between onion (cooked to translucence, but not mushy), and batter. The rings never, ever slid out of their casings when you bit them. Dad and Stepmom split the big fisherman's plate, 19.99 for a plate of whole clams, scallops, shrimp, and haddock, a baked potato, and little paper cups of tartar sauce and cocktail sauce. An amazing deal. The clams were absolutely sublime -- sweet and clean with just enough crisp breading to seal all the yumminess in. Even the scallops, which are sometimes risky, were great -- flavorful, dense and sweet.

          Veggie Friend (tactfully averting his eyes from the dismembered lobsters) had a decent food option, described on the menu as "all the fresh vegetables we can find" over pasta with balsamic vinegar. It was 6.99. This was an enormous plate of linguine with veggies and large slices of garlic. Distracted by the abundance of fried whole clams, I declined a taste, but he seemed well pleased.

          If you find yourself in Portland (or Dover, Hampton, or Merrimack, NH) with a hankering for super, no-frills seafood, this place is definitely worth thinking about.

          Link: http://www.newicks.com/

        2. I lived in Portland for a year, and I ate much lobster there, although most of it was in my own kitchen (very cheap indeed). You might try J.'s Oyster, which is on Commercial St. in the Old Port district. They have tables right next to the water, although I guess it's too cold for that now. Harrakeesett Lunch, in Freeport, is great - very casual, very kid-friendly, very inexpensive and excellent lobster with the usual accoutrements, next to the water. But going there would entail driving north for about 30 minutes. There's also Gilbert's Chowder House, also on Commercial St., but I don't recall if they have lobster. Chowder, though. I really liked the food at Walter's on Exchange St., but it's not seafood-centered, and maybe not the place to bring kids. I felt compelled to mention it nonetheless.

          1. I say go to Fore Street -- great cavernous room with a wonderfully theatrical open kitchen...delicious food...my girlfriend says her scallops were the best ever...great wine list...delightful servers...

            you won't be disappointed!!!

            1. I'd recommend Aubergine on Congress Street. It's away from the hordes down in the Olde Port section and isn't overly geared to tourists the way many of the Old Port 'straunts are. The chef spent a bunch of years in France before moving back to Maine. The ingredients are primo and there's nothing forced about how authentically Maine it is. (i.e. no lobster buoys on the wall.)
              If you insist on having lobster, keep in mind that most Mainiacs don't eat lobster at restaurants, and when they do, it's usually at an open-lobster pound in the Summer. Still, you might want to check out Gilberts on Commerical Street (very casual). Stay away from Dimillos "Floating Restaurant" unless you just have to have a 5 pound lobster surrounded by conventioneers.
              Oysters? Try J's Oyster Bar. They're only served with cocktail sauce and horseradish (I bring my own mignonette) but they are incredibly cheap (they're free during happy hour in the winter) and if you get there just as the kitchen closes, they give what's left away.
              Fore Street's ok, but there's nothing special about it. It will look (and taste) very familiar if you've been to high-end seafood restaurants in Boston or New York. Plus, the guy that runs it has a little mini-empire (he owns Street and Co. as well) and there's something about the place that seems, well, smug.

              1 Reply
              1. re: SDeSimon

                Keep in mind that J's is mostly a bar (with food), sorta dark and smoky. The football games will be on.

              2. m
                Mr. W. (who used to live in Portland Me.)

                Go no further than Uncle Billy's for downhome barbque.
                Have a drink at Brian Boru, ask for Lawrence Kelly, tell him Mr. W. sent you.
                Haraseeket lunch and lobster is closed in the winter.
                Go over to the Stone Coast Brewery for a homebrew, then to Three dollar Deweys for a bowl of popcorn and a Geary's Pale Ale. Try the Vietnamese Rooster sauce on that popcorn.

                Crips, have a good trip, yes suh.

                1. DiMillo's a converted ferry on the Long Wharf. The bar has great views of Casco Bay, the food is good and the prices are reasonable. It's a little touristy, but you are a tourist. We love it.

                  1. Aubergine Bistro Alert:

                    Somewhere, I thought in this series, I read recommendations for Portland's Aubergine Bistro. I know I've seen it recommended in a variety of places and decided to try it three weeks ago.

                    Both the friend with whom I was traveling and I concurred that the food and wine were truly excellent. From the beautifully dressed salad through the lamb entree paired with a lovely glass of Shiraz and fruit tart with homemade ginger ice cream, it was a wonderful meal at a price fixe around $35 excluding wine. Imagine our shock when we got individual bills of close to $60 each! We were told there was a surcharge (close to $10 apiece) for separate checks!

                    The following night we asked before requesting separate checks. The waiter in a Halifax hotel said he'd never heard of such a practice, which, of course, we hadn't either. Diner, beware.

                    1. I don't want to diss anyone, but if you have one meal in Portland, please don't let it be either DiMillo's or Cap'n Newicks, unless you want to hang out with busloads, and I mean busloads, of tourists. And the food is not all that good. In the case of DiMillo's, it's a cool location (on a barge docked in the harbor), but the food is overpriced and simply NOTHING to brag about. OY! They both have gift shops, and I think that should be enough said.
                      Depending on your funk quota, try Uncle Billy's (not fine dining, but a fine juke box, and the food is good) for BBQ, Local 188 (great tapas and cheap), Fore St (elegant and good food, but somewhat overpriced and hard to get into), Gabriel's (has its haute cuisine moments, but maybe too pretentious), Caffe Uffa (partic. good for those vegetarians out there), Pepperclub (speaking of vegetarians), BenKay for Japanese food. Just a small sample of the good food in Portland. Street & Co. is also good for seafood. Someone mentioned that Fore St. and Street & Co. are owed by the same guy. He also owns Standard Bakery (OUTSTANDING!!!!!!) and American Pie (wood fired brick oven pizza). The thing is, the food is VERY high quality in all of these places, so I suppose he should be rewarded, not censured. However, I preferred Flatbread pizza to American Pie, though the latter also has a very interesting jukebox and good basic (but chowhound-quality basic) food, and Flatbread is a chain from Vermont, so I apologize to my local talents.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: DF

                        Hi, DF! Nice to see some company out here!

                        We moved to Portland in April, but my family has been here for about ten years. I'm not a vegetarian, but my fiance is, so our restaurant explorations have a vegetarian slant. We'll generally skip places without an obvious, cheese-free (no way to rule out animal rennet), veggie option on the menu, so there are definitely holes in my knowledge. Many places in Portland, including fancy ones, belong to the "throw some cheese on it and call it vegetarian" school of vegetarian cooking. Pepperclub is an exception, in that it often has three vegetarian entrees (of eight) on the menu at the same time, one of which is usually vegan.

                        Definitely agree with you about Mr. Street and all his establishments (Standard Bakery is awesome), and I would never run him down for opening more places.

                        But I still like Newick's. It's big and kitschy, horribly crowded during the summer (my first summer visit was this year, it was not as good as other visits), but I like it. They steam their lobsters and fry their clams well, and in spite of what look like enormous crowds, I've never waited more than 5 min for table. Their single vegetarian entree (penne primavera, of course) is large, well-executed, and costs $5.95.

                        Remember that people visiting Maine generally expect seafood, and that BBQ, sushi, or pizza, while potentially great, are probably not in the running for one and only one meal in Portland.

                        I've found that high-end Portland restaurants, to a NYC-acclimated palate, are mostly good-not-great. There are probably a few exceptions (five years ago I would have sent someone looking for upscale food to Perfetto; now I would send them to Fore St. or Bella Cucina), but a lot of the high-end stuff really can't compete, and is potentially a disappointment.

                        Pizza quality here is definitely several notches above your basic NYC pizza these days. We went to Flatbread Company on Friday (they've been open here for about two months), and, while the pizza totally rocks, they were completely overwhelmed, and we had to wait 45 min for our food. Their stone oven seems to hold about six pies at a time, and there had to be 100 people waiting for food. Great hot-out-of-the-oven brownies with ice cream, too. I got a less-than-thrilled report about American Pie from my folks, who checked it out ("Pompeo's is around the corner, so why bother?"), and I've never, ever had a soggy pie at Ricetta's, which you mentioned in another post. But we always get our pies without cheese. Favorite combo: sauteed spinach, calamatas, caramelized onions.

                        Anyway, welcome! Great to hear from you.

                        1. re: MU

                          I agree with you on the high end restaurants in Portland, although it sounds as if there are some in York County that may be contenders (like Arrows, although I ate there a few years ago and was not THAT impressed). I think our town is particularly good with middle range restaurants, like Bella Cucina, Caffe Uffa, etc. I still love Local 188 (but you have to like hard shell clams - which I do - and lots of olive oil). And Pepperclub.

                          I still gripe about smoky open kitchens, however because I have asthma and cannot breathe well if the house is very smoky. I can't go to Street & Co.'s original room without feeling it in my lungs. Fewer open kitchens, better ventilation!

                        2. re: DF

                          You mentioned American Pie, but I think you mean Portland Pie, which is not owned by Street & Company, although he does own a bakery called TWO FAT CATS.

                        3. Every once and awhile its fun to dredge up one of these ancient postings. I read down through this string and got a kick out of J's Oyster Bar being described as smokey. The funny thing is, J's is STILL delightfully smokey, though there hasn't been a cigarette lit there in years. And Aubergine. What a great restaurant. I remember the owner migrated to Portland from Camden after a divorce. I wonder what became of his culinary enterprises post-Aubergine? And I really got a kick out of the poster who claimed that ordering "...oysters in Portland is like ordering lobster in Baltimore". My guess is that this person did not go on to bankroll the Old Port Sea Grill...

                          All things considered, and given adaquate time to make reservations I would suggest that even seven years later, Street & Company would win out as "the place" to have ONE meal in Portland.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Keefer Lucas

                            David Grant was the chef at The Edge in Lincolnville one night a week last summer. You can catch up with him at Maine Fare in Camden the weekend of Sept. 14-16. He frequently dines at Francine's Bistro in Camden.

                          2. I think a great spot is Street and Company if youa re looking for seafood, it is causal but you will need to make a reservation and be sure to mention that children are coming so that they can seat you accordingly. Another place, new to town in Vignola. I had a great experience there just last night (get the local cheeses to start). Again best to reserve ahead. If you are looking for just a quick kid lunch try Flatbread Pizza--super kid friendly and really yummy organic choices. Have a blast, I love Portland, just moved here and cannot say enough about the magic of this place.