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Pls. Help Finetune a Portland Vacation (long)

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My husband, 4 yr old chowpup and I are spending a few days in Portland in early June. I've done my chowhound research, but still have some questions. We're staying at the Hilton Garden Inn in the Old Port and, mostly, won't have a car. We're looking for the following in restaurants: yummy, walking distance (chowpup can go in stroller for longish walks) or fairly short cab ride, mostly casual, but we'd like to do 1 nice dinner. Any thoughts on the following?

DINNER

Either Fore St. or Street & Co. for our nice dinner. We had a wonderful meal at Fore St. several years ago, but some people seem to feel that it's fallen off a bit. I'm a little concerned about comments about the noise level at Street (bothers my son and me), but would we be ok if we sit in the front? Any thoughts?

Flatbread Pizza

How's the food at Ri-Ra? It's across the street from the hotel, so has convenience going for it.

How formal is Old Port Sea Grill? How's the food?

Portland Lobster Co and Porthole both have appealing menus, casual, traditional seafood. How's the food at these places? I want really, really good chowder, steamers, fried clams, lobster.

Are any of these a mistake? Is there anything else we should be thinking about?

TAKE-OUT/PREPARED FOODS

Our chowpup likes restaurants and good food, but 3 restaurants a day for 5 days is a lot of good restaurant behavior for a 4 year old. On vacation, we often do a dinner or 2 of take-out/prepared food to eat in the room for those nights he just can't cope. Where to go pick something up?

LUNCH

Norm's near the art and children's museums

Duckfat

Some of the dinner places listed above

Anything else to recommend in the Old Port?

BREAKFAST

Standard Baking is right near the hotel, so that will probably keep us happy most mornings.

If we want really good pancakes, waffles, etc, I'm thinking Marcy's (seems to win out over Becky's) or Mim's. Any other thoughts?

COFFEE

Your vote, please, for the best coffee and espresso drinks in Old Port.

Thanks!!!!

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  1. Hi, welcome (in advance) to Portland. I have a four-year-old too, and am somewhat familiar with your limitations :) Thank your lucky stars that you get to park at the Hilton Garden! The Old Port is nightmarish for parking from June to September. Fortunately, most of the Peninsula is totally walkable. I don't know where you're traveling from, so I'm not sure what would be interesting to you other than seafood. I love the bubble tea store on Commercial, but depending on where you're coming from, that may not be a big deal.

    With a four-year-old, I'd take Fore St. over Street & Co just because the room is bigger -- Street & Co can get pretty close. Flatbread is every four-year-old's favorite, and it's right across the street from your hotel, same building as Ri Ra. Sometimes the wait can be long. Still haven't had anything but drinks at Ri Ra. The Portland Sea Grill is about what you'd expect for a somewhat upscale hotel restaurant specializing in seafood. People like the oysters there. There's a breakfast buffet in the mornings.

    Standard is practically in the same building as your hotel, so I would expect you'd go there as long as you can stand baked goods for breakfast. But go to the the Porthole for breakfast sometime. It's right on the water and still feels like an old fisherman's hangout. Marcy's is a pretty good hike for you before breakfast. Mim's is quite pricey. There's a basic diner called Big Mama's right across the street from Mim's. You can also go to Bagelworks on Temple St, both for breakfast and lunch. I'm also quite fond of Artemisia Cafe, which is probably a mile's walk to Pleasant St. in the West End, but has a lovely brunch on weekends (only), and is right next to a relatively well-appointed playground.

    Can't speak to Portland Lobster -- that's a revolving location for touristy lobster purveyors. It looks a little nicer than its last incarnation (three years ago), and is probably the best bet in the Old Port for steamers/lobster. But expect to pay. I think there are a couple of fish markets further south on Commercial (just past Becky's) that also serve cooked seafood. Try Gilbert's for chowder & fried food. If you had a car, I'd send you for the fried stuff to Susan's on Forest Ave or Newicks in South Portland.

    Coffee -- Portland Coffee Roasters right on Commercial St. is quite competent, but if you head east to India Street you will find the Coffee By Design store, just across the street from Amatos. Get your coffee at the first and your Maine Italian sandwiches at the second. Stop by Two Fat Cats bakery on your way back. Breaking New Grounds on Exchange is fine, but kind of a teenage hangout. There's a Starbucks up there as well, if that's your bag.

    Plenty of other takeout lunch in the Old Port -- Black Tie, O'Naturals, Bagelworks, even Portland Coffee Roasters has nice sandwiches. You can take your lunch and sit in the park on Exchange/Middle/Market and watch the tourists go by. There's a hotdog vendor there, and occasionally a Middle Eastern cart as well. It's trickier at dinnertime -- lots of people work in the Old Port, but at night it's mainly a place for people on dates. O'Naturals does dinner, and the Oriental Table up the block on Exchange has edible, if not stellar, Chinese food. Chiang Mai Thai on Temple at Wharf St. is supposed to be okay too.

    Hope this helps. Feel free to ask more questions -- we like to talk about our food!

    1 Reply
    1. re: MU

      Portland Lobster is run by 2 women who are former restaurateurs (was it called Cafe ALways?) and caterers (Aurora Provisions). Both of those places were quite good. I haven't eaten at Port. Lobster, howevah. It's got a great outdoor area if the weather is nice.

      Coffee by Design is the only place to go! But their coffee is also sold at other fine places like Standard Bakery.
      Speaking of bakeries, the fabulous One Fifty-Ate is in S.Portland, over the bridge. They have a bakery at Willard Square and a little funky resto near SMCC. However, the also have a new resto on Munjoy Hill, near St. Lawrence Church, and across from one of my other faves (Blue Spoon), called Bar Lola. But make reservations.
      Hugo's is fabulous, but not suitable for child.
      Have a great trip.

    2. h
      HDinCentralME

      Marcia, you have done your research...

      If stay walking distance I vote for Fore St vs. Street & Co. both for noise level and choices. I don't think people have been saying Fore St has gone downhill, only that there are some new, fresh alternatives.

      I would pass on Ri-Ra as nothing special.

      I like Old Port Sea Grill very much. It is not formal/stuffy and they do serve full menu in bar section for both lunch and dinner. Very fresh raw bar and super fresh fish simply prepared.

      For "wharf" food yes to Porthole but also consider J's Oysters and Gilbert's. All three I believe have outdoor decks in nice weather.

      Definitely Norm's near the museum; Marcy's for "real" breakfast, Mim's I think of as "brunchy".

      Coffee: JavaNet on Exchange St.

      Enjoy!

      4 Replies
      1. re: HDinCentralME

        HDinCentralME wrote: >

        From a culinary standpoint - true, true!

        BUT, they have a good breakfast menu, at least on the weekends from what I experienced. Being right across from the Hilton it's perfect.... sit upstairs toward the back and you have harbor view. A nice way to start the morning.... when I had breakfast there on a Sunday morning last year there was a jazz band ... couldn't have asked for a better breakfast.

        1. re: Dave B

          Let me try this again... seems that using the quote marks deletes the text? (Chowstaff, feel free to delete my prior two posts in this thead.)

          It was in reference to Ri-Ra.

          HDinCentralME wrote: "I would pass on Ri-Ra as nothing special."

          From a culinary standpoint - true, true!

          BUT, they have a good breakfast menu, at least on the weekends from what I experienced. Being right across from the Hilton it's perfect.... sit upstairs toward the back and you have harbor view. A nice way to start the morning.... when I had breakfast there on a Sunday morning last year there was a jazz band ... couldn't have asked for a better breakfast.

          1. re: Dave B
            h
            HDinCentralME

            Yes, their location on the water is lovely.

            We've had the jazz brunch you refer to and found the food ordinary and the music much too loud. Not a fun experience.

        2. re: HDinCentralME

          HDinCentralME wrote: >

          From a culinary standpoint - true, true!

          BUT, they have a good breakfast menu, at least on the weekends from what I experienced. Being right across from the Hilton it's perfect.... sit upstairs toward the back and you have harbor view. A nice way to start the morning.... when I had breakfast there on a Sunday morning last year there was a jazz band ... couldn't have asked for a better breakfast.

        3. Here are my thoughts, I live in Portland.

          Standard Bakery is a must - it is right next to your hotel. They have excellent breads as well as pastries. You should try their croissants, pain au chocolat, morning buns, baguette, and pain au levain. Oh - excellent scones too. I prefer blueberry.

          Depending on what time of year you are coming, a baguette with some nice tomatos and/or chunk of good cheddar or smoked salmon can serve as lunch and snacking all day long. For cheese & smoked fish head to Browne Trading on Commercial Street (can't believe no one listed this yet). I used to buy produce at the Green grocer but alas they are gone and no one has stepped up yet.

          Standard Bakery also serves the best coffee in town, Coffee by Design. So you don't have to walk up India Street (although it's only a few minutes away).

          Flatbread is an excellent place to eat casual. Great salad, excellent pizza, brownie sundaes, and they even have an excellent beer selection. At sunset you cannot beat their view.

          Old Port Sea Grill - I have had excellent dinners as well as mediocre dinners. On the pricey side regardless.

          One of my favs is Mimms on Commercial Street. The menu is a la carte and I have had several excellent meals their. The food is similar in concept to Fore Street but you get to avoid the noise (if you get seated upstairs) and inconsistency (IMO).

          Norms BBQ is nearby and another excellent casual choice.

          Fore Street shines during the Spring and Summer with the availability of local produce. If you're here during berry season, tomato season, etc you should try to get in there again. They are always a step ahead of everyone else in town.

          I have had one meal at 555 and it was 100% perfect from start to finish. I was very impressed. This is not the type of place to bring a kid though. This is also the only place mentioned where you may need to dress up a bit. Portland is mostly a very casual town and it's not taboo to wear jeans and sneaks into most places.

          One bit of advice - stay away from farmed fish. You can get that garbage anywhere. Portland restaurants serve some excellent wild fish you can't find in other places. Take advantage of it.

          I probably have more to add but I gotta run. Enjoy our little city!

          1. we ended up visiting standard baking twice during our three day stay, mainly because of the blueberry oatmeal scone. :) (i'm not a scone fan, but it was more muffin like) they also had cranberry walnut on saturday, which was very good. i believe they also had a apricot pecan?

            i picked up a info sheet, so thought i would post the information about them before i threw it away. (they don't have a website, do they?)

            standard baking company
            open M-F 7 AM-6 PM, S-S 7 AM-5 PM

            breads: baguette, demi baguette, country boule, focaccia w/ fresh rosemary (also saw garlic asiago both days we visited), marinated olive, pain au levain, pain de mie, pane francese, raisin pecan
            rolls: french, marinated olive, raisin pecan, italian
            organic: rustica, rustic baguette, seeded whole wheat, whole rye, whole wheat, maine 5 grain

            daily specials:
            monday: semolina sesame
            tuesday: organic whole wheat, light rye with caraway
            wednesday: organic oat wheat, fig anise
            thursday: organic whole wheat
            friday: anadama, challah, crakced wheat-potato, black olive-onion focaccia
            saturday: black olive-onion focaccia, organic whole wheat
            sunday: cinammon raisin bread

            pastries: scones, pain au chocolat, brioche, brownies, gingerbread, croissant (also saw ham and cheese on saturday), morning buns (w/ and w/o nuts), biscotti, cookies, galettes

            on a side note, i also picked up almond macaroons when i was there. very very yummy.

            my only complaint (and a VERY petty one, probably also goes against their philosophy) is that they didn't have splenda.