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Oct 9, 2007 08:58 AM

Foodie weekend in Portland, ME - what should I hit next time?

This past weekend my family had our 3rd annual Foodie Weekend, a hedonistic tradition that began in New York in 2005 and was held in Brooklyn, NY last year.

The concept is simple. Each year the weekend has two components: To Go and For Here. To Go is about visiting nifty food stores, buying the rare and exotic ingredient or gourmet prepared food, and placing it in your cooler for consumption later. For Here is the sit-down, restaurant component, where the only goal is to taste the best of everything.

This year it was in Portland, Maine, where my in-laws reside. We usually spend a lot of time in and around Casco Bay, fishing and eating lobsters and other seafood, but we hadn't ever had much chance to sample Portland's eats.

The weekend kicked off bright and early on Saturday morning with a visit to the Portland Farmers' Market, which was excellent. Lots of fresh vegetables, some amazing varieties of tomatoes, great apples from the Snell Farm, and excellent asian greens. Gotta love indian summer.

Next, we were off to Browne Trading Company, on Commercial Street in Portland's Old Port. It's an upscale place for provisions, specializing in caviar and seafood. They had an excellent wine selection, and a lot of good oils and condiments. While they had some interesting cheeses, some were moldy and not in great shape, so I passed. As for fish, they sold barramundi, which I can't usually find in CT, where I live. I didn't sample the caviar, unfortunately. In their cooler, they had every D'Artagnan product you could imagine, including boar sausage and rabbit sausage. Impressive, I thought.

Our third stop was Harbor Fish Market, on the waterfront. Great place, reasonable prices, and not to be missed. I picked up some smoked salmon and tossed it into the cooler.

At last it was time for lunch, so we proceeded to Duck Fat on Middle Street. This was truly fantastic. A fry and sandwich place, where they cook the fries in duck fat and accompany it with duck gravy upon request. Hear me out on this. My first thought was that the meal would be too heavy with all this duck fat business. But the fries were delicious and not too heavy at all. Lots of dipping sauces, including a subtle but sublime curry mayo. I also had the special sandwich -- beef short ribs with sharp cheddar. The meat was so soft I could have eaten it with a spoon. In fact, my 14-month old son *did* eat it with a spoon, and he was in love. Chimay was available by the bottle. My one regret is that I didn't get to sample their milkshakes. Maybe next time.

Nearby, we ducked into Micucci's on India Street, an Italian grocery with good focaccia and what seemed like a decent bakery. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to stay here long.

We took the rest of the afternoon off, so that the boy could nap, but dinner was at Seagrass Bistro, on Forest Falls Drive in Yarmouth. You know those business complexes that keep springing up everywhere? The ones you drive by and murmur, "This used to be all fields...." Well, this place is tucked way back inside one of these complexes. You'd never see it if you weren't driving in and looking for it. The menu incorporates a lot of local ingredients and is clearly very well thought out. I had the grilled Australian rack of lamb over autumn squash risotto. The meat was cooked to perfection, and I really liked the way the flavors blended together. I would definitely recommend this place. Top-notch service, and an pleasing dining experience overall.

The next day, we visited Smiling Hill Farm, on Route 22, at the Westbrook-North Scarborough town line. It was Creamery Day at that farm and many others in Maine, so the cheesemaking facilities were open for tours and questions. We saw their cold smoker, sampled their smoked mozzarella, and had ice cream. These cheeses are small-batch, so they beat the pants off the preservative-laden supermarket stuff that I'm used to in CT.

For more cheese, our final stop was the Cheese Iron on Route 1 in Scarborough. Now *this* is the way a cheese shop ought to be. It's a first-rate operation, from the choices they offer to the knowledgeable advice that they dispense for servings and pairings. Lots of good wines and beers, tons of other gourmet products, and even a small play area for the boy. I think they have a class coming up about fondue. These folks really know their cheese.

For dinner, my mother-in-law made grilled swordfish, which she'd gotten from the local grocery store, Hannaford's. I wish I could get fish like that from the supermarket where I am.

On the whole, I was really impressed by the city. I ate great food. I found things that I usually have to travel to three different stores to find in CT (and even then I don't always find them). And I really like the way that the local farms and the restaurants are so connected.

So what should I put on my list for the next visit to Portland?

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  1. go north to georgetown and eat at the meetinghouse, excellent

    4 Replies
    1. re: jspear

      Sorry, Robinhood meeting house

      1. re: jspear

        I am pretty sure that the only cheeses at Browne Trading Company that were moldy were the ones that were supposed to be - BTC is the only place around that I have found where I can get my favorite Humboldt Fog cheese...if you didn't know what you were looking at you'd be disgusted!

        1. re: Keefer Lucas

          Ah, the joys of Humboldt Fog! I love that cheese. I *think* I also saw it at the Cheese Iron.

          1. re: Keefer Lucas

            Wild Oats always had Humboldt Fog. Also K. Horton. BTW, I've seen cheese at Browne Trading in less than ideal condition. It really seems like it's an afterthought there.

      2. GREAT foodie report! I was thinking about a trip to Portland. Now I MUST go. Thanks!

        1. You hit many of the highlights...but the Seagrass Bistro??? I am not sure who gave you that recommendation but we have oh, so much better in Portland! Five-Fifty-Five, Hugo's, Bresca, Fore Street & Street & Company (in that order). For Breakfast try the Good Egg Cafe on Middle Street or Bintliff's. I have lots more recommendations at if you care to check them out. But I'm glad you enjoyed the city!

          2 Replies
          1. re: TypeA

            Wow, such a pretentious reply about Seagrass...have you ever eaten there? Distinctive dining is not just relagated to Portland.

            1. re: chefsofee

              Agreed, with all the hype about Portland, there exists foodie spots outside the city limits.....Some exploring is always in order, especially if you are on the spot, can't wait or have a last minute change and no reservations. I was glad to hear the Seagrass included in this post....

          2. i loved hugo's, and did a lengthy report on it a couple months ago.

            1. Caiola's and Ribollita. Two of our favorite places