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Duck Fat - Portland, ME

  • m

After a hellish 5 hour drive from Boston to Portland thanks to a NYE snow storm we were ready for some naughty food. Unfortunately when we pulled up at Duck Fat at about 5:30 pm it was closed. We were disappointed - very disappointed - but undeterred. When we woke up the next morning we gave them a call and were happy to find that they were open!

The restaurant was much smaller than I expected. Really just three tables and two long counters. The highlight of our lunch was definitely the poutine -- so amazingly good, especially since it was about 10 degrees out and we were all out pretty late ringing in 2009 the night before. The fries were appropriately crispy, salty and hand-cut, but I think the real reason they were so delicious was that they had been layered with the gravy and cheese curds so that every fry was allocated the perfect amount of sauce and cheese. This poutine put the version All Star Sandwich Bar whips up here in Boston to shame and definitely rivaled anything I've had up in Montreal. I also tried the meatloaf panini. The meatloaf was good and worked well with the onion relish, but the bread to meat ratio was off and there was a bit too much of the horseradish mayo.

Hope to make it back up to Portland - and back to Duck Fat - sometime this year.

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  1. Everything I've tried at Duck Fat is great (Belgian fries with sauces; poutine; panini; the homemade sodas; the beignets (sort of donutty things); the$5 milk shake that costs $4; the soup; the French press coffee)---everything!

    You need to go a few times because the food is so rich you can't try everything on your first trip.

    1. I wasn't sure about this place, but had read so many good reviews, I tried it back in the fall. AMAZING! The fries are to die for, the sandwich was great, and the beignets were heavenly. I tried the spicy chocolate sauce with the beignets (I was told they put a little cayenne pepper in it), and couldn't believe something so odd-sounding could taste so good. Had a blast with the magnetic poetry while waiting for the food too. I will definitely return!

      7 Replies
      1. re: lirwin13

        i first heard of Duck Fat when it had a blip in Gourmet magazine @ 4 years ago. i have always wanted to get up there, but alas we are vermont junkies and i've never made the time for a trip. now this is the first i've heard reviews for the place..my intrigue is renewed and i feel compelled to make a short mid-week trip to portland. any other places that should not be missed? esp late night/bars/brewpubs, etc?

        1. re: sarabean

          portland is a paradise for eating,duck fat is amazing,as is fore st.,hugos,the public market,grittys,the list goes on forever....i even heard theres a topless dounut place that has pretty good glazed dounuts....get up there,its so close,like less then 2 hrs from boston...

          1. re: im hungry

            Isn't the public market closed ?

            Also, where is the topless doughnut place ? Is this for real ? Sounds interesting....

            1. re: bakersma

              The "original" Public Market closed, but a newer version with a few merchants from the first one reopened at Monument Square (477 Congress St).

            2. re: im hungry

              Hah, my DH and I call that topless donut place home of the Donut Hos. :)

              1. re: GSM

                I can see guys going up to Portland in search of the mythical topless donut shop. Like El Dorado

                1. re: Trnrbrnr

                  very similar to those duckfat fries,the mecca!!

        2. Duckfat Rules! Made a pilgrimage from Providence and it was well worth the drive. The fries were sublime. The salads are great,too.

          1. Been to Duckfat several times. Last time was in the summer and we had to stand in line for at least half an hour before ordering fries and a shake. This was after we had a forgettable lunch elsewhere in Portland. It's great stuff, but it is heavy.

            We'll be celebrating our anniversary next weekend with a trip to Portland. I'm looking forward to another visit to Duckfat. We'll probably get to Fore Street and then what? Maybe Hugo's? Haven't been to 555 yet. Any other suggestions?

            3 Replies
            1. re: Essex County

              Maybe you should try some of the less well-known, but still excellent spots in Portland: Caiola's; Bresca; Evangeline, Back Bay Grill come to mind, and all have been noted on this board recently. 555 is definitely still superb, however, so if you haven't been there, try for a res.

              1. re: mainemal

                I have been to Back Bay Grill and was happy with it. Haven't even heard of the other three. Time for some research! Thanks for the tips.

                1. re: Essex County

                  I love 555, and Fore Street is still as good as ever. If you are looking for something different from those 2 stalwarts, you might try Emilitsa's, Caiola's (they both have websites), or Local 188. Bresca is wonderful but tiny, so if you don't have a rez by now, you might be out of luck. I have often wanted to try Pepper Club, but haven't been yet! Anyone have any thoughts?

            2. I've been to Duck Fat recently and have to say that I cannot wait to go back! The fries alone are making me want to return! We actually ordered more food to go because we were sad to leave! The prices are great, atmosphere is nice, service very friendly! I can't wait to go back!!!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Lee Storey

                Wow! all this response is making my mouth water! thinking about calling in sick for a few days with duck flu! thanks maineiacs for all the feedback, planning a roadtrip superbowl weekend, since we're not doing anything else special.... :(

              2. Love Duck Fat. Have been there everyime I make it up to Portland. Great concept, fantastic execution, great vibe. There isn't anything new i can add about the fries that hasn't been said. The beef tongue rueben is a big winner. The duck poutine is a great twist of a classic. Love the space but wonder if if they are going to outgrow it soon.

                1. If anyone knows the Duck Fat owners, ask them nicely to open a branch in the Boston area please. The Duck Confit Panini is up there with the best sandwich anyone could ever imagine eating.

                  26 Replies
                  1. re: mjg0725

                    I like their fries and the shakes are good, but you guys really love the sandwiches that much? I've been a few times and they do not stand out for me and they seem really high priced for what goes in them.

                    If I knew someone was driving far away to go to Portland and I had to tell them one place to go for a sandwich, I would send them to Henry VIII's any day over Duckfat. In fact, I have no idea why Henry doesn't get the hype on this board like Duckfat does. Even TV Diner gave them a platinum plate. Anybody I've ever taken there from away was blown away by how good they were.

                    Maybe I need to go back to Duckfat again and try some of the other paninis. I don't know, I just don't see the hype.

                    1. re: grittys457

                      Gritty, I have only been once, and only tried this specific panini. It was the perfect combination of flavors and textures to me. Also, you never see Duck Confit in a panini, so it made it all that much more special for me. $9.50 seemed like a bargain for how much I liked it, but yah, it is pricey.

                      1. re: mjg0725

                        the fries are the main reason to go,at least in my opinion,everything else is just a bonus,pretty awesome bonus too.im sure theres better places in portland to get a sandwich,but they dont have the fries.

                      2. re: grittys457

                        Reviving an ancient thread - Duck Fat is great, but I agree that Henry VIII is equally great, if only for the roast beef and bearnaise sandwich. The beef is cooked there, medium rare, and not sliced too thinly (which I like). The sauce is really great, and it is definitely one of those "more than the sum of its parts" sandwiches.

                        1. re: grittys457

                          I wasn't all that impressed with Henry IV the one and only time I went there. Maybe i'm jaded having spent 10 years in the Boston area where rare roast beef is available on every street corner (Harrison's - N. Andover, even Kelly's). The beef I had at Henry VIII was way too cooked/dry. On the other hand, the duck confit panini and the meatloaf panini (among others) at Duckfat are some of the best sandwiches you'll ever have the pleasure of stuffing into your face. And the fries...well...that takes the experience to a whole other ethereal level. I'm hungry.

                          1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                            That's too bad - when I've been in there it has usually been around 2 or 3 pm, not sure if that makes any difference. Agreed on Duck Fat, if they opened one in Boston it would be a license to print money. Love those sandwiches, and their version of the cuban, to say nothing of the fries, which are the best I've had recently.

                            Their beignets are my favorite thing there though - the cinnamon ones are amazing.

                            -----
                            Duck Fat
                            43 Middle St, Portland, ME 04101

                          2. re: grittys457

                            I agree, grittys457. If someone took a bag of McDonald's fries and did a side-by-side comparison, McD's might win! Not sure what all the hype is regarding their fries - the 3-6 times I went there, the fries were mostly soggy. Definitely not belgian fries. Perhaps people who love poutine think that the fries are good but not me.

                            1. re: cornFusion

                              I agree....
                              Way - way - way overrated, and overpriced !!

                              1. re: cornFusion

                                McDonalds potatoes fried in whatever chemical they're using this week vs fried Aroostook potatoes double fried in duck fat?? And McDonald's fries would win? I hope I don't live in that world.

                                1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                                  Same here. If the taste testers were all snagged coming out of a Walmart though, McD's would likely win.

                                  We had outstanding fries at Duck Fat. My recollection, not having been there in a couple years, is that I might still prefer Fritz in Keene, NH but excellent nonetheless.

                                  -----
                                  Duck Fat
                                  43 Middle St, Portland, ME 04101

                                  1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                                    My Belgian friends make fries that are head-and-shoulders over those of duckfat. Fact. And I happen to know what perfectly fried Belgian frites are. Regardless of what is said, my personal experience at duckfat ( re-visited several times over several years) remains what it is. Duckfat may in fact have other "good things to eat" but their namesake fries are - IMHO - subpar.

                                    1. re: cornFusion

                                      The insane amount of editing that goes on by the Chowhound team seems to be preventing a response here. Let me rephrase perhaps. You have your own personal opinion, and then you have the exact opposite opinions of hundreds of others on such sites as this, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and UrbanSpoon. You also have opposite opinions from people who do this sort of critiquing for a living (example: The Boston Globe). I suppose it's up to the reader to decide who they will choose to listen to.

                                      1. re: cornFusion

                                        I feel I must jump in here. Your "standard" for Belgian frites are your Belgian friends who also apparently are very good cooks. I'm sure they're great but to then call everything else "subpar" implies that your friends fries are "par" - as in average, the base standard that others are compared with. Having lived on New Orleans Cafe Dumonde's beignets for weeks, I can honestly say IMO they are better than the beignets at Duck Fat. Duck Fat's are still very good and very much above par. I believe I've had better fries but Duck Fat's are right up there with the best. The best of anthing is way above par (just like golf) - to imply that everthing else that does not meet that standard is "subpar" is, at best, short sighted. I also wonder why you " re-visited several times over several years" to continue to eat "subpar fries".

                                        -----
                                        Duck Fat
                                        43 Middle St, Portland, ME 04101

                                        1. re: bobbert

                                          Perhaps because I really really wanted to agree with you - that's probably why. But not to worry - you enjoy them!

                                          1. re: bobbert

                                            "The best of anthing is way above par (just like golf)". Guess I've been playing golf incorrectly all these years. I've always tried to shoot below par.

                                            1. re: jackbauer

                                              Touche! This has got me thinking. When they said the fries were subpar, maybe they meant they were really good. My bad.

                                              1. re: bobbert

                                                : ) I guess golf is the only arena where subpar is considered desirable?

                                              2. re: jackbauer

                                                Par in golf does not = average. If you shoot par, you are doing REALLY well. Heck, shoot par at the British Open some years and you just might win the whole thing.

                                                1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

                                                  True enough. For humanity in general, par equals damn good. As an average for the pros, it equals journeyman.

                                                  1. re: jackbauer

                                                    Par, subpar, it's all semantics. As I stated on another related thread and got slammed for saying so, I tried Duckfat once (5 years ago) and the fries were not crisp and were quite greasy. I did not find them exceptional. But this was a one time affair and the oil may not have been to proper temp. I have refrained from re-relating this because I have always intended on going back to try them again. I couldn't give a hoot as to whether the potatoes are local or not, just as long as the fries are tasty.

                                                    1. re: bewley

                                                      sometimes people just LOVE semantics. As for me I will attempt to remain quiet on this one restaurant because I have said all i will say. To one its fish to another its poisson - so be it. I have posted my personal opinion and review and will continue to stand by it.

                                                      1. re: cornFusion

                                                        I am constantly amazed at how different people can consistently have such wildly different experiences at places. You've been there 6-7 times and hated it each time. I've been there maybe a dozen times and every single time the fries have been fantastic. I shouldn't be amazed at ANYTHING anymore, but I am.

                                                          1. re: cornFusion

                                                            Now there's something we all can agree on. I've been on both sides of this myself - not really liking some place that everyone raves about and also loving a place or two where I was the only one who apparently saw the light. I will now eat some crow and retract a snide comment questioning why someone would return several times to try something that was subpar. Your reasoning was/is spot on - maybe the first time you got a bad batch. "Hell, everyone raves about the fries so that must be it - I'll give it another shot." Then... "I must be unlucky to hit it bad twice. Let's give it one last try...." Well done and done correctly. It annoys me a great deal when people trash a place based on one visit so I do appreciate your giving it its due with a number of tries before reaching your verdict. I disagree with you but that may be a matter of taste and/or the point I was really trying to make... that being the standard set by your friends cooking. I've yet to find someone that had recently returned from France (or Italy, or Greece, etc.) that can eat in the finest _____ (insert country name) restaurant back here in the USA and not find that it pales in comparison to where they've just been visiting. So anyway, sorry about the comment. I do still think you're wrong but for a different reason :)

                                                            1. re: bobbert

                                                              Your response gratefully acknowledged. In turn I must state that I have some very specific tastes for specific items. For example, I think that finding an exceptionally well done fried chicken is an ongoing and (mostly futile) task. But I do enjoy Popeye's fried chicken a lot - and might even go so far as to say that outside my own (or possibly Scott Peacock's) it is one of the best fried chickens I have tasted. Others obviously disagree vociferously with me. I do, actually, factor in the fact that dishes cooked at home with love and caring cannot be directly compared with those that have a profit motive as an objective - and therefore, factor the price into my evaluation. On the other hand, my personal tastes do not allow me to appreciate even the choicest poutine in all the land. Perhaps it can be summed up with that - our tastes and expectations differ - and I try and try and try to like duckfat (believe me, I do - especially since my most esteemed other half loves them also). But alas.
                                                              ....................... I may try again (when she goes to get her fix).

                                            2. re: cornFusion

                                              Does every Belgian know how to make the best fry? Does every American know how to make the best apple pie (or whatever Americans are known for)..?

                                    2. I have eaten at all of the places that have been mentioned in this post so far (I also worked at 555 for about 6 months) but I cannot recommend any dining experience higher than Bresca. There is only seating for 16 people at tables and 4 more at the bar but man is it worth it!

                                      1. So everyone loves this place, but is it just for the fries? I have a limited amount of time in Portland so I am considering just going there for the poutine, and then going off to a seafood place for the rest of lunch.

                                        Any ordering recommendations?

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: jamtart

                                          I might go back even if the fryer were broken. The pannini are wonderful. Our favorites.

                                          Long Island Duck Confit Ginger & Apricot Chutney
                                          Veggie "Ratatouille" Mozzarella, Zucchini, Eggplant, Red Pepper, Tomato & Basil Pesto

                                          and you can add bacon to anything for $2.

                                          http://duckfat.com/menu.html

                                          1. re: jamtart

                                            The soups are really nice. The warm beignets with chocolate are such a treat.

                                          2. I had lunch at Duckfat last Friday with brother Lurker W. We had paninis, fries, and Arnold Palmers.

                                            The fries were the standout. Amazing fries.

                                            My panini (tuna) was fine, but pricey at $8.50.

                                            The Arnold Palmers were excellent.

                                            I would like to try the poutine, which I have had down in Dania, FL, a big Quebecois vacation spot, so I know something about what it should look and taste like. Next time!

                                            1. Thank you all for posting ...Hubby and I are headed to Portland for a week in a few days and we had some places written down where we wanted to go but now I have 5 stars next to Duck Fat! I can't wait.

                                              Here are our top picks so far
                                              Duck Fat
                                              Hugo's
                                              Walters
                                              Back Bay Grill
                                              Fore St
                                              other than that we will just wing it

                                              -----
                                              Back Bay Grill
                                              65 Portland St, Portland, ME 04101

                                              Duck Fat
                                              43 Middle St, Portland, ME 04101

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                I also like Paciarino http://www.paciarino.com for amazing handmade pasta and bolognese sauce (run by a couple from northern Italy), and Standard Baking Co. for pastries (I really like their pain au chocolat). The Porthole supposedly has an amazing breakfast.

                                                -----
                                                Standard Baking Co
                                                75 Commercial St, Portland, ME

                                                Paciarino
                                                468 Fore St, Portland, ME 04101

                                                1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                  If you're going for a full week you should definitely squeeze in a breakfast at Becky's Diner on Commercial St.

                                                  -----
                                                  Becky's Diner
                                                  390 Commercial St, Portland, ME 04101

                                                  1. re: Bob W

                                                    Hit Becky's for breakfast one AM, lively little place.
                                                    Got cookies from Standard baking co a few times - they had me hooked!
                                                    Did dinner at Local 188, which was amazing...Fore St, I have to say it now rates at one of the best places I have ever dined at, Portland Lobster Co, great venue...over prices...but loved the location, Davids, amazing dinner and the bar tender madethe best martini, Hugos, loved the munchies, did not have a "real dinner" but we had a nice time...then we ended up at Sangillos (bar across the street, behind the bank) apparently we are consider locals now :) and please whatever stay away from the Port hole...

                                                    Will post more details later...too busy sipping my martini right now ;)

                                                    -----
                                                    Local 188
                                                    685 Congress St, Portland, ME 04102