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Portland in April with kids--critique/advise away!

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  • njpm Apr 2, 2013 11:20 AM
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Taking the train from Boston to Portland for a few days in April with my 4- and 6-year-old (and husband) and will be staying at the Portland Harbor Hotel. My problem is that everything looks incredible, and I'm having a hard time narrowing down options! A few questions:

Is the Sat. winter farmers' market worth a trip? Specifically, are there vendors that sell pastries and ready-to-eat items since we won't have a kitchen?

Emilitsa is an intriguing lunch or early dinner option--can someone give price ranges?

Does Two Fat Cats sell breakfast pastries? The website lists lots of sweets and desserts, but it would be great if we could get something in the morning. I'll call them, too, as we get closer to our trip.

We'd love to hit Pai Men Miyake in the off-peak hours (I'm thinking between 2 and 4:30), but would it be a total disaster to bring our kids? They like gyoza and edamame and are generally well-behaved (like everyone's kids on CH, right??), but if it's really a special-occasion place, we'll skip it.

I'd love to go to Fore Street when it opens for the evening and would make a reservation to make sure they're okay with kids, but for those who are familiar with it, would you say it's a yay or nay in terms of kid-friendly ambiance (not too quiet so we don't get the stink-eye from other diners)? Same question for Schulte & Herr (although I'm thinking that might be a better brunch option).

Is anyone familiar with the hotel's restaurant, Eve's at the Garden, or the pasta place below it, Paciarino?

We're also considering Eventide for lunch or early dinner (we've taken the kids to Island Creek Oyster Bar here in Boston many times with much success, and I'm hoping Eventide is similar), Caiola's for Sun. brunch, Duckfat for lunch/early dinner, Browne Trading Co. for take-away lunch, and Sebago.

Any and all advice or other suggestions are welcome (food or otherwise--we're definitely hitting the children's museum and taking in a Sea Dogs game). Thanks so much in advance--we're really looking forward to it!

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  1. I'm about to leave town, so I will weigh in quickly. All your choices are great, although some are more kid-friendly than others. Pai Men Miyake is definitely ok for kids, especially during a slow time (like 2-4:30); they have fine noodles and excellent gyoza, and you must have the pork buns.

    I brought my kids (then 7 and 9) to Paciarino for my birthday last year. It was totally fine and the restaurant was lovely to them (they made a very plain pasta pomodoro and split it for the two of them), but the kids definitely knew this was a little fancier than they were used to.

    For morning pastries, I'd go to Standard Baking. I'm not sure Two Fat Cats even has any; they are more cupcakes and pies.

    Caiola's and Duckfat, definitely. I haven't been to Schulte and Herr yet but I hear it's fantastic.

    I don't know about Fore Street and Emilitsa with kids. They are wonderful places (Emilitsa especially), but pretty high-end and I wouldn't bring my kids there. Then again, I live here, and when you're on vacation everyone has to eat. You might want to have one pizza night, on the deck at Flatbread, or Otto.

    1. I think Flatbread would be a good choice.

      http://flatbreadcompany.com/Flatbread...

      We always try to have a meal there when traveling in the Portland area, and have never been disappointed.

      Silly's is another of our favorites which I'd suggest for your consideration .....

      http://www.sillys.com/

      I would say both are definitely "family-friendly".

      Given that you're arriving by train, and most likely would not have a car when in town (sorry if that is an incorrect assumption), both eateries would be within fairly comfortable walking distance of your hotel although Flatbread would be somewhat closer and down near other waterfront Old Port attractions while Silly's is a bit further inland and more off the 'beaten path' tourist-wise.

      Have a great time in Portland !

      1. If you're kids are acclimated to dining out at decent, not marketed-strictly-to-parents-and-kids places in Boston and they enjoy it, you'll be fine at Fore St, Pai Men, Eventide, etc.

        I've eaten with friends and their urban-ish young children at all these places with no problems--and the kids really enjoyed it--but I have other friends with kids who wouldn't feel safe anywhere than 5 guys, Flatbread, or Bucks Naked BBQ. So it really depends on you and your kids comfort threshhold.

        The winter farmer's market isn't big at the moment, if you come back in the summer it'll be huge and in Deering Oaks Park, but the Public Market House on Congress Street is fun and would fill the same need. Big Sky Bakery makes tasty morning pastries.

        Emilitsa is quite good (I'm half Greek and my grandmother is an amazing cook--so I'm usually let down by Greek restaurants). Lunch prices are on their Web site--I seem to remember dinner entree prices are in the $20 ish to $40 ish range.

        Flatbread a fine choice for kids--the beehive shaped pizza oven is popular and they can watch the ferries come and go; as is Otto Pizza, the one on Munjoy Hill in particular. The booths are made from reclaimed grand piano parts and kids seem to love them--there are always lots of families in there.

        Two Fat Cats doesn't have breakfast treats (unless vacation means splurging on whoopie pies for breakfast! they make the best whoopie pies in town, in my opinion!) I'd second Standard Baking. All their breakfast pastries are so good--particularly the croissants and blueberry scones!!

        Pai Men is not really special occasion-ish and kids would be fine! I see lots of kids in there--noodle soup! Schrute and Herr is definitely not fancy--but I think it's best for brunch.

        Eve's is never very well reviewed--I'd skip it. You have so many great dining options nearby. I love Paciarino, particularly for lunch--the owners are Italian and the pasta is pretty spectacular. You also have lots of sweet treat-type places very near your hotel: Gorgeous Gelato (also italian owned), The Gelato Fiasco, East End Cupcakes, GoBerry (a Western MA-based chain with Pinkberry like tart frozen yogurt, but made with local milk--). Fore Street is ice cream central at the moment!

        You'd be fine at Eventide, but try to go during the off hours if you're not comfortable waiting--its pretty small (I'd say the same thing to people without children--). Caiola is a good brunch choice, but again, it's pretty small. The last couple times I've tried to go there on the fly with guests there's been an hour plus wait-- Local 188 is a good choice that's not far from Caiola and is much larger and also family friendly. Vignola-Cinque Terre is nearer to your hotel and also serves a great brunch. Duckfat is always good (again, small). I'd skip Sebago--it's kind of bland and generic. If you want something with beer and food the kids would still be comfortable with, try LFK (really good mac and cheese) or Novare Res (I always see people with kids here, and it's a decent sized place).

        Enjoy your trip!!

        2 Replies
        1. re: sultanaboudreau

          Pretty much everything sultan wrote (as usual)! Just for logistics, I'd hit up the original Otto as it's near the Children's Museum - also getting close to Pai Men Miyake which is fine for the kids. I haven't gone to Emilitsa for lunch but for dinner I wouldn't try with the kids - too upscale. Fore Street is much more lively and I agree that if they're good kids, there should be no problem. Two Fat Cats, yes for the best whoopie pies (small enough for kids without getting gross - the cream is light and delicious - maybe dessert after Duckfat) but Standard Bakery for breakfast instead. I've been to ICOB and if your kids are OK there, no problem at Eventide which is much more casual. Some advice: Duckfat, get there no later than 11:40 for lunch. Was there last week (thankfully early) and when we left at 12:30 there was quite the line down the sidewalk. An awesome spot for kids is Local Sprouts on Congress St. They often have free music and the food is all organic and quite good. It's a co-op owned by the workers so wear your finest tie-dyed Grateful Dead outfits and enjoy.
          I've eaten at Eve's a couple of times, last about a year ago and there was a new chef. About as many misses as hits - I'd probably pass and also do Paciarino. My favorite is they're lasagna. Staying at your hotel, I'd say it's a must. If it's an afternoon game for the Sea Dogs, check out the Holy Donut across the street from the stadium. Made with potatoes and all natural ingredients, they're delicious, been getting lots of attention outside of Maine and the closest you'll ever get to a healthy donut.

          1. re: bobbert

            How could I forget the Holy Donut!!

        2. People can say what they want about Buck Naked's food, but it has become the one place I can go out intown with my two kids. They have a whole seating section for families with little playhouses for kids. They can go crazy and it's okay, everybody in that area has kids. Flatbread is a good place for kids as well.

          2 Replies
          1. re: grittys457

            And for Gritty, Buck's is close enough to Nuvare that you won't get shocked by your monitor bracelet :-)

            1. re: bobbert

              And now that In'Finiti is open on Commercial Street I have like an extra 200 feet on my monitor without being shocked!

              Buck's has Oxbow on tap so they earn bonus points for me besides having a place for my crazy go nuts kids to go crazy go nuts.

              East End Cupcakes, Gelato Fiasco, and Gorgeous Gelato are all within a few feet of each other on Fore St. I say you guys eat at all of them in a row and report back.

              As far as sandwiches, the newly opened Blue Rooster is awesome. Damian isn't messing around

              http://maine.eater.com/tags/blue-roos...

          2. Paciarino is great for kids -- they're very family friendly, and will happily make up some plainer pasta if the kids require it. And the stop at Gorgeous Gelato down the street is a must.

            Bonobo is another great pizza place, aso very family friendly. Caiola's is excellent. Yosaku makes excellent (if not distinctive) sushi, and there are always kids there. I have never seen kids at Emilitsa (which is an excellent choice overall). I find the staff at Green Elephant to be a little kid-unfriendly, at least at dinner.

            I love the children's museum!

            1. Wow-thank you so much for all the feedback! It looks like we'll skip the farmers' market and Emilitsa this time around (if only they did takeout...sigh) and head to Standard Baking Company in the morning and Two Fat Cats for an afternoon treat. We'll definitely try Paciarino rather than Eve's, and I'm so relieved that Pai Men Miyake is a keeper! Also good to know about the Public Market House. We have two Otto branches near us, so we might try Flatbread instead (especially if there are water views!), but pizza is always a good option to have with kids and I didn't even think of it in my original post.

              sultana: Thanks for the heads up about Sebago; it looks like Novare or LFK is the better choice.

              bobbert: When I mentioned Holy Donut and the potato/healthier aspect to my husband, he rolled his eyes and told me to ask if there are any good "old-timey" donut places in town. But we do plan on going to an afternoon Sea Dogs game, so I'm sure he won't need too much convincing if it's right near the stadium.

              bakersma: You're correct in thinking we won't have a car, so we're looking for options within a mile or less from the hotel. And thank you for the Silly's info: that place looks perfect!

              A couple more questions if you all don't mind: Is Dean's Sweets worth a visit, or is there a better chocolatier in town? (No car means little chance of visiting Sweet Marguerites and the Bar of Chocolate cafe will be closed in April per Facebook.) Of course, we may save the calories for all those gelato options close to the hotel.

              Also, is there a good place for take-away sandwiches for a picnic? Nothing fancy, but good quality meat (my husband's not a huge fan of Boar's Head) and bread options would be nice.

              Thanks again!

              7 Replies
              1. re: njpm

                Forgot about the Boston Otto's which, unlike Regina's, delivers the same quality product at all their stores which brings us back to Flatbread. Views are great and you can relax as it's great for kids.
                For takeout sandwiches there are a few good options. Browne Trading (commercial St) has a small but tasty variety as does Rosemont Market (also Commercial St across from the ferry terminal). I had a real nice sandwich from Casco Variety not too long ago ( also Commercial St - a real throwback place). Foodworks on India St (near Duckfat) also does a nice job and I know they used to do box lunches. They are also near Micucci's which has some amazing pizza, cannolis, breads, and if you're gung-ho you can get some great Italian meats and make your own sandwiches. If you're into a beer in the room after the kids are asleep, Downeast Beverage, again Commercial St, has some of the best selections around.
                One last recommendation that I always throw out - if it ever warms up, take the ferry to Peaks Island, 20 minutes of fairly inexpensive great views. The restaurant at the Inn and other places might not yet be open daily so check ahead but it might be an OK spot for your picnic. At least it would be different.

                1. re: njpm

                  Dean's Sweets is not worth visiting, IMO. Expensive, a bit pretentious, and nothing special. I'm not impressed with Sweet Marguerites, either.

                  If you're interested in donuts, you can try Tony's Donut Shop:
                  9 Bolton St. Portland, ME 04102
                  (207) 772-2727

                  1. re: IWantFood

                    Unfortunately, they won't have a car otherwise Tony's is a good old fashioned donut. As far as Holy Donut is concerned, healthy is a relative term. It ain't healthy by any stretch, just made with all natural ingredients. If "healthy" frightens the husband, buy him the bacon and cheddar stuffed donut. Yummy, yes. Healthy, no.

                    1. re: bobbert

                      They could take a bus to Tony's if they were so inclined.

                      1. re: IWantFood

                        Tony's may be good but not that good

                        1. re: bobbert

                          It's just an option.

                  2. re: njpm

                    I wouldn't call the Holy Donut healthy, potatoes and all. They're still fried donuts!

                    Potato donuts are a 19th century invention--the potatoes make for a light and fluffy texture. It'd definitely satisfy your husband's wish for an "old fashioned" donut, despite twee name, and the newness of the business.

                    Dean's Sweets is worth a visit if you already happen to be on Middle Street. It is mostly truffles, tho, and is geared to an adult market. We don't really have another chocolatier on peninsula at this moment. Sweet Marguerites chocolate can be found at a few places around Portland--Novare Res usually has a few items on their dessert menu. Le Roux Kitchen--a kitchen shop on Commercial St.--also has a decent sized selection of chocolates and kid approved candy from around the US and elsewhere.

                  3. You've really done your homework! As someone who migrated to seacoast of NH and traveled to Portland dozen times with our daughter as she aged from 2.5 up to 5.5 now, here's thoughts:

                    - There's no way to keep up with all the great food - especially pastries/sweets - in this town.

                    - For activities, Lucky Catch lobster boat is a must. http://www.luckycatch.com/ Ridiculously fun.

                    - Portland Children's Museum is nice - of course, compared to Boston, it's much smaller for better or worse.

                    - Hard to capture just how good the ice cream is at both Mount Desert Island IC and Gelato Fiasco. Both are world class.

                    - So glad to see you got Paciarino on your list - straddles the upscale & childfriendly line as few do.

                    - We adore Otto but it can get very crowded, especially with museum traffic.

                    - If you did have a car, you'd have to get out to One Fifty Ate in South Portland for Bagels, but that's not an option without...

                    - Green Elephant is asian vegetarian, again upscale & family friendly, very close to children's museum.

                    - Marcy's Diner is like a family friendly biker diner (yep) right by museum; food okay, but atmosphere is fun

                    - Micucci's & Rosemont (mentioned elsewhere) are great foodie destinations that transcend their category...you could browse here forever.

                    - Two Fat Cats physical space is unlike any other bakery I've visited - it's like you descend into a kitchen the moment you enter, and feel closer to the baking than anywhere else. It's mesmerizing.

                    Have fun!

                    1. Hi njpm- we recently brought our 10 year old to Fore St for New Year's Eve dinner. We went relatively early and it was fine, no stink eye. But, I wouldn't have brought him there at a younger age. We did bring him several times when he was younger (and on thus most recent trip too) to Local 188, which has great food and a casual hip atmosphere, and I have twice seen small children there for family dinners.

                      1. Returned from our trip to Portland and am very jealous of all of you who have easy access to such an incredible eating town. I'm already thinking of ways to get myself back up there ASAP to sample more, more, more!

                        Day 1: After checking in at the hotel (perfect location), I grabbed a Seoul Dog and divine tater tots (which my kids gobbled most of) from the Blue Rooster. The garlic mayo was abundantly smothered on the kimchi (itself smothered on the dog), and the toasted peanuts gave a nice crunch. So, so good and the hot dog was a bargain at under $4. I knew I was off to a good start to vacation. After walking around for a bit, we tried to get an early dinner at Eventide, but it was closed for a private event. We walked the few steps up the street to Duckfat and were the only customers around 4:45, which was perfect timing for happy hour. Large bucket of fries for the price of a small with horseradish mayo (kids got a kick out of the aerosol malt vinegar), 1/2 price cans of beer, mixed greens salad w/pepitas and radishes and a side of coppa, charcuterie plate with silky air-cured pork belly and smoked duck (which my 4-y.o. devoured, thinking it was bacon) left us all very happy. Of course, we couldn't leave without dessert, so we shared an order of churros (my only complaint was that they were so light and airy that they easily fell apart when dunked in the spiced chocolate and salted caramel sauces) and a salted caramel milkshake.

                        Day 2: breakfast at Standard Baking included croissant au chocolat, morning buns without nuts (kids appreciated the no-nuts option), raspberry galette, and demi baguette. Walked to the narrow gauge railroad (great museum!) for a train ride and then made it to Eventide for a late lunch. Husband had lunch combo with 1/2 dozen oysters and the fried oyster bun, I had the combo with the chowder and lobster roll, kids split a fried chicken bun and the battered hake, potato chips, and a side of biscuits and harissa carrots. I couldn't help but compare Eventide with Island Creek, and I'd give the edge to Eventide. First, it's open for lunch and has combos; second, that chowder is awesome with the large slices of salt pork and the rich but light consistency; third, the hake was perfectly fried with the batter (rice flour maybe?) crispy without a drop of grease; and fourth; the butter that came with the biscuits was out of this world--creamy, topped with chives and crunch granules of something sweet (coarse brown sugar is my guess). Then we rolled ourselves over to Two Fat Cats for a whoopie pie and a vanilla cupcake. (I LOVED that whoopie pie and would have gone back for more if I wasn't so stuffed.) Dinner was take-out from Flatbread (two pizzas and a salad, all of which made us wish for a Flatbread closer to us).

                        Day 3: trekked to Schulte & Herr, where we had potato pancakes with lox, roasted beets, double smoked bacon, waffle with spiced blueberry syrup (which my kids wanted to drink right out of the container), and traditional egg breakfasts. Spent a looooong time at the Children's Museum (it's smaller than Boston's but that's not such a bad thing) before having no problem getting a table at Pai Men Miyake around 3. This was by far my husband's and my favorite meal of the trip. He had paitan ramen, I had the miso ramen, kids had an order of pork gyoza each, and we split edamame and daikon/carrot salad. Housemade lavender-hibiscus soda was refreshing, though I wished it was a bit fizzier. For dinner, we stupidly thought we could walk into Paciarino without a reservation, so we consoled ourselves at the Gelato Fiasco. I had a 1/2 cookie sandwich with dark chocolate mint gelato, and the cookie was incredibly delicious. I didn't end up liking the mint in my gelato after a few bites, but my husband loved his toasted coconut and the kids loved all the samples they got.

                        Day 4: breakfast at the hotel for convenience before packing up and heading back to Boston.

                        I know this is long, but a few last comments: I was struck by how small the restaurants are (except for Flatbread, which we didn't stay and eat at), which I would imagine makes for a more intimate, personal dining experience (for better or worse) than what we're used to in Boston. Except for the hotel breakfast, service everywhere we went was more than just friendly--I felt like all of the staff actually enjoyed making us feel comfortable. I also really appreciated the walkability of Portland. And although it was a tiny sample, the consistently high quality of the actual food made an impression. My husband and I were trying to rank our meals from best to worst, and the thing we both said was that Flatbread was the "worst" just because it was pizza, but it surpassed most of the pizza we get around here. Thanks again, all!

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: njpm

                          Thanks for your report! It makes me want to plan a trip to Portland. Your comments are great testimony from someone who lives in Boston.

                          1. re: dfrostnh

                            Thanks! I know everyone has different criteria when they visit a different town, but for us, Portland really fit the bill in terms of having an abundance of varied, excellent eats within a small, walkable radius and fitting different budgets and appetites.

                          2. re: njpm

                            I thought there was a Flatbread in Somerville, no? Great report--I doubt very many of us have been to Blue Rooster yet.

                            1. re: sciencediet

                              You're absolutely right--shows you how much we get out to Somerville. We live in Roslindale (btw. JP and Dedham), so it's kind of a trek for us to get out to Davis Square without something else going on to make it worth the effort.

                            2. re: njpm

                              Thanks for the great report! I still haven't been to the Blue Rooster but yours is the 2nd positive report I've gotten this week. It's now on my very short list. I think most of us who recommended Flat Bread were thinking eat in vs. take out as it's a great place for kids. For take out I would have done Otto's - they deliver - but Flat Bread is still a good pizza. Interesting, while you were at Eventide, I was at ICOB. I think of them as two different animals. The food is similarly excellent but after that it's almost a perfect example of the difference between Boston and Portland restaurants that you describe. I can eat those oyster sliders at ICOB all day. Next time try Eventides fried oyster bun and Pai Men's pork buns -

                              1. re: bobbert

                                I'd be interested to hear what you have when you get to the Blue Rooster. While we were there, someone was raving about the poutine tater tots, and the porchetta sandwich sounded right up my alley...next time. Cutty's in Brookine Village near me has amazing sandwiches (no hot dogs, though) and is also tiny, though the prices are a couple dollars more than Blue Rooster.

                                We wanted to eat at Flatbread, but there was a 45-minute wait, which we didn't think the kids could handle so that's why we got the takeout. We didn't get to do some of what we originally wanted (the Sea Dogs game, Fore Street, the ferry ride), but that's what the summer's for!

                                I agree with you about ICOB vs. Eventide; it's really comparing apples to oranges. They both do what they do very well.

                                I forgot to include the pork buns at Pai Men--we did get them and they were just as good as everything else we had there. I'm still thinking about that meal...

                                1. re: njpm

                                  I've hit Blue Rooster a couple of times this week and can say it's a great addition to the cheap(er) eats genre of the Portland food scene. Tried the poutine tater tots (how could one not try such an item). They were tasty - I don't know where they get the tots from or if they're made in house but they seem pretty standard which for me is fine as I can eat almost any kind of tater tots all day long. Add some gravy and cheese curds and, at $4, it's a pretty nice deal. Had the Das Boot dog ( house made kraut and smoked bacon) for another $4. Not mind blowing but a satisfying good deal. This morning I tried the red eye breakfast sandwich which might be one of the best breakfast sandwiches I've ever had. Pork belly,hash browns, fried egg on a delicious buttermilk biscuit - wow! I wasn't prepared for the runny yolk which splashed on my hand (hot -ouch) but it was perfect. They serve it all day and told me that they'll be adding many more breakfast items. Both times I ate in (just some stools around the perimeter) and they were doing a very brisk business. Not a place to go for a full sit down experience but, for what they do they're doing it very well.