Monday, February 26

Awful Annie's

"Who goes there?"

"Yuppies. For their yuppie coffee."

"Whenever I want coffee, I go to Dunkin' Donuts. If I can't find a Dunkin' Donuts, I go to 7-11."

-A customer quizes the bartender about Hilltop Coffee.

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Sunday, February 25

Sophia's

Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code was for sale alongside copies of Steve Lanzalotta's Diet Code. Oven peels went for $5. Tables: $25. A hanging mobile: $200. Ditto the antique display case. Cardboard pizza boxes, cups, knives, a microcassette recorder: everything inside Sophia's was up for grabs.

Steve's rationale: Rising rent. "It was time to cut my losses," he said. While the star of self-promotion, clad in his striped apron, was still baking pastries for Micucci and has been looking into sharing space with a coffeeshop, the golden ratio's math (the basis for the Diet Code cookbook) apparently wasn't working so well for his checkbook.

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Saturday, February 24

Whole Foods Pt. 2


The invasion of Big Organic hit Marginal Way last week. Whole Foods Mark-Up, which opened two weeks ago about four dozen junked cars from an existing Wild Oats, announced it would probably aquire its smaller rival. "Apparently," the Phoenix said, "this is national news."

But something about this is fishy.


Whole
Foods
Market

Peeled
Maine
shrimp
(raw):

$10.99

Let's take a closer look - at the metal awnings of markets around the city. And a look at something "wild" and "local" in the seafood case: Maine shrimp. [Note: Headed, veined Maine shrimp (Pandulus borealis) caught this season (Dec. 1 - Apr. 30) have been selling wholesale at the Fish Exchange for around $.35 per pound and for about $6.99 at Harbor Fish Market.] The new Whole Foods resembles the now-defunct Portland Public Market for both its metal awning and its overpriced seafood.

Portland
Public
Market

Peeled
Maine
shrimp,
or anything
for that
matter:

N/A


Okay, you think it's a sheer coincidence. Think again. Guess who complained when Hannaford Supermarket opened its Forest Ave. location, with a north-facing awning that slightly resembles that of the library, er, the former Portland Public Market.


Hannaford
Supermarket

Peeled
Maine
shrimp
(raw):

$5.99


The man who attributed the fall of the Public Market to Hannaford's awning (and what's under it): Libra Foundation head Owen Wells who spearheaded the now-defunct Public Market. But Wells said the idea for Portland's Public Market was hardly original and came from a visit he made on the way back from Korea, when he went to Pike Place Public Market Center in Seattle.


Pike Place
Fish Co.

Peeled
Vietnamese
shrimp
(cooked):

$12.99


While the longevity of the Pike Place market often gets attributed to its diverse customers, who are not necessarily wealthy or wise to "wild" or "organic" but come from all walks of life, Portland's markets seem to be more idiosyncratic. At least when it comes to shrimp and metal awning, which hardly seem like a promising determination of how long a supermarket or a supernatural will last.


Wild Oats

Peeled Maine
shrimp (raw):

$7.99


Whole Grocer

Any seafood
not found
in cat food:

N/A



One closing comment:
Survival does not appear to depend on fish wind vanes, either.

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Thursday, February 22

Week in Review Feb. 22

Lobsterman using traps objected to proposed state legislation that would permit the sale of crustaceans unintentionally caught in the nets of groundfishermen. A British study said fish consumed by pregnant woman aided a child’s brain development, and large grey sole reached a high of $7.51 at the Fish Exchange.

A salmonella outbreak prompted an FDA warning on the use of Wild Kitty's raw cat food, and mice were reportedly best lured to traps with peanut butter, oats, chocolate and dental floss. Grocery stores were reportedly a new destination. Moxie continued to be produced in New Hampshire, Sparky's Pure Honey might be in short supply after a honeybee die-off, and Jet Blue passengers complained of lack food and water during lengthy delays.

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Tuesday, February 20

Rabelais Books

Middle Street may beckon foodies from afar. Besides Hugo's, which has managed not only to stay afloat but to serve a reasonably priced bar menu, Rob and Nancy's other business, Duckfat, works panini next to Ribollita's pasta and Norm's BBQ fare. With Two Fat Cats pastries and Micucci's grocery right around the corner on India Street, along with the Pepperclub and Sangillo's, Middle Street, east of Franklin Arterial, is primed to become the epicurean epicenter of the Eastern Waterfront.

No longer home to just Jordan's Meats, the former maker of the most egalitarian of foods - feedlot-fattened pork forced into red snapper hot dog skins - the recent influx of restaurants precedes condos, upscale bars and those visiting the Ocean Gateway on a Royal Caribbean cruise, which is only a matter of time.

So along comes Rabelais Books. Slated for an April opening, Don and Samantha, will serve up gastroporn, cookbooks, manuals for armchair enthusiasts, from Rombauer to Alice B. Toklas to Ma Cusine, with some rare finds from New York's scene in the Fifties thrown in for good measure. They seem to know books, and do a lot better explaining this place. It will be at 86 Middle Street, between Hugo's and the Pepperclub. So, eat up while waiting to read up.

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Yosaku

"Why are we gossiping?"

"This is so bad."

"It's like People magazine over here."

"It's really just seven degrees of seperation."

-Two woman at the sushi bar talk about talking about their ex-boyfriends.

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Sunday, February 18

Shout. Whistle. And hoot.

Portland is the San Francisco of the East, they say. The Port City is second only to Sucka Free in per capita restaurants. But what local guides can you trust? Food criticism is hard to find. As Dan Okrent, the former Times ombudsman and not a food critic (he prefers baseball), once asked about the Times’ Style sections:
Why are the restaurants almost always delightful, the hotels hospitable, the views glorious, the experience rewarding? This is a weird form of crypto-journalism; if the theater critics were so uncritical, they’d be hooted off the stage. (22 May)
Pick up a local rag. Shout. Whistle. And hoot.

Your best bet for a comprehensive listing of restaurants up to the letter "T" is the Downtown Directory, with contacts and a brief summary provided by the restaurant (i.e., “the best Chinese restaurant”). The Press Herald also lists its reviews online, some of which are readable.

The weekly Portland Phoenix has two reviewers: Brian Duff , an academic who watches TV and reviews, on occasion, frozen food. But more than mastication, Duff prefers discussing birth (the topic of his thesis), Aristotle, Aristophanes and Frederick Jackson Turner’s myth of the American frontier, making for bland reviews lacking in substantive description of taste, flavor or service. Meanwhile, his cohort Jessica Porter occasionally serves up cuts from the counter-cuisine (think Dar Williams' Tofu Tollbooth). Porter’s authored a book on macrobiotics and tackles juice joints, crunchy granola hangouts and, on the best of weeks, the Food Network-ing horrors of mainstream monoculture.

Speaking of which, Press Herald culumnist Meredith Goad commutes to work and does not appear to get out much. (She once broke a story about Kate’s Homemade Butter). And she loves everything from "Soup 2 Nuts." Same goes for Anne Mahle, who tends to love soup for its ability to conjure up Mama in the kitchen and salad for its effect on an ability to slip on a pair of L.L. Bean elastic-waist pantaloons. Not my cup of tea.

Amy Sutherland occasionally writes for Down East, though that’s usually Michael Sanders’ spot, while Diane Hudson usually fluffs restaurants up for Portland Magazine. Forecaster Kate Bucklin rounds up restaurant gossip (some of it’s even true) in a sometimes-monthly, hard-to-find “Dining Dish.” The Bollard's Chris Busby likes to drink – if his bar reviews are any indication. A wacky bunch bats around restaurant reviews for him. Portland Breakfast Club reviews on MySpace; she likes toasted rye but is not a wry as The Bollard’s "Breakfast Serial."

Also online: Food in Portland, last posted in 2005. And Eat Me went the way of Café Troika and Bandol; that is, tout finis. And the Press Herald’s John Golden seems to be a summer person, as his blog "Food for Thought" has not been updated since the onset of winter. But Chowhound and eGullet hosts "New England" bulletins that are well worth a rummage. The Boston Globe runs features for those from away who, like the paper, head south for the winter. Ditto the Times.

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Thursday, February 15

Whole Foods

"It's like Disney World inside."

A woman working at the meat counter.

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Week in review Feb. 15

The grandchildren of Thomas Colucci, a fixture at Becky’s Diner who died last week, said Grampy slipped them money and doughnuts because they didn’t get junk food at home. Alan Eames, “The Beer King,” magic trick aficionado, and the founder of Three Dollar Dewey’s Ale House who also died last week, once tasted a rare beer in South Africa: ''My translator informed me that the beer wasn't made by grandfather, it was made with grandfather. They put his cremated bone fragments in with the rest of the ingredients.''

ConAgra told customer to dispose of Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter products after a salmonella outbreak, and rural Mainers appeared to receive late diagnoses of colorectal cancer.

Hundreds idled in a Pearl Street parking lot, awaiting the opening of a 46,000 square foot Whole Foods Market. Next door, E. Perry Iron & Metal, where one woman said thousands of batteries once leaked acid, continued to do brisk business.

"When the food is there," a Windam polar bear expert said, "they'll eat."

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Wednesday, February 14

Duckfat

Hyped by the public-relations-industrial-complex as the best in locally-grown duck fat-infused, double-fried French fries, Duckfat also seems to have a sweeter side. No, not their ever changing staff who offer marginal and sometimes amiable service. Sweet means breakfast treats.

Now open “early” (9 a.m.) on Sundays, Duckfat brings beignets and brioche to the brunch table. In fact, that’s what Boston’s hype machine, the Phantom Gourmet, liked best (as dessert). And the powdery, crisp wonders are moist, fresh and better than donut holes - especially with chocolate sauce, cinnamon sugar, or powdered sugar. Toasted brioche (from Standard) is OK with mascarpone and fig jam. Egg sandwiches and duck confit might also make it on the menu once word gets around, said Andrew, chief fry man. All goes down well with some French press coffee, mimosa, sweet house made soft drinks or a coffee-infused milkshake. Er, milkshake might be a misnomer. These are thick, rich, not-quite-melted ice cream shakes. And like much of the menu condensed into small packages.

You almost want to stay all day but depending who’s working the duck fat fryer and depending on whether they’re using sprouted Russets or fresh spuds, fries can either be soggy salt-sticks or really salty double-fried frites, browned to near perfection. Be careful. They are salty. So are panini (ranging from an $8 meatloaf to a $14 duck). The only thing that’s not salty is the clientele. Dress up for shabby chic.

And don’t worry, if your date’s one of those vapid PR vixens, they’re plenty to look at Duckfat: a wall of magnetic poetry, a collection of wooden duck decoys and the giant red walls of former hot dog maker Jordon’s Meats across Middle Street. As a poet wrote on the wall: "red hot honey."

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Friday, February 9

Bresca


Krista Kern, who just moved back to Portland from Vegas where she cooked at Viale in Ceasar's Palace, opens an "intimate, Italian-inspired" lunch and dinner spot on Middle Street (right next to the cop shop). Don't expect meatballs and spaghetti. Bresca will serve lighter, more modern fare - fish, homemade pasta, and pork chops. Think Ribollita but one block closer to your office. Everything is in house, from scratch.

Soft opening Tuesday, Feb. 13 with free food and wine, starts at 6:30. Grand opening slated for V-day.

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Thursday, February 8

Week in review Feb. 8

The USDA announced its farm bill, and notes from a Maine meeting called the state’s northern-most county “Rootstock County.”

The Maine Lobster Promotion Council asked about the planned sale of humanely-handled live lobsters at Portland Whole Foods: “I wonder how that will sound for their public relations, that they’re going to give the lobster the electric chair.”

Dunkin Donuts may begin marketing Buzz Donuts. Maine has long been a testing grounds for the company, and the caffeine-infused donut’s inventor said they initially tasted “like aluminum cans.” State legislators, who receive $32 a day for meals, proposed a ban on feeding wildlife.

“We understand that we need to strike a balance between being humane and being cost effective," a slaughterhouse operator said, about the a proposed “Maine Humane” label.

Three large Italians continued to sell for $8.99 at Colucci’s and seagulls flocked to 7-11 on Brighton Avenue. At the Ice House, which had its food license rejected earlier this year, a man was stabbed.

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Tuesday, February 6

Hamdi

Dinner comes with a banana, a container of bright pink strawberry punch and a plastic cup, a paper cup with fresh jalepeno sauce, and silverware.

Regulars, who wore flat-brimmed caps and baggy pants, gravitated towards the spaghetti, which also came with juice and banana - and like much of the menu had some meat. Almost all the entrees have either chicken, beef and goat, and are $10 or less.

Somali culture lives at Hamdi, at 30 Washington Ave. Like the neighborhood, it fuses remnants of East Africa, Italy (which once ruled Somaliland) and East Bayside. Only there is no pork here, or beer. Just coffee and cardamom and cinammon tea, sweetened with sugar, which as one woman said, "It makes you live long."

Near the kitchen, where mothers and daughter and aunts fry up cornbread, or muffo, music plays. Fake wood paneling lines the dining room, where boys talk in Somali on cellphones and chew on toothpicks, saying things in English to each other like, "That was some nice shit, man." Each table is numbered with a piece of duct tape, and flourescent lights hang over the plaid plastic tableclothes. Other than the colorful scarves tied on each chair, the place is bare.

Which is a little like the goat I ate.

The goat zigni came in two parts: a bowl of spicy tomato and beef-cube stew, and a plate with chucks of bland fatty meat stuck to slivers of bone, all with the musky taste of mountainous mammal. Dabbled with the very hot sauce, the meat filled out the flatbread for a filling dinner. At Hamdi that usually runs to at least 9 p.m. but call ahead (669-4023).

Kabaab, fried meat, and sambuus, the Somali samosa with ground meat, are also available for appetitizers or snacking. With the sugary tea, there is no need for desert.

And you might walk away and tell your friends, like one boy said: "You don't expect every thing to be lovely. Ups and downs, man."

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Friday, February 2

Uncle Billy's

“Those can’t be real.”

“It looks like something is stuck on them," the waitress says. "Not pasties. I forget what they’re called.”

“No, those have got to be fake.”

Uncle Billy’s has two black velvet paintings: Elvis and a woman. Elvis is, well, Elvis. And the woman has tight, pelvis-hugging pants but no shirt. At Uncle Billy's bar - a bar its owner fashioned out of old Portland Expo bleacherboards - a debate surrounds the authenticity of her breasts.

Open less than a month, the focus at this Congress Street pork palace is décor. At least so far. Wooden fish. Illustrated pigs. A paddle a bondage party reportedly used for a private party at one of Uncle Billy’s many previous locations (South Portland, Newbury Street and Yarmouth).

As the leather jackets came off and the draft beer (so far just Shipyad) flowed, the stuff from Uncle Billy's attic stuck on the wall was enough to keep me occupied while I chewed my chewy piece of beef brisket.

And chewed. And chewed. "How is everything? Good," said a waitress, who did not resemble the painting. "Good. Good," she said before I swallowed.

It was tough. If only the sauce, a salty, sweet and spicy barbeque, endured. But this place, with its regulars and honky-tonk jukebox, should not suffer such a fate. Which brings me to the mac and cheese, one of about six sides (none of which include collard greens, if you were thinking it was that kind of BBQ joint). The home-style mac and cheese represents the finest in Uncle Billy's fare -- this is no Hooters food.

Greasy, cheesy and crispy. A little like Jonathan St. Laurent, the chef, who sometimes emerges from the ovens in his splattered white apron to offer a late-night dinner to regulars.

Goes well with "Ship Yod."

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