A taste of Portland with Maine Foodie Tours
Portland Maine is a vibrant harbor town with a creative spirit and a gritty, working class past. Access to some of the freshest seafood on the East Coast( including Maine’s succulent lobster) and scores of small scale farms and artisan food producers has attracted a new wave of forward-thinking chefs eager to showcase some of Maine’s best culinary offerings. Recently named the “Foodiest small town in America” by none other than Bon Appetit magazine I knew I had to sample some of Portland’s goodies for myself but I was only stopping in the city for one day. Maine Foodie Tours to the rescue!
The tour began at Vervacious, a specialty foods shop offering up hand-blended spice mixes,salts and vinegars. We met our guide Chris, a former Culinary Institute of America administrator, and quickly got down to the tasty business of eating. First up was a decadent mac and cheese featuring Maine’s finest crustacean. No butter or cream, this lobster mac was made with Parmesan cheese water created by sous vide which resulted in a luscious sauce with much less guilt. The mac and cheese was a foil to sample some of their delicious finishing salts which ranged from spicy curry to savory cinnamon but the standout for me was their fiery sichuan salt. We then moved on to the sweeter side of thing sampling fruit drizzled with their award winning balsamic glazes(chocolate and espresso). The espresso balsamic was sweet and complex, I loved it so much I brought a bottle to take home.
The sunny weather made for a pleasant stroll through the Old Port section of the city and Chris regaled us with tales of the history of Portland. As nice as it was outside we had some tasting to do, and it wasn’t long before we came upon Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery. Known for their award winning Back River Gin, they also offer a vareity of liquors featuring classic Maine flavors like blueberry and cranberry. The showstopper here was their maple smash, a blend of maple syrup and brandy. It wasn’t too sweet but offered up a classic maple flavor with a smooth caramel finish.
Teetotalers, there’s something on this tour for you as well. A quick jaunt across the street lies Vena’s Fizz House, a craft soda bar. Owner Johanna Corman takes the high art of the cocktail and applies it to beverages everyone can enjoy. You’ll find classic flavor combos like cherry-lime and orange-cream but Johanna thinks outside the box too. My favorite libation here was the lumberjack, an intriguing drink made with pine syrup. Yep, pine syrup and it was quite refreshing.
We made our way back toward the waterfront to a Portland institution, the Harbor Fish Market. Family owned and operated for over 40 years this is the local’s choice for Maine’s best seafood. Judging from the steady flow of customers (some of who appear to have stepped from the pages of a Herman Melville novel) and the line of boats at the back dock, this place is the real deal. Stepping inside you’ll find two huge lobster tanks, a variety of oysters and shellfish and a few friendly fishmongers ready to help you pick out the day’s best catch. They also sell some prepared seafood items like the locally smoked Maine shrimp and smoked mussels.The cold smoked seafood had a sweet smokey flavor and delicate texture that would be perfect for a cocktail party.
As we walked through the gleaming lobby of the Portland Harbor Hotel, we knew Chris had saved the best for last. Our final stop of the day was at Eve’s at the Garden where executive chef Timothy Labonte warmly greeted us and presented his take on Maine’s famous lobster roll. Succulent lobster with corn, pea shoots, pickled ginger and creme fraiche ended our day on a high note.Sipping our Chardonnay at Eve’s beautiful garden courtyard, it had been a very tasty afternoon indeed.
Hungry yet? Maine Foodie Tours offer several food tours throughout Portland as well as Kennebunkport and Bar Harbor,these tours are a great way to taste what Maine has to offer.
Disclosure: I was generously offered a discount by Maine Foodie Tours however as always all opinions are my own.