The Ten Most Portland, Portland Restaurants


While this is kind of a top ten list — it provides ten places in a rough order of which I'd want to visit over another — it is not a definitive list of all Portland has to offer.  It is an attempt to solidify which restaurants form the constellation of Portland-only standouts that make this peninsular city the gem it is. Meaning, which places contribute most to making our wee Portland's food scene the lauded one that we know and salivate over.



10- Street and Co.

Of the old guard of “nice” Portland restaurants, I’d pick Street and Company over Fore Street any day. Street & Co. does seafood and Portland stands stalwart, if it stands for any one thing, as a seafood town. Why do I prefer S&C’s fish to the fancy fare of Fore Street? Because Fore Street aims at the high mark of “Best Restaurant in Portland” which it is patently not — at least not anymore. Street and Co. aims at the more reachable goal of “Amazing Goddamned Seafood” and they’ve struck the fish-shaped nail on the head every time I’ve dined. Get the Sole Francaise. Just get it.

www.streetandcompany.net



9 - Hot Suppa!

The ever-present wait — while a testimony to Hot Suppa’s iron-forked brunch domination — has become a bit burdensome. However, the line doesn’t make the hotness any less legitimate as THE Portland brunch spot. In fact, it just goes to show that they've been doing something very right, very consistently. The omelets and eggs are cooked to such perfection that they will send you into a hot stupor! The rest of the menu can, arguably, be challenged by other joints such as Bayside American Cafe (née Bintliff’s) and Caiola’s Sunday brunch to name just two. But the eggs will always put Hot Suppa! one chicken-sized step ahead.

www.hotsuppa.com


8 - Slab

1lb of gluten and glory with which to pack your stomach: behold the hand slab. Specials and most other menu items — the caponata and spicy meat wedge — stand the test of deliciousness. However, you are coming for the hand slab. Don’t argue. Don’t complain. You are coming for the hand slab. Hush child… Eat...

www.slabportland.com



7- Paciarino

The pasta is homemade. The sauces are homemade. The Mozzarella di Bufala is so fresh you’ll be on the lookout for actual buffalo. And the flavor of the Ravioli Goat Cheese Al Pomodoro cannot be described, it must be befriended, understood and, finally, come to terms with. Paciarino is Italy in Portland.

www.paciarino.com



6 – Tandem Coffee and Bakery

While there are other formidable coffee shop contenders — Bard and Speckled Axe to name two — they cannot halt the juggernaut of joe that is Tandem. I originally would go for the coffee, since I do enjoy the roasting work of Tandem’s Blue Bottle pedigreed founders. However the mind behind the “and Bakery” is what gives Tandem its magic. Velvet, buttery quiche with a flake-apart crust. A cheddar jalapeno biscuit to rule them all. Briana Holt, the baker, holds the crusty, impeccably seasoned keys to my heart. 

www.tandemcoffee.com/bakery

P.S. As a brief aside, two other bakeries of considerable note are Standard Baking Co. and Scratch Baking Co. if you’re into that sort of thing.



5 - Ohno Café

Breakfast Sandwich #1. It wins. If you live within walking distance of Ohno, I envy your taste buds. Ohno drips with authenticity, shunning both flash and nouveau-Portland restaurant style. The crunchy, locals-only vibe which girds its interior comes from a figurative stream of actual locals. All the Ohno sandwiches have their merits, but the #1 is #1.

www.ohnocafe.com



4 – Eventide Oyster Co.

Oooooo! Putting Eventide at 4?! Boo, hiss! Brrr! You monster! And now I explain. Their oysters are, without question, the best oysters I’ve ever had in my life — get a Winter Point and attempt to tell me, to my face, that you are not a different person for eating it. Their lobster roll descended from the shining firmament. Eventide has taken the caterpillar of the by-the-sea dining experience and nursed it into a beautiful butterfly using the chrysalis of their minds. The reason Eventide is not higher on the list? I have never gotten fully full at Eventide; I, personally, cannot afford to. Simply put: every bite is delicious, but most dishes are little more than 2-3 bites (I say most, since those that offer more cost more). Go to Eventide as the appetizer, get oysters, a lobster roll and some sweet sweet bubbly, then go to Five Guys and get full.

www.eventideoysterco.com



3 - Isa Bistro

A new challenger appears! Isa is the bellwether of Portland’s expanding culinary footprint into the Bayside area. First and foremost, Isa is an impressive restaurant: effortlessly classy, devastatingly tasty and well worth revisiting again and again. The question is, will its proximity to Preble St. continue to scare away the loafer-monkeys? Or will Isa, a worthy, welcome spot, be the gentrifying straw that breaks Bayside’s back? Regardless, all you need to know is that the Grilled Octopus appetizer is so tender it can be sliced with a fork and the Braised Rabbit — over a mélange of garganelli and English peas — satisfies one in ways both deep and unquantifiable.

www.isaportlandme.com


2 - Dutch’s

My hard-on for Dutch’s is actually audible. Meaning, if you put your ear near it, you can hear a high-pitched wine not unlike a well-struck tuning fork. Dutch’s Traditional Breakfast sandwich, featuring homemade biscuits and sausage, is what I would miss the most if I were, suddenly, to perish. Their hash browns stand unrivaled from here to Timbuktu and then back around the other way. Every sandwich I’ve sampled has struck my personal, private bullseye. I have preached the gospel of Dutch’s to unwilling and willing ears alike. I will continue to. Am I pleased that their interior looks like a cross between a Cumby farms and a meat locker? No sir! But I don’t care. They have seats at which I can eat their heavenly fare. That is enough. Hosana! Thy will is Dutch.

www.dutchsportland.com



1 - Central Provisions

No contest. Not a question. Chosen without even a hint of hesitation. This is my favorite restaurant in Portland. Not because the ambience is cozy, comfortable, and chic. Not because the cocktail and beer selection is probably the best in town. Not because every single bite I have ever put into my mouth has made me close my eyes and groan. It is because Central Provisions provided me with something I didn’t know I needed. Before C.P. I’d eschewed tapas as an effete way to spend more money. After C.P. I understood that tapas-style meals provide a wider sampling of delicious food in one sitting, leaving one not only full, but more fully satisfied. Every time has been as mind-blowing as the first. Apologies, Central. I gush. I yearn. I love.

www.central-provisions.com



HONORABLE MENTION:

Pai Men Miyake

Portland’s nearly only source of traditional Japanese ramen is great. I eat there often. However, their ramen, while tasty, is not the best I’ve had, even in the past month. Boston’s and New York’s ramen games are so strong that I feared putting Pai Men on the list would open Portland’s scene up to a comparison that it could not — at this point in time — win. I really like Pai Men and will continue to eat there often. It just didn’t make the list.


Isa Bistro - Portland, ME


Where is my Danny Boy? thought Mother Gem, scrubbing at a long-handled spoon. She spread the window wide and sung to the morning air, “Danny Boy!” Only the sweetness of bird music caressed her dainty ears.  

            Out in the bushy yard, Mother Gem found no signs of that dirty little Danny Boy. She groped around the dark shed, peered under the wheelbarrow and even bounced on her tiptoes to look out over the blooming wall of azaleas; neither Danny Boy’s hat nor his glasses nor his round little rump appeared in the whole wide yard. Mother Gem clucked her tongue and squeezed back inside.

            At the big red front door, she tucked in her frumpy blouse and slipped on her good walking shoes. With a cluck of her tongue and a twinkle in her eye, Mother Gem stiffened and, with a tug of the handle, set out in search of her naughty little Danny Boy.


Putt putt went the Mailman’s truck as it slid up beside Mother Gem. He waved at her with his thick, strong hands.

             “Why hello Mailman!” said Mother Gem.

             “Heyo Mother Gem,” said the Mailman. He loosed his girth from the mail truck. “You looking for your little Danny Boy?”

             “Well of course!” said Mother Gem. 

             “Hmm…” said the Mailman, fingering his mighty noggin. “Maybe… just maybe your little Danny Boy snuck inside!” The Mailman, waggled a hefty thumb at his little old vehicle.

             “Oh he just might have!” said Mother Gem. “Let’s have a peek.” And so Mother Gem and the Mailman disappeared into the truck to look. 


Mother Gem smiled and waved bye-bye to the big old Mailman. Danny Boy hadn’t been in the truck. Where else could my naughty boy be, Mother Gem thought to herself. I bet I’ll find him at the candy shop, like as not.

             The town around Mother Gem spread out languidly as she strolled all the way down Broad Street. The folds of Mother Gem’s skirt flapped past the towering church, and her tight, gray bun bounced past the lazy Library and finally her petite feet caressed the floor of the Sweets Shop.

             “Why Mother Gem,” said the Sweets Shop Man, lifting his pork pie cap. “I bet I know who you’re looking for.” 

            Mother Gem smiled innocently at the Sweets Shop Man and put her mouth around a lemon sucker.

            “You’re looking for that little rascal Danny Boy!” The Sweets Shop Man rubbed his cheek with a sticky finger. “You know what,” he said. “I think your little Danny Boy may have snuck in my back door. Wanna look!”

             Mother Gem clapped her hands, “Oh Sweets Shop Man, you’re so kind. Let’s go find my little Danny Boy.” And so Mother Gem and the Sweets Shop Man disappeared out back in search of naughty Danny Boy. 



It was a gentle day outside, birds performed, clutching long, swaying branches. The clouds hung fat as cream in the sapphire sky. At last Mother Gem popped from the Sweets Shop with no little Danny Boy by her side. This dang breeze, she thought, patting loose hairs back into her gray-streaked bun. Oh where is my Danny Boy!

             Bustling along as sweet as nectar, Mother Gem went straight to the Butcher. When Danny Boy was nowhere to be found, she made calls to the Painter then the Locksmith and even the Mayor of Town — Mr. Poppinjay himself — all of them helped her look, but Danny Boy remained lost! By the time she gave up her search, the moon was pale in the heavens and the birds had all shoved their heads tight beneath their wings. 

            I may never find my Danny Boy, Mother Gem thought to herself, coming into view of her snug little house. But wouldn’t you know, the house wasn’t dark like she’d left it, a light had sprung up in the window. Behind the curtain Mother Gem spied something: a fat, naughty, bouncing silhouette. Oh, that little rascal! thought Mother Gem as she rammed herself through the front door.


“You’d better explain yourself Danny Boy!” Mother Gem moaned, coming up the stairs. 

             “Momma Gem!” said Danny boy, popping hot and sweaty into the hallway. Mother Gem pinched his dimpled cheek and led him back to his room. 

            “I’ve been looking for you all day!” said Mother Gem, playfully thrusting Danny Boy onto his sheet-strewn bed. “I went all over town looking for you, naughty little boy!”

             “Why Momma Gem,” said Danny Boy, innocent as pie, “I was right here the whole time!” 

             “Right here!” said Mother Gem, putting her hands on her ample hips. “Why I don’t believe such talk. You were outside being a dirty little boy, playing in mud holes and squeezing slippery sticks.”

“But Momma Gem,” said Danny Boy. “I don’t like mud holes or slippery sticks! I like playing by myself.” He pointed at a little trampoline in the corner, sagging with use.

             “That’s right!” said Mother Gem, reddening. “You always did like that floppy little thing. I just always forget!” Mother Gem stiffened. “Danny Boy,” she said. “Please, please remind me tomorrow that you’ll be right here.”

             “I swear I will Momma Gem!” he said, earnestly gripping his pudgy little head. “I swear.”

             “Thank you sweet boy,” said Mother Gem, enfolding Danny Boy in her warm embrace. And with a last peck, she left.

            From across the house Mother Gem cooed out night night Danny Boy, and she heard her tired little scamp turn off his lights. He’s a good boy, she thought.


The next morning was bright and gay. Now, where has that Danny Boy gone? Mother Gem thought, her gaze caressing the whole bushy yard. Danny Boy was nowhere in sight. I’ll bet he’s up to mischief, she thought. So, Mother Gem put on her nicest outfit and came out for all the world to see. She just had to find her Danny Boy.





FOOD: 

4.9


First, there was the octopus appetizer, served with marinated chickpeas and chimichurri. Seasoned to a capital T, this octopus was so tender I could cut it with a fork. In all my extended octopus-eating history, I have never experienced a cephalopod so tender. Second, I had the braised rabbit over garganelli. Garganelli: homemade, tender and toothsome. Rabbit: fall-apart, succulent delight. Sauce: deep, flavorful and just straight up scrumptious. Isa delivered in ways I never expected. 

PRICE: 

$$$

You’ll feel as if you’ve paid generously yet still have been given more than your money’s worth. For some, it’s a once-a-month date night treat. For others, Isa could find itself in the once-a-week rotation. Entrees run about $20, apps about $10.

AMBIENCE: 

Curated Casual

Unlike too many HOT! NEW! establishments, nothing screams try-hard about the place. There lingers the obvious air of experience in the effortlessly appropriate décor. The bar is sleek and black, and the tables are situated to offer space while not making the open dining area feel cavernous. Plus, Isa has an outdoor sitting area for those summer days that will come some time at the end of August.

SERVICE: 

NY Si

Allow me first to say, I sat at the bar. While the bar wasn’t packed, the bartender kept the service pace commendably correct — not too rapid and not too slow. Also, his suggestions led me to order what I did, and both were, as I've stated, correct as hell. I also had a chance to speak briefly with one of the co-owners, Suzie St. Pierre. Her experience in the food industry — from NYC to DC — has paid off with flying colors. Her husband, the semi-eponymous Isaul Perez (get it?) was busy cooking behind the scenes so I didn’t speak with him. His food, however, spoke for itself. 

EAT OR SKIP: 

Eat

Welcome, Isa! Welcome to Portland! Not only are you a delightful spot, you are one of those gems that elevates the quality of Portland’s food scene.

Isa Bistro

79 Portland St, Portland, ME 04101

http://isaportlandme.com

(207) 808-8533

Portland, ME - The New Slogan

Portland unveiled a refurbished slogan in 2013, "Portland, ME. Yes. Life's good here." I do not love it. Not only is this slogan vague and oddly pleading — needing to affirm itself before the thought is even stated, "Yes. You like Portland. Yes?!" — its halting structure catches on the tongue. I'm guessing the runner-up option was, "Portland, ME. Sturdy. Indeed, a goodly-fine city. Very nice thank you."

Since I have already reviewed Portland as favorably as one can, I thought I'd throw a couple slogans of my own out there to see if any stuck.

Below, enjoy nine, Drunch-approved slogans, mocked up and ready to be appropriated by the greater Portland community. You're welcome!


#1


#2


#3


#4


#5


#6


#7


#8


#9

The Net Result - Vineyard Haven, MA


To whom it May Concern,

“Hark, a farting on the wind?” I thought me this morning past. After a brief silence, the notion was swept from my razor-keen mind. And then another twoozling flatulence… could it be vagrants, airing their bowels beneath my window?

Arising from the comfort of my warm and secure bed I understood from whence the unholy racket came: a musical practice space, newly built. Within, trumpets! Tubas! Then violins, xylophones and clanging cymbals, all maneuvered with the skill of invalids.

Who’d dare assault the aural firmament with such racket? Indeed, who are you, my foe?

Whosoever you are, this shall not stand! The pursuit of happiness was writ deep into the fabric of this nation! You shall see that your bellowing bulwark of a-sonorous thunder shall not swerve me from my own path to happiness!

 

Grudgingly Signed,

Blackest Enemy / Wrath Most-Deserved / Ephraim Sepsquander Walcott

 

 


Dear Mr. Walcott,

We’re very sorry that our 1st grade band practice interrupted you yesterday morning.

Lilac Hill Elementary is extremely proud of its new band room. Unfortunately, we’ve had to keep the windows open to provide some much needed cross-breeze, as the school’s A/C is currently under repair.

We’ll be sure to keep the windows closed moving forward and we hope that you accept our apology.

 

Best,

Principal Edwin G. Pienerman

 

 



To Whom It May Concern,

My foe has a name; it is Pienerman.

Indeed, I noted your closed windows. Yet still, your minion’s hoozling squawk reached my dull ears. How is it that a man who can scarcely hear the roar of a jet engine from seven paces can discern every wheeze of your loosely wrangled cacophony?

I may be old, but a fool I am not! I know your plan, Pienerman! You mean to drive me mad!

Well, no Walcott has ever knuckled under when confronted with the pendulous gut of authority. I think of you not as human, my bureaucratic bugbear. I think of you as a flea, ripe for the crushing beneath my righteous boot!

If I hear but the gas of a mole come from the bowels of your “music” space, rest assured that this limb of the noble Walcott family tree will come crashing down upon your institution.

 

Grudgingly Signed,

Discontent’s Buzzard / Looming Righteous Vengeance / Ephraim Sepsquander Walcott

 


 

Dear Mr. Walcott,

Mr. Tibbin’s, our band director, currently holds practice from 10:30 AM to 11:15 AM, on Wednesdays and Fridays. Looking from the band room, we noticed that your windows were open during rehearsal. Perhaps, can you try closing them, just at those times? I think this would help the noise problem you’ve been having.

Also, we hope to see you at this week’s Cake Walk in support of the Lilac Hill Public library. It will be from 4:00 to 6:00 PM in the School’s West parking lot.

 

Best,

Principal Edwin G. Pienerman

 

 



To Whom It May Concern,

I know your kind, Pienerman: craven cunning. Stick out your forked tongue, you snake! Snakeman! Close my windows? Why I’d rather close my mouth up and starve.

I surveyed your confectionary satanic ritual from my study. Tiny menaces to society capering about a king’s ransom of sugar and cacao! You think me fool enough to stumble into your sweeted mantrap? NO!

The devil take your cakes and your windows! This is no practice, man! This is war.

Blood for blood. The keening shriek of wasted youth! The wooly mustaches of callous generals twitching in surveillance of the scarred, the wounded, and the grisly dead! We two, Pienerman — you and I — are locked in the inverse brotherhood of aggression. Stand and fight, or I’ll pulp you like the flopping mudfish you are!

Lilac Hill Cemetery. Pistols at dawn.

 

Grudgingly Signed,

Quencher of the Pienerman Strain / Fate’s Booming Klaxon / Ephraim Sepsquander Walcott

 



Dear Mr. Walcott,

While I try to be civil as the Principal of Lilac Hill Elementary and respected figure of authority in this community, Mr. Walcott, I cannot brush off threats of physical violence.

If you continue to have difficulties with our band’s practice, I suggest you take it up with local authorities. I have alerted them to our disagreement.

 

Best,

Principal Edwin G. Pienerman


 



To Whom It May Concern,

Yesterday morn, the silent cemetery, a frigid dawn. Dark mist covered my audience: breathless members of the great majority. I stood alone, boots astride the grave of my father, waiting in vain for a coward to arrive. Is it any wonder that no man came?

You’ve brought this on yourself, Pienerman. I am now the nameless ronin. I am now the curse unleashed! I am now the bump in your bureaucratic night!

I come for you Pienerman!

In fact, I thank you, poltroon. I thank you for this divine purpose: to ensure the scales of blind, beautiful justice weigh rightly the hearts of mongrels and men. Your auditory slights, your continued malfeasance, and your shameful yellow belly have — in their execrable trinity — forged in the smithy of my soul the divine hammer of retribution!

Repent, Pienerman! Judgment cometh! And that right soon!

 

Grudgingly Signed,

Minos’ Furious Broodling / The Scythe’s Silent Arc / Ephraim Sepsquander Walcott

 

 

 

LOCAL VETERAN CITED FOR NOISE COMPLAINT

By Contributor - Verner Studebaker

 

LILAC HILL — Eighty-eight year old veteran, Ephraim Sepsquander Walcott, was cited for a noise violation at approximately 11:15 PM last evening, May 26th.

The trouble started when Walcott, a former member of the 181st Airborne, began to yell — for what his neighbors assumed was help. Walcott was found ensnared by his bathrobe in the fence that divides his house’s property line from that of Lilac Hill Elementary School. A grocery bag filled with legal fireworks was found nearby.

“He sounded angry, that’s for sure,” said plumber Mert Benson, a neighbor of Walcott’s. “’Thanos! Why have you forsaken me!’ He was hollering that over and over. I went to help but he wasn’t having any of it.” Walcott fought off do-gooders’ attempts at aid with his signature rosewood shillelagh walking stick. “My kids were sleeping” Benson continued. ”So I just had to do something about the noise.”

Upon arrival, two officers were also threatened by Walcott. While freeing Walcott, Officer Grant Snydaeler received a shillelagh bruise to his upper thigh. He will not be pressing charges.

“Pienerman toyed with fate!” said Walcott, in video footage captured by Police dashboard camera. “He dared str… (INAUDIBLE)… and now lounges upon justice’s unyielding anvil!”

“You!” Walcott said to the officers present. “You purported stewards of our forefather’s iron law — have meddled in dealings far above your station! All of you now share Pienerman’s cursed fate.”

Officers cited Walcott and saw that the agitated veteran made it back safely into his home.

When contacted for comment Walcott did not respond.

 


 

FOOD:

4.8

 

So what you really want to know is: how does Martha’s Vineyard lobster compare to that of Maine? I’ll first say that if MV and Maine had to go head to head, the Net Result would absolutely be my first choice when it comes to finding the freshest of MA lobstahs. So, first, allow me to take you through what the Net Result has going for it.

PRICE:

Sea Level

No gouging here. Sure, $15 for a lobster roll isn’t cheap, but it’s also the going rate for a crustacean pretty much anywhere near salt water. Fat wallets will feel more comfortable buying up pounds upon pounds of fish. Slim wallets, however, will not be forced out.

AMBIENCE:

Fish Smell

Fish markets come with fish smells. With two counters — one for take-out, one for picking out fresh fishies — the Net Result is little more than that. However, a near constant stream at both the take-out and raw fish counters ensures that the fish doesn’t last — making your fish that much more fresh. The outdoor seating area is comfortable, though it must be noted that a near-constant stream of exhaust-puffing vehicles accompanies most outings.

SERVICE:

Mainland Time

When crowded, takeout orders take time indeed. However, the pace of the kitchen’s work isn’t anything to get your halyard in a knot over. And for the seafood counter, ordering ahead ensures your fish is ready when they say it will be.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

So you should eat at the Net Result. This is understood and incontrovertible. But now we reach the true question: is it truly better than a fresh Maine lobster — the spirit animal of every true Mainer?

 

I must side in the camp of… negative.

 

I can say that after trying many of both, there is something about the Maine lobster that pushes it a notch above its Massachusetts counterpart. While lobsters of the Net Result are delicious — seriously, these lobsters spring fresh from the trap — they simply cannot match the fall-apart succulence of Maine’s signature crustacean. Maybe it’s the fact that so often is life hard for the Mainer — between weather, mayflies, terrain, and weather — the Maine lobster’s taste is amplified by hardship. Or perhaps it’s due more to the colder Maine waters having some sort of delishifying affect on our clawed friends.

 

Whatever the case, don't take this as a dismissal of Mass lobster. Good gracious have I had more than one incredible lobster from the Net Result in particular (and from many other places for that matter). I am simply going to put my stake in the ground for this northerly state in saying that Maine’s lobstah is THE lobstah.

 

The Net Result

Tisbury Market Place

79 Beach Rd

Vineyard Haven, MA 02568

http://www.mvseafood.com/








WEDNESDAY?!


J/K I knew it was Wednesday.

However, this week's Drunch requires more careful consideration and crafting. This is good for you RE: quality. This is good for me RE: time.

In the interim, have a great Memorial Day Weekend and I'll spy you back here next Wednesday with a brand spanking new Drunch.

Portland, ME - The Review

Portland Sucks: A Paean

 



Howl with me comrades, “I hate Portland,”

Don’t migrate here, stranger. It sucks,

It’s cold and our taste stinks,

We’re all weird and ugly,

The praise is hype.

 

Jet to New York, stay high in San Francisco, square-dance to Austin, re-confirm the superiority of Capital-P Portland. Just please! Please! Don’t come here.

 

This Portland, Maine,

This Cubic Zirconia,

It’s a fraud,

Your inclinations were right,

Stay out.

 


Between us two, Portland is the blood in my veins,

That its streets welcome walking,

That its food springs more plentiful by the day,

That its bars bubble over with choicest local brew,

That it remains relatively obscure, oh Portland — song of my heart — more the better I think.

 

So I shout out loud, “Oh how awful Portland is!” to keep the masses out,

Scenic coastline? More like geological deathtrap,

Fresh-caught seafood? Mercury-filled offal, inedible and poisonous,

Plentiful microbrews? They flow like moose urine in the forest (and as appetizing),

Vibrant food scene? Know-nothing dilettantes stewing sea spiders in warm brine,

Its proximity to nature? Better for wild beasts to eat your children,

Portland: Hell on earth but cold.

 

Cover your ears, Oh Portland! My love!

Icy winters obscure your hidden beauty, like the Serengeti’s heat shimmers obfuscating an oasis,

Glory, Maine, that your name too rings rough on the tongue: creepy Stephen King, frostbite, depression, hermits, moose, the stereotypes of a rough-hewn past,

How they belie such a glorious present,

How they keep those weak-of-soul out.



I want to keep you to myself,

My Portland,

Just the way you are.

 

Am I a local, even? Interloper of two years,

No, I consider myself a cub,

True locals see my flannel, my trim beard, my Ray Ban sunglasses and swear, their cusses more lyrical than mine,

I blame them not at all,

I am the lapping wave of an ever-rising tide of city slickers, trust funders, and disaffected yuppies, looking for “the next place,”

And oh how I have found it.

 

We transplants caught the ambrosial hymn of Portland, whispered on the northern wind,

Yet our arrival lugs with it the baggage of change — longer lines, more expensive apartments, sold-out shows, and worst: annoying, loud, space-filling, sweating, cackling, price-hiking, mouth-breathing, trend-following, raw, organic, low-fat people.

 


So I repeat to all who don’t yet live here: Portland is a cesspool,

It’s less a city than a conglomeration of asphalt and tears,

 

Still your write-ups and reject your awards, my Portland!

Hold your pride in your throat!

What does national acclaim bring but more bandwagoneers clamoring aboard a beaten horse?

Do we need a celebrity to tell us what our taste buds already know? Do we need numbered lists to confirm the deliciousness of our microbrews? Does a plaque, hammered to the wall, make pastries taste better?

 

Please.

 

Not that I don’t want you to grow, my Portland,

Not that I don’t want you to thrive, my Portland,

Not that my first inclination isn’t to bellow Portland’s praises as loud as my diaphragm will squeeze,

 


I delight in your sloping promenades, your undulating sidewalks, your Munjoy Hill’s rolling peak, your low tide’s organic funk, your Congress Street’s glorious human fauna — splendid in their vivacity and unvarnished individuality, your frame of sea, sky and trees, your crisp, capricious northern wind, your beaches — by turns sighing and raging, your unending winter’s savage test, your dense foliage of coats in the cold, and the brief flashes of sun-starved skin in summer, your gulls, your curves, your color, your everything.

 

I don’t want you to change, but alas, you must,

We all must,

Time, ever an increase in entropy,

But if we Portlanders try, can we slow time’s work?

Can our collective gravity shape the flannel of reality?

With our words against you, Portland, can we slow your change?

We can try.

 

Keep our secret ours, Portland,

Let us sink into delicious obscurity,

We know we have it good so — like lobstermen on a choice spot — we must proclaim we don’t,

Respond with me dear Portland comrades, when asked about your home by the sea,

“You’d hate it here.”

 

Yes, Portland sucks.

And it’s ours.

 


 

EAT:

5.0

 

That’s right, I’m undertaking the grave folly of reviewing the Portland food scene as a whole. And like an old, resolute friend, I recognize that Portland may not be perfect, but goddamn it Portland is perfect to me. For the amount of people stirring about Portland’s streets, not to mention our Continentally remote environs, the options for food astound. While Portland is no vast, steaming pot of culture like a New York or London or Taiwan, it IS a mixing-bowl of peoples diverse enough to keep the city interesting while not so disparate that our food goals feel scattered. Disproportionately more people up here in our nook of Maine seem to love food, and I love them for it.

PRICE:

An Arm (not a leg)

Some places require fatter bank accounts than others, but it is a reasonable city by and large. The range trends toward the middle (as it is wont to do) with more $10-$15 entrees than both other sides of the spectrum.

AMBIENCE:

Seaside Sylvan City

Nestled between bays and coves, downtown Portland welcomes walking. Take the cold out of the equation and Portland transmogrifies into a seaside resort for 20-30-40-50-60-somethings like myself. Fortunately — since I’m a fan of cold and many other people aren’t — the temperature for 60% of the year is a large consideration.

SERVICE:

Warm

In my time here, service has actually improved. When I first arrived in Portland, way too many places seemed inordinately loosey-goosey in their serving styles: waiting just too long before coming by to pick up orders, water glasses perpetually unfilled, forgetting that I asked for hot sauce; small but important aspects of the dining experience, unfulfilled. Now, maybe I’m just only going back to places with service (and food) that I enjoy, but it seems that the quality has raised. In addition to that, rare is the server who brings any air of snobbery to the table, no matter the location. And while many servers, I’ve noticed, will not be the ultimate authority on the finer details of wine-pairings, or a dish’s origin, the casual attitude of service here in Paw-tland leads to no less enjoyable a meal.

STAY OR SKIP:

Stay

Here, I cannot tell a lie. Despite the above poem imploring that we all trumpet Portland’s suckitude, I must write here that the boot-shaped peninsula and its surrounding areas have captured my frigid, shriveled heart. Don’t come here though, you’ll probably hate it.


Collaborative Drunching


THE BAD NEWS: Drunch simmers like a delicious stew, gaining potency for your patience i.e. it's not done yet.


THE GOOD NEWS: You (you, you) get to contribute to next week's illustration(s).


How?


Just comment on this post with the message you'd like to see uttered by my little finger-slingin', foot-goofin' Portland.



Seriously, I'll write it in, so you'll have your very own GIF of Li'l Portland saying your message. It can be short, it can be long. Challenge me you sons of guns. Just note that I am human and have human limits, so first come will probably be first included. Unless the first comment is like a ten-page racist tirade. I'm not going to write that. Li'l Portland wouldn't say that.



So yeah, comment with your message and I'll post the lot of them with next week's Drunch.



Vena's Fizz House - Portland, ME


In a time when the hills were small and the trees just taking root, the Wendigo came. It devoured the flesh of men and could never be full. In shadows it made its home. And not a soul knew its form except for he that would soon depart this world, hastened by the Wendigo’s fang and claw.

            This I first heard from the crone with dry, gray hair. She had stumbled through our town, one day, covered in mud, yelling to any and all of the beast that hunted us. He was coming, she said, the Wendigo. Slinking from the dawn of time for us as sinners we were. My mother had clucked and shut the windows tight, muttering of nonsense under her breath.

            That night, I hunkered alone in bed, my thoughts consumed by the Wendigo. The crone’s words had forced their entry into my mind like the grate of a violin, poorly played. A nut hit the rooftop and I screamed into my pillow. Then, a shadow in the corner set my heart to thumping, but it was only the moon lighting my bearskin parka. In so many other ways, that night, I brought terror to myself. After long hours awake, I fell into a fitful sleep.

            And then I awoke. The moon was bone white against a deep, cloudless sky. Around my cabin the woods stood silent as the crypt. No cricket’s chirp, no owl’s hoot, no squirrel’s cry, no pine bough’s creak penetrated the night’s vast silence.

            I’ll just sleep again, I thought to myself, enwrapped in fur upon my mattress of straw. My parents room lay across the cabin through a breezeway, along whose length stretched a window. I dared not scamper through, for fear that whatever had silenced the forest would see my movement and strike. Better to stay quiet and alone, huddled behind the sheets — a child’s best protection. And so I stared out the window and tried to calm myself.

            Yet soon as I my heart had slowed its tattoo, I spied movement along the treeline. A spar of white bone snuck from behind a thick maple. Terrible shivering overtook me. The bone gleamed there, quivering in the hollow moonlight. But hark! As my sleepy eyes focused, I realized the bone was only an antler, emerging from the trees. A harmless buck, I told myself.

            Yet, the antler’s points grew in number as it slid into view, ever-slowly from the shadows. Something about it was wrong. The points were too many, no buck could heft a rack such as that. Entrails hung from it, I now saw, glittering slick in the pale moonlight.  The weight of silence crushed the breath from my lungs.

            Then the face that held the antlers emerged, the muzzle of a sickly bear, half its teeth bared in a gory snarl; its flesh torn and flapping like pelts swaying from the rack. Its head sat upon the torso of an emaciated man, black hair sprouting from its chest in patches. On the tips of its long, slender fingers gleamed talons, brown and thick. It stumbled from the woods on the legs of a goat, its cloven hooves sinking deep into the soft earth. It stood slouched in the moonlight, its onyx eyes with a core of red, burning across the meager expanse of yard for me and me alone. I tried to scream but no sound would come, my diaphragm seized, a sheet of glass.

            The Wendigo had come for me.



Across the length of my yard it scrabbled, its claws striking for purchase when its palsied legs gave way. It crawled and it kneeled and it leapt all at once, a clamoring, ravenous struggle of locomotion. I covered myself in sheets. What horrible end for a child was this? All of my friends, for I had a few at the tiny schoolhouse, would mourn my passing while thinking, thank the Lord it wasn’t me.

            I pleaded for help from my God, trembling beneath the sheets. I stayed that way, praying and crying, my face soaked and hot for I know not how long. After countless prayers, I peeked out from under my sheets. The yard was empty.

            An owl’s screech scared off the night’s silence. I held my breath as I rose to look out the window. Each tentative step creaked the floorboards. Cooling sweat dripped down my fluttering chest. At the window, I looked out from all angles: to the left was only the trodden path that led to town. Below, the damp grass glistened in the moonlight. To the right, an army of black pines stood at attention. I sighed and looked up to the moon, two red eyes gleamed from its center.

            In a rush, the Wendigo leapt from the roof, landing in a heap before my window. I tried to run but terror paralyzed me. It raked its claws against the panes, gibbering as it shuddered the hinges. Its plaguy skin left black streaks on the glass. Blood sluiced through my body, my vision doubled then trebled with fear.

            “What do you want, beast?” I said, quailing. I knew exactly what it wanted, but I said this nonetheless. The Wendigo ceased its ravenous scrabbling and rose to full height.

            “Do you like cream soda?” said the Wendigo. My eyebrows knitted. “I mean, I dunno,” it continued in a thin, brittle voice. “I just got the Battlestar Galactica Blu-Ray box set and like a ton of Bagel Bites and if you came over it would be a lot of fun.” The beast worried a pile of grass with its hoof. It gazed imploringly at me, its bloodblack eyes abashed.

            “Erm,” I said, “Excuse me?”

            “It’s a stupid idea, no, you’re right,” said the Wendigo, turning to leave.

            “No, halt,” I said. The Wendigo swung its head round, hope in its heinous visage. “I would first ask my parents.” I said. “But alas, they slumber. Perhaps another time?”

            “Oh yeah, sure,” said the Wendigo. “Yeah another time is probably better… Definitely. Yeah that’ll definitely happen.”

            “My apologies,” I said as the Wendigo slunk back toward the shadows. I don’t think the hideous abomination heard me. Its bear-muzzle rested against its chest. Its cloven hooves dragged in the wet grass. It disappeared into the woods without another look back. And that was my harrowing encounter with the terrifying, the abominable, the monstrous Wendigo.

 

 

DRINK:

4.5

 

Vena’s Fizz House detonated a flavor bomb on my unsuspecting taste buds. Seriously, I got a pink girly drink that may have been the un-pinkest, un-girliest drink ever to crotch-punch my mouth. A mixture of blood orange, coconut puree, bitters, ghost chili and other things I cannot remember from sheer shock — even the name escapes me, sorry — it was madness. Was there alcohol in the drink? No. And it wasn’t necessary. In fact, I went back the next day and ordered up another non-alcoholic drink to make sure the first hadn’t been a fluke. My second quaff was a Ginger Shrub, which, to my great delight, knocked me for another loop. Mom and pop’s soda shop this isn’t. There is some serious mixology going on in this oft-overlooked joint.

PRICE:

Boutique

Most non-alcoholic drinks are five smackers. The alcoholic drinks run about ten to thirteen. With the craft that’s gone into these creations, this is money well spent.

AMBIENCE:

Willy Wonka

Walking in, you’ll be confronted by a bevy of whimsical glassware and homemade bitters. Forging forward, you’ll find yourself walking to a bar whose back wall is covered with so many curious bottles of fantastical color you’ll find yourself involuntarily humming “Pure Imagination”.

SERVICE:

Confusing

In my first visit, I didn’t even get talked to for like twenty minutes as I sat at the bar. For some reason this didn’t trouble me, since I was A: reading a good book and B: intermittently listening to Steve Corman — one of the owners and creator of all the bitters on offer — talk passionately about all the drinks he was mixing. When finally I was noticed, I ordered and received my drink promptly. The second time I happened to be there close to opening and the service was much improved. I actually don’t care as much about the service here, since it’s more about taking in the atmosphere than getting some sort of meal down your gullet. But the service was still slow. Take that as you will.

DRINK OR SKIP:

Drink

Vena’s Fizz House, a place that serves fizzy drinks, mocktails and the occasional cocktail, seems ridiculous and unnecessary in a food-saturated town like Portland. However, the drinks are so damn impressive that it has earned its residence in a special corner of my heart. Vena’s Fizz House, you win. You are not only unique to Portland, you are unique to my gustatory experiences in life. Check Vena’s out, it is a delightful surprise.

 

Vena's Fizz House
345 Fore St,
Portland, ME 04101
http://www.venasfizzhouse.com/


Po' Boys & Pickles - Portland, ME

[Click the picture to see it work properly. I can't figure out what sort of hocus pocus is making it look funky]


The band deserved to be back together. It was up to me to make it so.
           
            Big sky Willikers was the first member in need of finding. I knew from experience he’d be somewhere in the gutters of St. Roch. I zig-zagged the streets, quizzing people — sunning fat and happy on their porches — as to the whereabouts of a drunk man in rags. Some pointed some way and others pointed another. Big Sky Willikers was an itinerant imbiber; he rarely got sauced in the same establishment twice in a row.

            “Big Sky, you scoundrel,” I said at last to a heaping lump of black suit cloth in a drain. Big Sky turned his red balloon face to me, his eyes yellow as piss.

            “Grah!” he said, clutching for me. I leapt back. Big Sky had vices for hands.

            “You still have your spoons?” I said. Big Sky Willikers looked beyond the horizon and fumbled two pristine spoons from some deep crevice of his raiment. I smiled and nodded. I hailed a cab and sent him to a nice spot on Bourbon Street. I set him up with some fungo money, too. That way, if he wandered, he wasn’t going far.

            Next, I sniffed out Digbo Skrivens in a live oak tree, peeping on joggers and rubbing his belly. He looked like a decorative gourd in a Hawaiian shirt, his stomach all pooched out, full of crawdads.

            “Digbo,” I said. I poked him with a stick I’d been carrying since a while back.

            “What time is it?” Digbo said. I told him it was band time and that I already had Big Sky Willikers locked. I promised him all the crawdads in New Orleans if he’d join. We shot the breeze for a bit after that, going over the hubbub and the tooraloo.

            “Yeah I’ll jam,” said Digbo, at last. “Just let me ask my maw for the keys.” When it came to the ivories Digbo had hotter hands than satan himself. I happily told him to be at the Apple Barrel at sundown and reiterated about the veritable Everest of hot, spicy crawdad that awaited. I gave him cab fare and left him in the tree and he went back to scratching his protuberance as I departed.

            On my stroll to the abode of the brothers Preux, I ran into the Human Jelly-Bowl Lester Mancud, an insufferable plunker of strings.

            “I heard I heard you’re getting the band together,” said H.J.B.L. Mancud. He bowed his head and dabbed his eyebrows with a ring-heavy hand.

            “A rumor,” I said, strolling on. H.J.B.L. Mancud whirred after me on his Segway. “I just saw Big Sky Willikers knee deep in a blizzard at the Cat’s Meow.” Said H.J.B.L. Mancud. “Now I know he didn’t get there on his own. I suspect he was recruited to The Fangwater Bayou Revival.”

            He had me nailed to the cross. The Fangwater Bayou Revival was the name of my band. I’m Tid. I kept my peace and walked on, trying to poke my stick into the spokes of Mancud’s conveyance. He circled me wider.

            “Oh I’m gonna be there,” said H.J.B.L. Mancud ominously from his distance. “Wherever you is, I’ll find it! Just wait!” He whirred off fast ahead but was stopped at a traffic light until I caught up. He dabbed his eyebrows and sneered at me again. We waited there, ill at ease, for the light. When the walk signal finally turned Mancud zoomed off cackling and almost hit a pigeon.

            The day simmered thanks to the noonday sun’s efforts to suck all colors back to white. I had a good sweat on by the time I rapped on the thick wood door of the Preux house. Unfortunately, the brothers Preux — a twin drumming duo — were off gigging in Nashville for the week. Their mother did offer me a spoonful of gumbo for my troubles and that was indeed fine payment.

           


I took a sit for a spell on a bench beside Big Lake and who should come by but Rashad Dinkins. Rashad and I had — during our long history as beautiful friends — gigged from the west Levy to the east and come across a not insignificant number of Cuba Libres along the way.

            “Klem, you look parched,” said Rashad. And I was parched, that was the truth. I tumbled into his black Legacy and we made a straight shot for the Tremé. There, amongst the young people and music sneaking under every crack of every door we started a few tabs and got to wandering.

            As the day wore on and clouds joined the sun, so too did musicians of all stripe throng about us. It was like some great coniferous tree had been struck by a drunken driver, shaking the spring pollen that was every musician in New Orleans to the streets.  Floyd Scrumpins waved at me with a moonin’ grin as he sailed past my post at the open window of Johnny’ White’s Bar. I tried to tell him about the gig since his hands made thunderous rapture on the upright bass. I think I got it out in a way he understood. No way to be sure though on account of the noise. Also passed: Trevor Juniper, Kipper Goots and even Thrillin’ Jay Bounty.

            The day’s tropical humidity made my hair wild and speech emphatic. I lost track of time.

 


There is something sacred in a lost day, I thought to myself, slumped in the doorway of the Apple Barrel with my trumpet in hand. I didn’t remember retrieving it. I was not shocked, however, that my pockets were bereft of the meager dollars I’d managed to squirrel together for this day’s affairs. My head was liquid-greased on the swivel of my neck, my attitude upbeat as only a flow of Cuba Libres as wide and rapid as the Mississip can render me.

            “Lookee, lookee,” said H.J.B.L. Mancud, picking a fluorescent feather from the lapel of his enormous pin-stripe suit. He smugly waggled his rusty steel guitar at me. By God he was going to steal the show from me like always. But on this day — this impeccable, most rapturous of days — it was no matter at all.

            High above the sky blushed at the thought of another lascivious New Orleans night. As the lights came on Digbo Skrivens boogied up belly first, his keys slung up behind his head with his lanky arms hanging over. He looked high which was fine because he played tight when he was high. Big Sky Willikers hove up carrying a giant cup of something fluorescent. He waved his spoons at me and spilled some of the drink on himself. I patted his ass as he passed. And then luck of all luck the Brothers Preux screeched to a halt in their tiny Volkswagen Rabbit and unloaded all heck of drums. They said the gig had fallen through thanks to cross-booking by some money-grubbing Nashvillains. Even Floyd Scrumpins came by, giant bass strapped to his back like a coffin. I nearly cried from joy.

            I sat where I sat, unable to move for the beauty of it. The streets sprung alive with the cooling air. Young men and women touched each other’s bared skin, laughing and glowing with life’s lustful holiness. The bulbs of Frenchmen Street buzzed with vortices of insects incalculable. Even the palm trees across the way dipped and swayed with the vibrant air of a night yet young.

            I could hear my band in the back plunking and striking their way to a perfect harmony and I thought I should join them. What more holy joining than in music made by hands and breath, I ask you?

            Ah, I was drunk, me. Too drunk to philosophize, but not too drunk to play. I harrumphed up and strolled inside, waving my horn at every single pretty lady in sight. This was going to be a good show. They were all good shows.

 

 

FOOD:

3.9

 

At Po’ Boys and Pickles I ate both po’ boys and pickles and both were equally satisfying. My main course was a Debris Po’ Boy, lovingly filled with slow-cooked roast beef, gravy, lettuce, tomato and horseradish mayo. It was not a traditional Lew-see-ana po’ boy, but it was still as stunning as a bayou sunset. A serious combination of flavors abounded. I am eagerly awaiting my next visit to try either a fried oyster or muffaletta po’ boy (or both). However, I feel like I can vouch for these other fried variations strictly because of the fried pickles. The batter that lovingly surrounded each pickle slice delivered signature southern spice and the dipping sauce (a red pepper mayo, I believe) accompanied the flavor perfectly. The best part, however, were the pickles themselves. Pickled in-house with a signature blend of some very potent vinegar, these pickles were piquant, snappy and satisfying.

PRICE:

Busker’s Tips

$$ — Not cheap cheap, but reasonable cheap. I got out with a small po’ boy, pickles and a beer for about twenty bones, with tip.

AMBIENCE:

Southern Comfort

With not too much room to boast, Po’ Boys and Pickles feels comfy without feeling cramped.

SERVICE:

Intuitive Counter

You order from the fine person at the register and they bring you your food.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

I have been to New Orleans. This feels like a necessary point to mention. I have eaten a legit and hallowed fried oyster po’ boy from the one and only Domilise’s. Was my Po’ Boy — from Po’ Boys and Pickles — up to the creole snuff, then? I’d say yes indeed. The bread was crusty and authentic, the portion ample, the taste robust. They aim to do Louisiana cooking and Louisiana cooking they do. I will be going back and building po’ boys into my monthly cycle of urges and cravings. Po’ Boys and pickles, your name is well earned.


Po' Boys & Pickles

1124 Forest Ave

Portland, ME 04103