Bao Bao Dumpling House - Portland, ME

This is how it happened.           

            CHAP CHAP CHAP! A giant rotopoopter sound just like that wakes me up. I kick my door open, peashooter in hand, to russle what hooligans is on my property. ‘Stead of some gumbubble hard-bodies they’s just six green men, naked as little rhino babies, scuffin’ through the leaf piles in my front yard.

Sonny's - Portland, ME

I wonder how many chances I’ve missed? How many potential significant others I’ve failed to engage as they stood, fidgeting, behind me in line at CVS? How many mentors I’ve neglected to strike up a conversation with at the bar before a show because I chose instead to sit in my apartment, watching the same movies I’ve always watched? How many vital friends I’ve not made because of the way they looked so confident among their own group of friends way over there on the other side of the room?

Duckfat - Portland, ME

Still stressing over what to get for your child that spends literally every waking moment on the internet? You can has Kris KringLOL!

            Here he comes on his Angry Bird-drawn ROFLcopter made of Minecraft blocks. Rub his jolly belly to make him shout LOL-worthy catchphrases like, “Christmas all the things!” and “Merry Christmas is merry!”

Elevation Burger - Portland, ME

Awake, Being of Supreme Evil, to find thy second coming. You have been reborn — after a life of diabolical and malicious pleasure — into the form of a decrepit 40-something man with low T.

            This, demon, is the bosom of an entirely foreign torment. Can you conceive of its depravity? No! The author of your dolor laughs at the horrors in store.

            Yes! Awake! Rise to a wife who is giving you the silent treatment for not putting out the trash last night. Do you not understand that it’s Wednesday and now you will have to wait a week?

            You alone — who was slain by Pietr III, Battle-Saint of Ygg — will know what your demonic ways have meted out. Open your sickening eyes, demon, to true pain. 

            Limp to the office, evildoer, in a POS Camry whose passenger-side lock will no longer rise to the remote’s command. Find a note at your memo-strewn desk, auguring demotion. Listen, demon! Listen as your be-goiter’d, sweating boss eats a cruller while lamenting your “consistent lack of initiative.”

            You, demon, who had every morning drank a hog-carcass of Elysium’s own mead, cannot even grab an after-hours drink with co-workers because you will be late in picking up your daughter from fencing practice.

            I bellow with laughter at thy torment! 

            You, who converted armies into strewn corpses — your battle-grin the most feared in the Yondersphere — just crossed a street so as to not walk by a particularly ragged bum. And what of the nubile maidens who lusted day and night after your blood-soaked loins, going so far as to make fellating motions using the hilt of your fabled war hammer Painlode? They bring cruel juxtaposition to these two girls wearing matching State hoodies that just walked by and paid you as much attention as they would a fallen leaf.

            Oh, how you wish, demon, that your son did not have dyslexia and a low-level form of autism known as Asperger’s. Would it be too much to ask for him to make a friend or two? Of course! All he talks about are the rare birds that he has been cataloguing meticulously despite the fact that — thanks to his dyslexia — he often spells the birds names wrong, invalidating the very data he is hoping to capture. Is this not your just reward?

            Look across the dinner table, demon, at a wife you feel only mild dislike for. Compare it, demon! Juxtapose it with the smoldering kiln of passion you felt for Ilrex Urmstum in the tent made from her slain husband’s skin on the eve of the Reddening. 

            Gaze upon your daughter’s genetically inherited ineptitude at fencing, demon. Her opponent, Jayden Springfield, is even now trying to help your daughter land a wobbling thrust out of pity, so as not to shut her out. And Jayden’s father, the be’goitered boss who recently demoted you, has not even said hi despite the fact that he inadvertently sat only two people-lengths away from you in the same row of bleachers. 

            When near-death at the fiery gates of Skuulnendorge you laughed! Even as Pietr III swung his lava-mace of holy wrath at your manacled frame. Yet now you’ve spent weeks in trepidation leading up to your first colonoscopy!

            Oh Demon, thy weakness is legendary.

            The Olive Garden endless breadbasket is a mockery of your past life’s heinous feasts. Sigh at the wilting flowers perched on the table and the acne-ridden waiter who can’t remember your order because he’s probably high. It is no coincidence they seem as wicked mummers to the lavishly grotesque celebrations of your past life. Whole kingdoms converted into dining halls. The lamentations of the newly acquired slaves as they were taken upon the tabletops — grisly writhing centerpieces. The bodies of slain royalty feasted upon by you, demon, not even rising to relieve yourself, simply making the lord’s former throne yours in every sense.

            And back in the office, genesis of misfortune, your workspace has been moved next to the noisy printer.

            Hear! Yes, truly hear the pain in thy mother’s voice as she mistakes you for your long-dead father and laments about how disappointed she is in her only son. Know that a new world of agony unfurls for you with her accumulating dementia that has, until now, only caused her to mistake the stuffed dog you got her last Christmas for a real one.

            Ah demon, can you even understand the lameness of the gifts your children offer you for father’s day? Compare this pinecone, haphazardly glittered — a gift from your twelve-year-old daughter — to the boon you received from Caanute: a seven tiered hot spring of pure platinum soaking a league of hand-picked pleasure-maids from the carnal gardens of Lady Laboris, their bodies covered in jewelry that could buy a hundred kingdoms or destroy them. And your son, he lost his gift running after a Boat-tailed Grackle in the nature reserve.           

            Yes, Demon, you heard correctly! Your wife has decided separate beds would be best!

            You could take your life, demon. You dwell upon it. I know this. Most often when you’re stuck in traffic on I-91 going west and the sun is right in your eyes. Yet still you know you could never end this life with the same grandeur as Lord Soalbandian, howling and aflame, setting light to what little was left of his kingdom with his own flaming hands. Indeed, demon, were you to slam the accelerator and plow into the silver Ford F-150 with the hunting stickers ahead of you, only three cars max would be involved in your suicidal blitz.

            Do you understand, demon? Can you feel the grinding knowledge that it can, and will, only get worse from here? Your last life, the millennia in which you took your eternal rule of darkness as a natural gift, do you see that metempsychosis has meted its just reward? 

            Weep, demon, for none can save you. None!




3.3 Stars

Ersatz Five Guys.


Sea level

Nothing cray. The whole lunch with fries and burger and soda will enter the low teens.


Socially Responsible Meat Eating Venue

I don’t know why I got a sort of corporate vibe from Elevation Burger, but the design just felt a little too clean for a burger joint. I know they’re all about “elevated” meats that make you feel good when you eat them, but the ambience was trying so hard to tie into the whole ethos that it felt like it lost its personality in the quest for minimalist cleanliness.



Ordered at the register, a fine young man brought me my food. Nice and prompt. Very fine.



You’ll note I don’t hand out too many skips. This is because I have great respect for the passion and energy that goes into turning a restaurant from idea to reality. However, Elevation really doesn’t seem to have much vision beyond a “mindful” tweak to Five Guys’ formula. Not that that’s bad in and of itself, it’s just that the notion of “burger” and “healthy” don’t mix for me. If I’m going to have a burger, I have already resigned myself to the future hypertension I am inviting. Elevation Burger’s burgers were indeed less greasy than many of their competitors, but they were also less satisfying. If it were between Elevation and McDonalds, sure I’d go Elevation. But if it were between Elevation and Five Guys/In-N-Out/Shake Shack, there is no question I’d be heading in the other direction. Elevation Burger is the Diet Pepsi of craft/chain burger joints. Take that as you will.

Elevation Burger
Address: 205 Commercial St. Portland, ME 04101

Gritty McDuff's Brewing Company - Portland, ME

Dick Buford’s home smelled like drying paint, yeast and sausages. Dick himself was splayed recumbent on the couch, a plate rising and falling on his bare, hairy orb of a stomach. In his other hand he held a small canvas. Above him sat a hunting rifle, the one he’d used to fell the lion whose taxidermy head snarled beside it.

            “Ham!” he said, giving me a wave with a sausage-skewered fork. Dick’s face was that inflated, ruddy kind that always looks like its owner is under considerable physical strain.

            As I approached he twisted, burped, and, using his sausage, raked a tube of mauve acrylic paint toward him. I caught a whiff of hops on his breath and heard bottles tinkle somewhere deep in the couch’s cushions.

            “Look at this,” he said, holding up a painting of what might have been a mountain but really looked like a monstrous tit, purple clouds circling its magenta areola. “I call it, Ol’ Benamuckee.”

            I nodded and patiently let him explain to me the cultural insignificance of altitude among the natives of the Juan Fernandez Islands.

            Dick Buford’s exploits were as legendary as they were true.

            “They don’t worship height as we do,” Dick said. “Listen!”

I had been.

            “Theirs is a worship of flesh…”

            Dick nodded off. The plate slid from his stomach and shattered on the white tile floor. With a roar, Dick awoke. “The yeast!”

            Springing from the couch, Dick bowled me out of the way and did that beer belly shuffle where his ass and legs oscillated around the orb of his stomach with splayed feet, knees wide. Dick no longer went on adventures to all points of the globe. He made bread now. Famous bread, of course.

            “Ham,” he called from the kitchen. I followed.

            My name is actually LeSean, but Dick just called me Ham because during our first lunch together I had decided to get a ham sandwich for lunch and Dick claimed it was my favorite and I ate it every day. I doubt he even remembered my real name. I’m Dick’s driver. I have been for ten years.

            “You ever think about kids?” said Dick.

            “Having them?” I asked.

            “Of course having them you pederast.” The smell of yeast smothered the kitchen. The room was painted orange with countertops of white tile: a creamsicle of a room. Dick sprinkled a careful spoonful of light brown sugar on his prized bacteria.

            “Sure,” I said. “I’ve considered it.”

            “Right,” said Dick, slamming the yeast back into the refrigerator. The matter was settled.

             “Well,” said Dick. “We better get going.”

            I looked out the bay window behind the sink as Dick went to put on shoes. The sole foliage in the yard was an elm, its topmost branches withered, while the rest was a violent green. The lawn around the elm sloped long and emerald all the way down to the tree line. Dick had settled down in Nice New Jersey — a world away from the New Jersey everyone thought they knew.

            From the other room, I could hear the grunts that came with Dick attempting to reach anything below his belly.

            Why had I been driving Dick around for ten years? Sure, there were other jobs out there but this had been the most interesting. Plus, it paid damn well since I have to be on call five days a week. Dick chose not to have a weekend driver. Needed time with his yeast alone, he said.

            Dick continued to work away at his shoes. Between his grunts were wheezes and peeps I’d only heard when he was getting really worked up.

            “Toadpiss,” Dick said. I poked my head around the corner just to double check.

            Dick was on his back beside the bench like a giant pill bug, grappling with his left boot’s shoelaces.

            “Almost…” said Dick. I knew more than well enough never to offer Dick assistance when he was in a bind. He was a rugged individualist who’d grew up in an orphanage and made it his sole mission to never ask for anyone’s help again. I’d once asked if he wanted some help getting into his jacket only to find myself pinned against the wall with a Ka-Bar to my throat.  

            “I’ll just go get the car ready,” I said.

            I sat in the car. I listened to country. I watched the other luxury vehicles native to Dick’s neighborhood whisper by. The sun had moved significantly across the sky by the time I decided to go back in. I’d become incredibly patient with Dick, but this had been too much time.

            Beyond the wrenching squeak of his front door’s massive iron hinges, there was no other sound in the place. I found Dick nearly where I’d left him, sitting silently on the wooden mudroom bench, elbows on his knees, his head hung low. His shoelaces lolled onto the ground, still untied.

            “Still want to go to the gardens?” I asked. We always went to the New Jersey Botanicle Gardens on Wednesday. Dick was silent. Two small dime-sized pools reflected up off the slate tile floor, just between Dick’s shoes.

            Dick looked up at me with red eyes.

            “I couldn’t,” he said. “Couldn’t…” He held his open palms above his untied shoes, looking at his outstretched fingers with growing hate. “Protesilaus…”

            “What?” I asked.

            “Go home!” said Dick, rising and stepping out of his shoes. “Get out.”

            I left quickly. I never questioned a direct order from Dick.


            The next day I came the same time I always did. Dick was in none of his usual spots. The couch was bare. The kitchen was as we’d left it yesterday. Only the smell of sausage had dissipated, the caustic smell of yeast and wet paint remained.

            I found Dick on the back porch, wearing sandals and the same clothes as yesterday, his hunting rifle stretched across his thighs. On the lawn, the elm stood straight ahead of him.

            “Ham,” Dick said. His voice sounded thick and he was curled in a way that suggested a stomachache. He sat with his back facing me.

            “You’re fired.”

            “Huh,” I said. “Fired?”

            I approached him from behind.

            “Stop,” he said. Commanded. “Envelope. The table. Take it.”

            Dick didn’t move. It was the first conversation I’d ever had with him that he hadn’t looked me directly in the face. Where he hadn’t made sure I broke eye contact first. Alpha male dominance maneuver he’d learned from the Surma of South Sudan.

            On the teak picnic table next to me was an envelope, no name written on it.

            “What’s this?” I asked.


            He still hadn’t turned. Hadn't moved at all, in fact. The words he had managed seemed squeezed out of him — like an automaton with just enough energy to force them out. He stayed stationary, looking out at the elm, that hunting rifle draped across his knees.

            The envelope was thin and I could see the silhouette of one of Dick’s signature rainforest-themed checks. I ripped open a corner

            “Not now!” said Dick.

            “OK,” I said, putting the envelope into my jacket. “Sorry.” I didn’t want to leave it like this. I wanted to shake Dick’s hand, or at least thank him for the job and companionship if you could call it that.

            “Can I at least give you a hand shake?” I said.

            “No!” Dick barked.

            “Well,” I said, wringing my hands. “Thanks, Dick. For… um, everything.”

            It was a lame goodbye.

            “Leave the keys,” said Dick.

            I did.


In my dusty car I opened the check. Its contents had been written with deliberate effort, though the penmanship was still shaky. Even in his writing he’d tried to hide his loss of control. I wish I could say it was for a million dollars or ten million or something, but it was still an impressive five thousand dollar bonus on top of a month’s pay: something to help with my mortgage.

            You might wonder why I didn’t call an ambulance for Dick. Why I didn’t try to help more. You don’t know him like I did. Help in his time of greatest need would have been a knife in the back, twisted — the ultimate betrayal.

            The next week Dick’s obituary appeared in the paper. No service. No next of kin. No cause of death. But I knew what it was.

            You might wonder why I told this story, since it’s sad and it’s anticlimactic. I told it because it feels like the sort of story that actually happens, rather than the kind anyone wants. That’s what I like about it. It’s a story that makes us know we’re not alone. That bad things happen to everyone all of the time and that everything hard and terrible in the world has been endured before. That especially in loss and in grief we’re closer to everyone else than we are in happiness — though it always feels the opposite. I think that’s the sort of story that really matters. But that’s just what I think.




2.7 Stars

Gritty McDuff’s — Gritty’s — was the first brewpub in Portland. Essentially, it was the seed that became the forest of brew pubs we Portlanders now enjoy. You can nearly feel the rich ambience oozing out of the bricks while sitting at one of the picnic-style tables at their Portland location. Unfortunately, though the culinary landscape of Portland has evolved, Gritty’s seems in stasis. Is their menu extensive? Absolutely. Is their food made with care? Check. Is it just fine? Yes. But that’s just it. It’s fine. This is the undisputed first brewpub in Portland! I want the food to be amazing.


Pretty McStandard

Just your societally agreed-upon bar food prices. ~$10 burgers/sandwiches. Normal-price Beers.



Gritty’s shines when it comes to two factors, ambience and brew. The Portland location especially warms the cockles of my heart with its convivial atmosphere and sense of monument-like solidity in the heart of the Old Port.


Goodness a-Brewing

The bartenders and service staff have been tip top. They know how to handle a crowd.



I’m breaking convention here because I really do like Gritty’s. I like the mugs — of their exclusive Mug Club — hanging above the bar. I like how much they’re involved in philanthropy in the Portland community. I like that they’re the pioneers of the Maine microbrew explosion, and their beers continue to delight. It’s simply their food that could stand a 21st century renaissance to match the excellence of everything else they offer.

LFK - Portland, ME


Verily did Kent Spoonthistle, dandy of limber limb and virile vivacity, flounce up yon street of Congress in lively Portland-town. His 17 years did belie his aged elegance — or so Kent bethought.

          Darkening the doorstop of one LFK — bar of swell repute — Kent hied for frothy quaff to sop his drythirsted throat. Yet into a doorwayman did he dap.  

          “I.D.” said the doorwayman, a rascal of generous structure and rustic eyebrow.

          “As you wish,” quoth our man Kent, prestidigitating from a money-pocket of chrome tanned leathers the aforementioned item. With necessitous fastidiousness did our swarthy doorwayman scrutinize the flimsy card. In this capturing of his countenance Kent Spoonthistle appeared even more the cub. Yet upon the card there lay a trick! A delectable ruse! This writ of passage had been bedeviled, the age of Kent’s birth ingeniously re-writ. 17? No! This babe-faced bouncing boy was 25!

          Swinging a-to and a-fro didst the benighted brow of yon doorwaybluff trace the contours of both Kent’s likeness and that of his authentic, scruff-bereft prognathous chin.

         Despite this scrutiny, not a touch of flop sweat did spring from smooth Spoonthistle’s pate. In Kent, the nickel-plated confidence of youth was at full burnish.

         With one last glance and an absence of flourish, Kent’s card was returned by the brobdingnag’s paw.

         Entrance achieved!


~ Intermezzo ~


Packed ‘mongst rowdy ruddy rapscallions Kent hailed ye barmander with a hale haloo. “Prithee,” sung Kent, voice a-crack with puberty’s parting vicissitudes. “Perchance wouldst I swig a dram.”

         “Wazzat?” questioned the beau barmander, clad in tee of black, a bewitching maiden. Truth be known — upon reviewing our young dandy’s porcelain grin — a spark of uncertainty did tickle our barmander’s countenance. But professionalism was the day’s wont and she asked his druthers.  With glove-shorn hand did Kent flag the West End Mule. Presently, the barmander gathered spirits to concoct the admixture and Kent, our voluptuary, didst not long wait.

          Naught but a sip of the proffered sup and Kent’s dome was a-swoon with a spirituous elixir his puerile liver would dismiss with the alacrity of mother’s milk. Oh frabjous day! thought Kent. That he had secreted his underage self into this apotheosis of bars. Suckling at sweet ambrosia’s glassy teat, Kent Spoonthistle was whisked to his own inebriated hosanna.

          But sooth! How the Gods weave fates anew. For each flower of fortune is sprinkled with life’s fertilizing manure.

          Into the door burst a procrustean guard of lawfulness! 5-0! Hand to buckl’d hip, our officer, gimlet-eyed, scanned the rabble.

          And lo, did his gaze fall on Kent.


~ Intermezzo ~


Had our Kent not been bathing in lovewarm pools of ethanol, had he not been garbed in his puce dandy’s nightsuit, had he not been ‘pon the stool closest the point of ingress, perchance he could have absquatulated from the thrall of that bilious martinet. ‘Twas not to be. Kent did not even note the policeman’s arrival.

          Patrician claw falling upon Kent’s shoulder, yon officer slavered over swift justice’s proximity. Kent whirled, loosing a mephitic zephyr up the officer’s madwide nostrils.

          “Chuff!” our official-officer bellowed. Egads, thought Kent, as his spirits fell from elation’s elevation to dread’s dungcave. Trapped! Caught! Ruined!

          “ID,” bellowed Hammurabi’s herald.

          Mano a-tremble did Kent sacrifice his fabricated card. Steel-eyed, with pain’s precision, did the officer peruse Kent’s particulars. And all the while a mute orison Kent sent to whatever pantheon watched over this folly; deus ex machina deliver me from this catastrophe! Though time’s hammer tapped on and with each tick Kent succumbed to resignation’s chill.

          From his side, our officer produced a pamphlet, into which he began to scrawl. Surely, this was Kent’s epitaph he writ. A summons to the court of law. The judgement? Immediate death by pancuronium bromide no doubt.

          But the officer’s scratching was interrupted by a sight unequivocally unexpected, through yon ingress strode two more keepers of the peace. At their arrival, didst Kent’s bowels further sink. Yet so too did our officer evince unduplicable fear. Indeed where fate’s manure is cast, so too do luck’s wildflowers spring.


~ Intermezzo ~


Still clutching Kent’s ID, our primary officer dallied for the point of departure. “Stop!” boomed the rightborn sentries of most recent introduction.

          Thence did Kent spot the perfidy of his putative jailor’s garb. Primary point, his badge of cheap plasticine. Point the second, his billy club naught but a scuffed plunger-handle. Third, his garb a wrinkled sham. And most fourthly, a lack of holster’d weapon altogether. He’d been a scurrilous scalawag. An ignominious imposter. A ruse of a rapscallion. Disabused of this mendacity, Kent’s amusement returned.  The fake-officer’s come-uppance was swift in hand.

          Lex talionis thought cackling Kent.

          From his perch, Kent cachinnated as the scene evolved: a less-than bradykinetic brouhaha. Our lying lawman was tackled to the terre. Yelping, the ID clattered from his unmentionable mitts, falling by Kent’s swiveling stool where it was swiftly returned to Kent’s pocket. Our true officer’s barked, our impostofficer yelped. Soon justice’s steely claws clutched his wrists. Weeping was the un-offiver pulled by law’s long arms through the door. And Kent Spoonthistle, illegal imbiber, new-freed luck-haver, didst order another round.




3.7 Stars

If a bar can be described as literary, then LFK is just that. You’re coming for the drinks and the ambience; the food is a cherry on top.


The Right Stuff

Drinks range from quite cheap (~$3) to soberly reasonable (~$12). The craft cocktails will run you in the upper range but they’re all well worth it. The food is also worth the drachma. Protip: if you like deviled eggs, GET THE DEVILED EGGS.


Cat’s Cradle

With enough writerly equipment — typewriters lining the walls, books aplenty, an actual story built into the bar — to keep fartsiest of artsies happy, this really is a wonderful nook in which to exchange some solid conversation. Just beware, it gets crowded on weekends so if you want a seat, come early or late.


Rabbit, Run

They bring the drinks, remember who ordered and split the check like pros. Great great great.



LFK is the spot to come after — or during — a long workweek when you just need to cozy up to a regenerative boozy drank.



Paciarino - Portland, ME


Finding yourself enwrapped in a thick blanket with warming hands around a steaming cup of coffee as immaculate snow drifts onto the window sill on a Saturday morning.



As a child, crawling into your parents’ bed after a bad dream and feeling the vital body heat of two adults sap all fear from you as you drift abruptly to a peaceful sleep.



Peeling off ski boots after a full day on the mountain and sliding your foot into sneakers that feel like soft slippers by comparison.



After an overlong time apart, feeling the arms of a significant other cinch around you and their body press into familiar grooves and their unique scent — the one that manages to trace the fullness of your relationship — cloud your joyful mind.



Laughing with old friends around a crackling campfire while above you stars, like countless impossible candles suspended, encompass the sky.



Losing yourself in an engrossing book on a softsanded beach before aquamarine waters hearing, but not hearing, the carefree yelps of children as they scamper through the whispering surf.



Nakedly embracing a lover after an effortlessly intense and satisfying sexual romp, feeling the exquisite juxtaposition of their slick warm skin and your own cool sweat prickling your bare chest and thighs.



Just stepping into a steam-billowing shower after spending an entire day on the ocean, the driving water melting the damp freeze out of your bones.



Drifting awake to the sizzling pops of breakfast being prepared and the smell of waffles mingling with coffee on the first sun-dappled weekend of autumn.



Breathing in deep and holding it as you stretch your legs and arms after arriving home earlier than expected from a long car ride.



Putting numb hands into your father’s dry, worn, warm gloves as a nine-year-old while picking out a Christmas tree on a sun-strewn, crisp November day.



Lying on the couch with your significant other prone on top of you listening to music and feeling the rise and fall of your chest and theirs as, out the window, you watch the neon sun slip beneath a rose-splashed horizon.




4.6 Stars

Paciarino is near the pinnacle of (Italian) comfort food. Seriously, this is pasta done to the utmost. It’s homemade. It’s lovingly prepared. It’s absolutely tear-jerkingly delicious.


Mi Piacci

For what you receive the price is more than fair. Plus, their carafes of house wine are a steal. While not a cheap meal, this is only a minor splurge — nothing like a Fore Street or Hugo’s that’ll test the limits of the layman’s bank account.


Italian Bed and Breakfast

The seating is a mite snug, but nothing that should deter any but the mortally agoraphobic.


Everybody want-a eat-a the pasta.

The only difficulty I’ve had has been occasionally in getting a table on time. Most tables, because of the leisurely, convivial atmosphere of the place, end up going a little longer than the average dinner. This is not exactly a problem unless your reservations are for late on a busy night, in which case you might find yourself waiting for a bit despite making reservations. Otherwise the service has been molto bene.



Oh yes. On top of the list of “Things You Must Try” is the goat cheese ravioli. Sweet mother, those things are divine. I will say that I’ve only had one pasta dish that I wouldn’t recommend (unless to someone who liked spicy-hot foods) it was called the Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino. It was tasty but DAMN was it hot. Anyway, Paciarino is an established Portland institution and a top contender for my personal favorite Italian restaurant ever. If you want comfort food straight from the boot of Italy — especially as the winter descends — head to the big P.


Slab - Portland, ME

Oh Slab, your Sicilian-style “Hand Slab” is formidable. For this beautiful and delectable addition to the pantheon of things-we-Portlanders-want-to-eat we must thank Stephen Lanzalotta and his pizza-ing skills.


No, we cannot simply thank chef Stephen. We must also thank the robust cooks of Sicily, through whose rugged individualism this fusion of Italian and Arabic flavors was born.


But that is not enough. Let’s go back to around 997 AD and thank the first chef — contested though his/her identity may be — to put tomato and cheese on bread and call their creation a “pizza.”


But then, why not just thank the first person, nearly 28,000 years back, to mix ground cereal grain with water and forget it on a particularly hot boulder, inadvertently creating the world’s first flat bread? Without the knowledge that grain could be eaten, and preserved, in such a portable, tasty way, there’s little chance the farming revolution could have ever taken root (as it were).


Actually, it might make more sense to go forward a bit and thank the Sumerian farmers of Mesopotamia back around 3100 B.C. who discovered that diverting streams to rain-starved portions of land tempered the soil, creating irrigation as we know it. We raise our pizzas in thanks to these early hydroscientists for irrigating modern civilization to more reliable and bountiful crop yields. Thus making grain and tomato and basil — the essential building blocks of pizza — available to everyone.


And if we’re thanking irrigation we should probably also thank the nameless Egyptian handy-man brilliant enough to create the Ard: early civilization’s proto-plough. Without that first beast-drawn wedge, we couldn’t till rocky soil nor make seed drills in any significant number or consistency. Thanks, Ard, for blowing the doors off farming by creating an easy and tremendously effective system to replace what had previously been the uncoordinated labors of malnourished, hob-footed, stick-wielding peasants.


Well, that actually leads us to thanking the first hominins, 30,000 years ago for thinking up the idea of using durable tools at all. Their manufacture of stone implements, like knives and hammers — rather than just disposable sticks and rocks and bones — ushered us into the modern age.


That being the case, we must also give a nod and wink to the first chimpanzee ever to pick up a twig and think, “hmm, I can use this to ‘fish’ for termites!” That little simian’s ingenuity was a watershed moment in mammal tool-use for certain.


In reality we should just thank primitive autonomization of the first carpometacarpal joint — otherwise known as the development of the thumb — which existed 70 million years ago in early primates. Without that thumb, we’ve got no tool-use. So thanks thumbs. Good on you.


Rather, let’s not thank thumbs. Let’s thank the first amniotes to crawl onto land and lay their eggs. Without their ingenious breeding tactics — namely, being the first mammal with the ability to lay eggs on dry land rather than in water — they staked our mammalian claim to dry land itself, allowing for all the glorious rest to unfold.


Yet, while we’re thanking amniotes we might as well salute prokaryotes, the single-celled grand pappy/mammy to every consciousness walking, squawking, swimming, hopping, digging, slithering or straight photosynthesizing on earth. If our prokaryotic parents hadn’t survived (and flourished) during the shelling of earth by asteroids 3.6 billion years ago, there’s no way we’d be sippin’ ‘Gansetts in the shade of Slab’s outdoor seating area.


In actuality we probably should thank the early atmosphere, consisting of mainly nitrogen, carbon dioxide and inert gases (and some hydrogen left over from the solar nebula which was pretty much just a bunch of dust left over from the sun’s formation) that created the necessary conditions for life to form, by giving us water almost 3.8 billion years ago.


Really, though, we have to thank the sacrifice of early stars that went supernova, exploding and expelling vast clouds of gas, dust and radiation at up to 30,000 K/per second. It was this star material — molecules heavier than iron — that mixed with elements from the Big Bang itself — like hydrogen, helium and traces of lithium — that managed to find its way into the gravitational thrall of our precious yellow dwarf star we call The Sun, and, with the power of gravity, swirl itself into a nearly perfect sphere upon which every single living being — that we have ever known — has lived their life; a small rock that found itself the optimal distance from a source of heat in its randomly generated orbit whose gyrations still allow for hospitable growth and love and livelihoods and existence as we know it, this lovely, confusing, hallowed, fragile, crowded, lonely, miraculous place we call Earth.


Thanks stars. Thanks for giving us the Hand Slab.





4.0 Stars

There are quite a few menu items that delight, but the Hand Slab (spiritual and physical successor to Micucci’s Sicilian Pizza) is a delicious, and nearly unrivaled, piece of pizza.


Hit and Miss

The Hand Slab is wonderfully priced. You certainly get bang for your buck in that delicious, puffy, fall-apart brick of pie. The rest of the menu is solid, taste-wise, but I’ve seen a couple dishes that are more expensive (by double in some cases) that serve up less actual food than the Handel’s Mcslabberson. It’s up to you what you’re in the mood for, but don’t let a higher price convince you that you’ll be getting a massively larger helping of food.


Outdoor Sweeting

The indoor area has a cool vibe with poured concrete and a two-tiered layout. However, the outdoor area, smothered in orange, authentic German Bier Hall style tables is the place to be. As the weather turns to winter, outdoors won’t be an option. But during the summer and what little is left of our fall, there are few places more pleasant to crush a slab.


Hard Knocks

The servers are generally nice and prompt. Indeed I’ve had some great experiences. But twice of my five times to Slab, I’ve had underwhelming outcomes. Once, when I was alone, it took me about fifteen solid minutes to get visited by a server. After that initial wait it was a generally well-paced service experience. The second occasion was with some buds and one of our cohort had no U.S. identification, just his “I’m from Somewhere in Europe” I.D. card. He was not allowed to buy beer. Now, there was no question he was over 21, in fact he looks about double that age. And I (we) understand that Slab has regulations on which cards they can take or not take. Ultimately it’s a judgment call on staying completely safe (from a regulation standpoint, in case an inspector were somehow present), or keeping your previously-happy customers happy. By choosing the former, Slab earned the dubious company of Binga’s Stadium as the only other place in Portland to not accept that “I’m from Somewhere in Europe” I.D. card. With that last experience, Slab, unfortunately, lost a couple customers.



That unfortunate event withstanding, I will still eat at Slab. The Hand Slab is just that tasty. And I know Slab doesn’t necessarily need my patronage, nor that of my friends, since business looks to be in business. However, what was once an immaculately excellent place to go now has a blemish, which, unfortunately, will not soon fade.





Downtown Lounge (Revisited) - Portland, ME

Perfect, another stupid line. John yearned for a damn beer and here he was lurking in the entrance to Downtown Lounge, waiting for — what could be up to — twenty minutes to get a spot at the bar. Only then would he be granted the privilege of paying his hard earned money for a beer.

            It had been a ponderously crap day. During the morning commute, rain had brought traffic to a crawl — of course some idiot had crashed and ruined the morning for everyone else. To make matters worse, the ensuing eight hours had been one long fire drill; meeting after rushed meeting had filled up what John had hoped would be a low key Friday.

            For lunch? That was a wonderful trip to the DMV. After waiting for a deadly, bookless (he’d forgotten it at work) hour and a half — for the duration of which two obese men yawped behind him — the lady at the counter informed him he didn’t even have the right documents and would have to come back and no she couldn’t even get him ahead of the line when he came back, he’d just have to wait again. He’d wolfed his crappy turkey sandwich driving back to work.

            Yeah, he’d been waiting for this beer all day. He had needed this beer since about seven o’ clock AM on Monday and here it finally would have been if it wasn’t for all these slack-jawed idiots sitting at the bar ahead of him. Who got out of work before 5:30 anyway? Did they even have jobs?

            Nothing was going John’s way, as per usual. Oh look, a seat just opened up. They’ll probably give it to someone else. Typical.



            It was nice and air conditioned inside Downtown Lounge. The sun snuck out from behind the clouds as John read his book and waited for a seat. He was in no particular rush, it was Friday after all.

            There had been traffic in the morning — during which John had leisurely listened to the new Alt-J album in its entirety. John had gotten into work expecting a slow day and been surprised by a slew of activity. The day had just flown by.

            Well, almost flown by. The wait at the DMV had felt a bit longer because he’d forgotten his book at work, but John had actually relished a break in the day to sit, reflect, and listen to the hilarious conversations going on around him. Funny enough, John hadn’t even brought the right documents along with him. Now he had another opportunity to break up a busy day in the future. Not bad.

            The drive back to the office had been just enough time for John to enjoy his homemade turkey sandwich.

            Now he was almost at his glorious beer. He’d been savoring the anticipation all day. Life, after all, is almost purely anticipation, and John had been mindful of trying to treasure it.

            There were a surprising amount of people at DTL for 5:30, but John was glad to see that one of his favorite bars was doing so well.

            And all these people! Amazing to think about the statistical improbability, almost impossibility, of all these exact people — John included — existing in DTL at this particular time.

            Every one of them had come from parents who’d randomly met, and been begat from grandparents who had also randomly met and on and on back from humans to apes to swimming mammals all the way to protoplasmic monads in the primordial goop — one long unbroken string of impossible chances leading to this — and only this — conglomeration of people. But you really only have to go back a single generation to be amazed. John thought about the sliver of chance that led from each of their parents to them, meaning, in all the millions of sperm that could have created a person — some person like them, but not them at all — they were the single, one-in-a-million being who’d been given the privilege of existing. Now, after all those millennia of chance upon chance, piling up to the most infinitesimal possibility that everything would turn out exactly this way, here they all were hanging out and enjoying the beginning of a beautiful weekend. Truly, it was a vast gift to be alive.

            And look at that, a seat had opened up for John. It was a good day.




3.9 Stars

The Downtownest of Lounges is a delight. Seriously I put this food only one hair behind Shay’s. Again, this is no gourmet restaurant so don’t expect to find anything fancy. However, what is prepared here (burgers, BLTs, Chicken Sandwiches, Wings, &c, &c) is prepared by the hands of an angel. The martinis are on point, generously portioned mixed beverages abound and the beer selection delivers on what one wants — Portland has enough “Maine Craft Brew” bars as it is. Not that they don’t carry those here, their selection is simply a bit less exhaustive.


Aw right den, bud

A burg (or any other sandwich/salad) and a couple brews will have you at sub $20. Drink High Lives and it will be even less (but substantially more excellent given your taste in beers).



These booths are made for scuttlebutt. Seriously, sit down for a drink with some buds and you won’t want to leave. The ambience is cozy, convivial and just damn excellent.


Greased Lightning

Good gentlemen work the bar. They notice when the drinks are near empty and suggest a refill at all the right times. Never had a bad service experience. Powerful.



So why did I revisit Downtown Lounge? Has Downtown Lounge changed? Not drastically. Has my experience in Portland changed the way I look at DTL? Completely. I had been looking a gift Downtown in the mouth. Now that I’ve had the full run of Portland, there really are very few places like it. It is without question one of the best dives in Portland and it’s not even really a dive. The food is great. The seating is some of the most conducive to conversation and straight chilling. The beers bring my stomach much pleasure (and liver much chagrin). DTL is truly a fantastic spot to meet up with friends old and new for great conversation and better times. In short, Downtown has unexpectedly suffused itself throughout the whole of my heart. DTL. The man.




Salvage BBQ - Portland, ME

We strolled down to the harbor where the waves met the scrubby shore. My sister had her gun. I had my sword.

           The rising sun had not yet breached the horizon — across the bay the burnt outline of Tisbury shown black against the sky’s cold violet glow. My sword clacked in its sheath against my off-white shirt. Once, it had been black.

           “Smoke?” she asked me. I declined.

           We waited.

           Seagulls scuffled beside us on the slipshod arena of a sunken roof. They extended their wings and opened their beaks, plunging in, puffing up. One with a hurt leg slid on the outskirts of the fight, clucking its impotent wrath. My sister casually puffed her hand-rolled cigarette. We had both been here so many times before.

            One dies or both die. It’s the only rule that cannot be broken. The only rule keeps order. One of two truths I believe.

            We were family now in these final moments. Brother and sister in death. She looked over to me and opened her mouth to ask a question, but was cut short by an electric crackle, the speakers coming to life.

            Alert now, our sun-tightened skin prickling. Sirens cried out, caroming off the sea and wave-wrecked shacks that lined the harbor. We rose and drew our lines in the soaked sand.

            I didn’t need to know her story to know it as dearly as the blade in my hand. All our stories were the same. We all killed to survive.

            “Nice sword,” she said from her spot twenty yards down the beach. “Just like the Duelist.”

            But for a tight hint of a grin, I didn’t respond. She let her sun-bleached dreadlocks fall over her face before whipping them back up and over her head and knotting them with a shoelace. She had on loose-fitting cargo pants, threadbare, ripped and stained and a soiled green tank top. Her sun-brown skin was run through with minute wrinkles. She couldn’t have been more than thirty; a killer since childhood.

            “Never paired on the beach,” she said, marveling at the beauty surrounding us. It was foolish talk. Advantages were scarce enough. Everyone left had survived so many pairings.

            A wall of sunlight crept down the treetops. The sixth beep rang out. At ten, our fight would commence.

“The silent man in black.” She said. “No scars on his body. The most duels won. No equal. You will know him by his red blade. He is called the Duelist.” She laughed and shook her head, gun at the ready. “You’re him, right?”

            This was the second truth. I am the Duelist.

            She dug her feet laterally in the sand, testing for purchase, smiling. “You know he’s just a myth,” she said. I said nothing.

            She was wrong.

            My legend had grown so long that many tried to pretend they were me. They wore their black jackets or shirts or shawls. They carried their katanas easily and said not a word. They concealed their scars with makeup. This was why my sister was not afraid.

            “Alright, Duelist,” she said. “Why not put your skills to ending this brutality: these pairings. Let’s stop this madness.”

            Her fighting strategy was pitifully formulaic. Distract your opponent with talk. Score the early kill. I nestled my fingers into the grooves of my Katana’s grip. The tenth beep’s echo faded. Silence struck. The pairing began.

            We circled each other, she felt out the ground. My footsteps fell into their comfortable rhythm.  It was like listening to a song for the ten thousandth time. Every beat in its place. Every note falling as it should.

            “You know,” she said, concern in her voice. “You know this whole thing is bull… This whole situation. Making us fight. I think—”

            Her first shot sent the gulls scattering. I bobbed a-rhythmically and the bullet nestled into the sand far behind me. Having failed in her first gambit, she would launch into how she was part of a group. How her people had the arms and will to confront the power that had mandated this new way of life.

            “I’m part of a group that can change this,” said my sister. “It’s a small group, but we have big ideas… Why don’t you talk?” she said. Her body quivered now with fear’s adrenaline. She had begun to understand. “Why don’t you talk?”

            Why don’t I talk? There are no answers in talk. The only answers that matter are those that you yourself create. The rules you hold yourself to. Everything outside of that relies on proof. Proof of this, proof of that. Even the proof itself requires further proof on and on down. There are no absolutes other than those whose source you know. Your truth.

            My truths are two: I am the Duelist who never loses and one of us must die.

            I continued to sway and bob as heat crept into the sand and into our clothes. Sweat twinkled on the fringes of my sister’s forehead.

            I pulled my sword free of its scabbard and raised it vertically above my head. Its red blade dripped with sunlight. Her hands fell to her sides, fear blossoming on her face.

            This was the chorus before the final refrain. One after the other they would talk or plead or stay silent. When they saw my blade, when they understood its hue. When the rhymes that haunt the dreams of all but me creep into their head, unbidden:


The Duelist in black,

No scars to track,

His blade is red,

All words unsaid.


            She would fight now. She would put in everything available to her. The song would continue, nothing could be rushed, nothing could be hurried.

            “Say something, brother,” she said. The sweet smell of wildflowers sprung from the gorse beside the beach’s edge. I could see her frantic heart in the ropy veins of her neck. She stumbled on a rock and opened fire. The sand around me exploded in angry burrs of rock and shell. She was screaming, my sister. Most do.

            I slid toward her, eyes closed. Bullets hummed past and around me as lazy as bumblebees. She had seven, six, five left. Now four. Now three. At two she would wait. She would let me get close and fire at the last minute. My song was nearing its beautiful coda. When my blade would prove my truths: I am the Duelist, one has to die.

            Gulls cried from the jetty and the ocean calmly lapped at the shrinking shore. I swayed through the sand, closing the gap between my sister and her end. Another year, my purpose again fulfilled.

            When I was close enough to smell her — that faint, burnt stink we all carry — she fired her last two bullets. I ducked as they neatly whispered past. I opened my eyes. She was smiling. She should not have been smiling.

            In a blur I could hardly see, she reloaded. The first bullet knocked my sword from my hand. The second slammed into my thigh. I sat down and gasped. How?

            My sister hit my face with the butt of her gun. I blacked out.


I awoke trussed in sea grass. My sister sat next to me, looking out at the quavering reflection of the opposite shore. Behind us the sun had just begun to set. Her guns lay at her feet.

           “The Duelist doesn’t speak. The Duelist never loses?” I looked up at her. She spoke at the water. “And he never left a man alive?”

            Why was she toying with me? Kill me. One had to die.

            She looked at my manacled hands and legs. “Do you also believe that we have to do this? That someone will come kill us if we don’t?” She shook her head and stood up. “Look around. Look at this place.” I scanned the darkling shore. Shells of burnt homes, soot, grime. People listed to and fro, bent under unseen weight.

           “Who is in charge of this?” my sister asked.

            She dropped her gun in the lazy surf, as casually as you’d toss a broken shell. I needed to die. One must die or both die.

            My sister left me on the beach by way of an overgrown path that led back to town. My blade lay down the beach in the sand.

            It was deep night before I managed to cut loose my bonds. No sirens had accompanied my sister’s escape. No helicopter blades had snapped into view. She had not killed. Two had not died. I was not the Duelist. There is no truth.



4.0 Stars

I walked into Salvage thinking yeah sure cool another BBQ joint in Portland. I walked out of Salvage thinking mother of god.


is Right

The meal itself will probably run you in the ~$20 range if you’re getting BBQ, Sides and some drinks. The price, however, matches the fare to a T. This is well-respected meat.


Summer Camp Grub Hall

Spacious but not cavernous. There are quite a few seats, both at tables and at the bar. Feels appropriate to stuff your face within these environs.


Nearly Superfluous

Order BBQ. Order beer. Get beer. Sit down. Get BBQ. VOUS MANGEZ.



Before visiting, I had certain notions of what I thought Salvage was going to be. I envisioned dry-ish barbecue smothered in so-so sauce and ho-hum sides. I don’t know why that was in my mind, but it was. Those notions were wrong. Salvage is legitimate BBQ. Smoked to perfection. Every meat-made item is succulent, fall-apart BBQ goodness. Cap that with quality sauces and sides. If you find yourself in Portland, in need of a smoked meat fix, get on down then they-a to Salvage.