​Sichuan Kitchen – Chinese with a style all its own

​Is Chinese food an underdeveloped market in Portland? I’d say so. There’s not an overwhelming amount of go-to Chinese restaurants in the area and that is even more true if you’re not just looking for take-out. The opening of Sichuan Kitchen on Congress St. adds another one into the fold. I wanted to try it, so I dragged my wife there for a visit.  My hope was that it offered something different from what was already here in town.

The menu offered small plates, salads, vegetables, entrees, and noodles and rice and had both items that looked familiar and those that were new to me. Neither of us took long to figure out what we wanted. We decided to share Sichuan Cucumber Salad – crispy, juicy cucumbers and fresh garlic. I wanted to try their Zhong dumplings – pork loin dumplings served in an aromatic sauce. For her main course, she decided on the Sichuan Poached Fish – Swai fish fillets (a delicate white fish) cooked in a special broth with chilis, Sichuan peppercorns, and yellow bean sprouts. I went with the Gong Bao Chicken – chicken, peanuts, scallions, and a sweet and sour sauce with chili spice and peppercorns. Despite the slight name alteration, it appeared to be similar to the Kung Pao Chicken at most local Chinese restaurants.

Before the waitress left our table, my wife ordered some tea. The one on the menu was E-mei Kafengt – light jasmine floral aromatics, sweetness of early spring green tea. It didn’t take long for that to come out, and though I normally detest tea in any form, I decided to try it. It wasn’t half bad. It had a weak, floral taste and smell. I wasn’t dying to drink alot, but I must admit that I wasn’t turned off by beverage which was a first for me when it came to tea.

Cucumber salad came out first. The cukes were neatly sliced and sitting in what appeared to be a chili oil. My first piece confirmed my visual assessment. The veggies were very fresh and the main portion of the dressing was certainly chili oil, which offered a reasonably pleasant spice. I tasted the tiniest hint of sweetness somewhere in there too. I liked that the plate deviated from similar dishes I’d had at other restaurants in that it wasn’t particularly sugary.

Next to come out were my dumplings. There were five in a small bowl covered in what appeared to be the same oil that was on the cucumber salad. I tried one and it did have similar taste. Again, they were less sweet than I was used to because they didn’t come with the traditional dumpling sauce. Still, I found them pleasing because they were different and lacked significant sweetness.

Main courses arrived in due time and I couldn’t wait to try my chicken dish. The meal was heavy on peanuts which I liked. It wasn’t particularly spicy, but definitely flavorful with chicken that was a little leaner than I was used to. The sauce was not all that different than the norm except – and I suppose a theme was developing – it wasn’t quite as sweet, though certainly still the most so of the night.

Once I finished my food, my wife offered me some of hers. I pulled the bowl of fish soup over and was shocked. It wasn’t just that the bowl was massive, but it was also filled with tons of fish and vegetables. Sure, there was some broth, but there were more of the other omnivore delights than I could believe. Undoubtedly, there was enough for two or more hungry eaters. Clearly heavily infused with chili oil, the fish was beautifully prepared. I loved its delicate flavor and its ability to take on the nuances of the soup which consisted primarily of the various pepper flavors.

A few bites in, the soup presented a problem. Despite the excellent flavor, my mouth was consumed by a prickle. Try as I might to avoid the peewee pellets of peppercorn, there were a plethora of them in there and they were overpowering the dish. It was a bit disheartening as the concoction was quite delicious with a nice touch of heat and the peppercorn flavor was actually great, but the quantity of the whole spice in the bowl was just too much to handle.

I tried my best to work though eating the rest of the fish and a few sprouts, but it was difficult and I gave up. Other than that, I thought the meal to be quite enjoyable. Sichuan Kitchen used chili oil heavily in the dishes we had, but they were good so it was hard to complain. There are plenty of other dishes available without that. Our meal focused less on the candied flavors of typical Chinese restaurants and more on a version of the relatively mild peppers and, as they implied on the menu, balanced flavors. It was true. Except for the peppercorns, no one flavor stood out in any dish – the heat was not overwhelming, nor the sweetness.

Our meal came to about $60 before tip which seemed pricy at first glance, but the soup was easily enough for two. I’d definitely give Sichuan Kitchen another shot. The first one was pretty successful. I might pass on the poached fish unless they cut back on the peppercorns, but otherwise their food is well thought out and somewhat unique to the area. The atmosphere is relatively bland, but the food isn’t. In the end, it was more than good enough for me to plan a return visit.

Stay hungry.

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Salty Sally’s – Last minute Saturday brunch

“Can I take you out to lunch when I get home?” The text brought a tiny tear to my eye. My wife wanted to treat me to a mid-day meal. Sure, she owed me for dinner from the night before, but I had already forgotten about that, so a lunch on her sounded like a legitimate bonus. She didn’t like any of my suggestions about where to go though, so when she suggested Salty Sally’s on Congress St., I was okay with finally trying it. We had considered a visit a half dozen times before, but this time it would actually happen.

The restaurant had tables on the left, a seating island in the middle, and a bar along the right side. The restaurant touts itself as a bar and grill, but had more of a bar and diner feel to me, not that it mattered. The waiter/bartender came around and provided menus and waters. The menu was for brunch and reinforced my initial thoughts about it as a diner. It didn’t offer anything too fascinating, just a reasonable selection of breakfast and lunch options, occasionally with a little twist or turn.

While we were looking at the menus, we declined drinks and accepted a review of the specials. There were two, and one of them – Creme Brulee French Toast – sounded crazier and sweeter than any dessert I could imagine. After some internal debate, I passed and looked for something a little more breakfast and a little less diabetes. One of the breakfast burritos or a breakfast sandwich on an extra large English muffin sounded pretty good, but in the end, I decided I wanted an omelet. The only one I saw was the Chili and Cheddar Omelet with hash browns, and I was okay with that. Mrs. Portlandeater went with a favorite lunch item – Grilled Cheese (mozzarella, meunster, and gouda) with tomato bisque.

Before leaving our table, the waiter informed me that the hash browns in my order were actually tater tots. I told him that was great and my mouth started watering. I’m not sure there’s a deep fried food I enjoy more than tater tots, so I was hardly concerned. He left and we waited for our goods. The restaurant was about half full with a few patrons walking in and out as we relaxed with hunger our only concern. When a couple tables got their food before us, I became a little jealous, but attempted to exhibit a reasonable amount of patience.

Our meals arrived before long and I found myself with a folded egg encasement and potato puffs. My wife’s soup was topped with some shredded cheese and a nicely toasted sandwich. I tried a tot immediately and was super pleased at how well fried they were – crispy and crunchy. I threw down some ketchup and sriracha to dip some of the rest into. Then I readied for battle against the omelet. Not sure I’d ever had a chili omelet, I approached cautiously, separating a manageable amount from the rest of it, hoping the bean and beef concoction wouldn’t fall out. I tried a bite and was pleasantly surprised by the nice smooth chili. It wasn’t overly spicy-hot, but had plenty of flavor. A smattering of cheese added a fine finishing touch.

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I swept through my food like a tornado, finding it to be just the amount of sustenance I needed. My wife had a little of hers left over and I went for a taste of that, taking the remaining portion of the grilled cheese for a spin. There was plenty of cheese, but the best part was that I could pick out each one easily. The combination of them all made for a small army of cheesy awesome. A sip of the bisque brought forth some creamy tomato, a little basil, and a tiny bit of cheese topper. It was a pretty fine example of the lunch standard.

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We finished all we had minus a few drops of bisque and decided that was enough. It was a solid meal and most certainly enough for the time being. The cost came to just a smidge over 20 clams before tip. I suppose that’s pretty inexpensive considering I can’t remember the last time I got meal with table service for that price for two. The food was good – not fine dining, but high quality, well executed, and mildly inventive. The casual, relaxed atmosphere seemed amply suited for drinks, a meal, or both. Though I can’t say how they are at other times, Saturday around lunch was a good hour to be there since it wasn’t overly busy. Go there for an omelet, a sandwich, or try the decadent French toast special.

Stay hungry.

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Big Fin Poké – A little slice of Hawaii

Hawaiian food has been a genre left untouched in the Portland area…until now. Big Fin Poke (pronounced po-kay) on Main St. in Westbrook, offers the first look at the previously unheralded food that many local residents have seen. Opening at the end of December and offering “Hawaiian style sushi”, the restaurant creates an interesting niche all by itself while filling in a space just outside the big city that could use a little more food life. Knowing that it was a casual, counter service restaurant and maybe a healthier choice than most, it seemed like the right place to eat so we didn’t have to spend a lot of time fussing with menus, table service, and heartburn. We headed over and also made last minute plans for a friend to join us there.

It took a while, but we found a parking space in the public parking area behind the buildings across the street and made the walk over. My first impression of the joint upon entering was that it was both lively and colorful. With a big pink logo’d wall on the right and a giant colorful menu behind the counter, I was primed to learn about the Pacific provisions. While waiting in line to get to the counter and get a better view of the menu, we passed the drink cooler and picked out some waters.

Once we got to the front, there were decisions to make. I had to decide on a bowl with rice, a salad bowl with romaine, or a pokiritto with rice in a seaweed wrap. I chose the rice bowl and took the large over the small. Next, I had to choose if I wanted to order one of the BFP “favorites” – predetermined combos to make life simple – or create my own. I thought it would be fun to create my own. I went with brown rice and for proteins, I avoided the raw fish, instead choosing beef, chicken, and tofu since the large bowl came with up to three. For sauce, I kept it simple with the Big Fin Shoyu. The tougher choices with lots more options came last. For mix ins, I decided to go with cilantro, jalapeno, and green onion. As toppings I chose kimchi, seaweed salad, and crab salad. For crunch, I got crispy onion, crispy garlic, and wasabi peas. After all that, I accepted the offer of sesame seeds on top.

After I ordered, my wife picked her meal, going with the small Hawaiian Original with tuna, sweet onion, green onion, chili flakes, sesame oil, seaweed, and Hawaiian sea salt. Our friend took the large Gyudon Beef – thinly sliced beef cooked with onions in a sake shoyu sauce over rice. They had the opportunity to get mix ins, toppings, and crunch on theirs too. Throughout the process of the bowls being created, what stood out to me was that they were pretty large. Even the small bowl was fairly sizable. While the additions beyond the protein and sauce were distributed in small-ish amounts, the bowl was already relatively full before those went in and we were able to choose as many as we wanted.

We paid and found a table to sit at. I asked where the silverware was located and was pointed to a small counter where I also found napkins, gluten free soy sauce and sriracha. I decided to take a little cup of the spicy red stuff, but didn’t need any soy since I figured my shoyu would cover that. The first moments after sitting were reserved for inspecting my bowl and the others at the table. Everyone had created masterpieces. My wife said the tuna was very fresh and our friend commented that the beef was tasty.

I started eating by trying my toppings. I particularly enjoyed the seaweed salad. Next, I wanted to try the proteins. The tofu wasn’t bad, but was easily made better with a little sriracha supplement. The beef was excellent, taking on the flavor of the shoyu sauce it was cooked with. It was part soy and part sweet spice, which I found to be really nice. Lastly, I tried the chicken which was crunchy and breaded. My first bite was stunning. The chicken had a sweet flavor that was just outstanding, filling my senses and besting even the taste of the beef. I was sold. 

The bowl was particularly enjoyable as I got to more and more of it. The rice and sauce complimented each other spectacularly, the jalapeno added a slight additional heat, and the wasabi peas were a nice addition. The crispy garlic and onions bits went a long way, adding much more umph than I expected. With its many parts, it was easy to forget everything I had on there until I tasted it, but it all seemed to work together in a way which made the meal fun and a nice change of pace from the table service restaurants I often visit.

The meals at BFP are $10.99 or $13.99 depending on whether you order a small or a large. I found the large to be sufficient for someone who was quite hungry. The food was super fresh and that will undoubtedly be the key to their success long term. With raw fish and vegetables in particular, it will be a necessity, but that seems to be what they’re all about. If they keep doing it up, the positive reviews and steady business will almost certainly continue. If you’re looking for something a little healthier, a bit outside the usual, and just, plain yummy concoctions, consider Big Fin Poke and enjoy food that will make you feel like you’ve done something good for yourself.

Stay hungry.

Hungry for more? Get notified whenever Peterpeterportlandeater releases a new blog entry by clicking the “follow” button on the right side of this page after entering your email address directly above it. Seriously, do it. What are you waiting for?

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook and follow @portlandeater on Twitter. You can now also find me at pppe.bangordailynews.com.

​Tipo – Italian and that type of thing

When the owners of the highly regarded Central Provisions decided to start a new restaurant named Tipo on Ocean Ave., it seemed like a no-brainer that I should visit when it opened. After a wait that seemed much longer than it actually was, their sophomore eatery first unlocked the doors a couple weeks ago. I didn’t find a website for the place until the day before we went, and to be honest, when I finally could view a sample menu, it didn’t look that great to me. However, I had the sense to give them a fair shot, knowing the quality of their first restaurant quite well.

The parking lot was full, so my wife dropped me off in front so I could claim our reservation while she found a space. I checked in and the chatty, ultra-friendly hostess pointed out the table we would be sitting at. Our seats were at the end of a larger table where the chef’s family was sitting. I felt a little special to be seated among such important company. When my wife made her grand entrance, we sat and started looking at the menu. One side was food and the other was beverage.

We stuck with waters to drink, though we requested lemons to go with them. The waitress informed us that the plates were small and came out as they were ready, so we would probably want to try a few each. Mrs. Portlandeater seemed to know exactly what she wanted to order pretty quickly, but I didn’t see much that really got me excited, though there were a few plates that I found mildly intriguing. I told her to hang on to her hat and when I finally picked three or four items that I might want to order, we started a discussion about which ones we could agree to share.

Skipping past the raw section of the menu, we went straight for the plates, pasta, and pizza. I suggested we try the Black Pepper Taglietelle – brodo, parmigiano reggiano. She agreed and then recommended we order the Vinegar Pepper Chicken – pickled peppers, creamy polenta, coriander. Next, we decided on the Margherita Pizza – fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil – and Cauliflower and Mushroom Pizza – ricotta, thyme, saba, crispy garlic.  We stopped at that and put in the order with our waitress, though I seriously considered also ordering the Fried Smelts. I hadn’t had smelts since I was a mini foodie, but I remember them being tasty. However, I was confident we had already ordered enough for a meal without them.

Before any of our food came out, we received some house made foccacia. It was topped with seasoning and oil. One bite revealed some of the best I’d ever had. Among the outstanding enhancements to the beautiful bread were a sprinkling of red pepper flakes to give it a little punch. It was excellent and made me very hopeful that our orders would similarly impress. As we finished that, the tagliatelle arrived. It appeared to be woven as though someone was attempting to knit a sock with it. Topped with cheese and sitting in the broth/brodo, a small taste brought forth immense flavor. The brodo was stellar and the pasta perfectly firm. It was outstanding.

After happily finishing the pasta, we received the chicken. A couple pieces of thigh sat in the polenta. My wife and I each grabbed one to put in the small plates we were given. I shredded a forkful and it was tender and well rubbed with seasoning. Then I tried the polenta which was shockingly good. As someone who’s not normally a fan of cornmeal concoction, I found it to be polent-y good and it was the peppers, at least partially, which made it a real stunner. I loved the acidity of it and the creation as a whole was somewhat unique. I found it to be a hearty dish, but because it wasn’t very large, it had an appetizer feel.

There were some pizzas being eaten next to us and they were getting rave reviews, so when our margherita came out, I was excited to try it. The execution was pure and held to tradition. The sauce was a tad sweet, the cheese appointment modest, and the basil beautifully fresh and pungent.The crust was also pleasant. Margherita pizza is not my favorite, but this was certainly a well put together version of the old standard. I ate a fair amount before our other pie showed up. 

Our second pizza was somewhat heavily topped with the goods. There were plenty of the veggies including crunchy cauli. What really made the pizza a winner though was the saba. The main ingredient in balsamic vinegar, the grape must reduction jazzed up the veggie and cheese saucer taking it to another level of awesome. I love mushroom pizza, but this one, with the other additions, was a much elevated version. I ate a significant portion of it, enjoying each of the ingredients which added their own personality to the pie. As we were winding down, we had to make space on the table for someone who was eating solo. That made the meal a little less intimate, but it wasn’t a big deal. We engaged in small talk and he seemed excited to experience the restaurant for the first time too.

I stopped eating eventually, but only because we were going to the movies and I wanted to watch Split instead of that being what my pants were doing. Our newly acquired counterpart started eating the smelts that had previously gotten my attention. There were quite a few in his order and he verified that they were excellent which means that if they’re available next time I’m there, I’ll be ordering them up with the quickness. We got a box for our remaining pizza, settled our tab, and made our way to the theater as a couple of well fed commoners.

Tipo turned out to be great. Our meal came to about $50 before tip which felt like a solid value. The food was really good, but also slightly different than what is being offered in the Portland area which makes them an easy choice for an occasional visit. They’re carving out a space in the Italian food market, but since it’s outside the standard lasagna and linguine fare, it doesn’t immediately feel so confined to what you would normally expect from that type of restaurant. It’s true that there are more of those around here than there used to be, but Tipo’s style is all it’s own. I’ll be back and likely on a day not that far away from today.

Stay hungry.

Hungry for more? Get notified whenever Peterpeterportlandeater releases a new blog entry by clicking the “follow” button on the right side of this page after entering your email address directly above it. Seriously, do it. What are you waiting for?

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook and follow @portlandeater on Twitter. You can now also find me at pppe.bangordailynews.com.

33 Elmwood – The games have just begun

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33 Elmwood opened it’s doors late last year with the promise of fabulous food and endless gaming fun. It’s a small hike from Portland, residing in Westbrook, but leaning toward Winthrop. Still, it’s within the reach of Portlanders who are looking for more than just a meal. I had heard a few bits and pieces about it and took a quick look at their Facebook page, but other than that was mostly in the dark about the space. From what I gathered, it was worth a visit and my wife’s insistence that we go for a special event sounded like a great opportunity to give it a try. We planned ahead and assembled a crew of five others to go with us.

It didn’t look like much from the outside, but upon entering the multi-purpose facility, I was stunned. The place was absolutely enormous and really exquisite. A large glass showcase/wine and liquor storage closet and the front desk were immediately in my line of sight. We walked to the desk to check in since we had called ahead. There were signs pointing in the direction of the bar, lounge, and dining and also toward the various games – bocce, cornhole, and shuffleboard. I noted the bowling lanes and was told those would be opened within the next month or so.

We were seated right away, though we only had six seats. That was fine as our entire party wasn’t there yet and they pulled up a table next to us so we’d have space for all seven. A waiter provided menus and water, taking drink orders right away. The drink menu had some good looking cocktails and a nice selection of wine and beer. Mrs. Portlandeater and I passed, opting instead to put our minds to work on the food menu. As I began to scan for order-worthy items, I reviewed the categories of food first. There were starters, salads, entrees, meatballs, sandwiches, and pizza.

There was little doubt in my mind the night was going to play out well, because any restaurant that has a category for meatballs holds a special place in my belly. I also felt the menu design was very pleasing to the eye and easy to read which made me even more hungry than I already was. I thought a starter, a meatball, and probably something else would be the minimum necessary to quell my cravings. Once I grasped what the menu was telling me, the rest of our friends showed up and quickly placed their drink orders. Then we started lots of table crosstalk about what everyone wanted to eat.

The first item I was certain I was going to order were Fried Deviled Eggs – dojon yolks, sriracha. It quickly became clear that I wasn’t the only one. As I gathered intelligence from the table, it appeared there would be four orders of those to go around. Next, the Korean BBQ Meatballs – crispy shallot, cilantro, scallions – spoke my name. They seemed a little pricy at $9, but I didn’t care because I was there to try a bunch of different foods regardless of cost. After some discussion, a friend and I decided to split the Steak and Cheese Pizza – cognac mustard sauce, mozzarella, caramelized onions, green pepper. My wife went with the Fish and Chips – haddock, fries, sauce remoulade.

Everyone placed their orders with lots of deviled eggs and many other items in the mix. Shortly thereafter, we were provided with complimentary Crudités consisting of cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, green beans, and various bell peppers in a dressing of some sort. A bite confirmed a mild vinaigrette coating that was pretty tasty. We all shared, but I snuck a couple more than my portion of the veggies since I was so enamored with them. Once those were gone, we sat and waited for our starters with some food related conversation.

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A mass of eggs came out first. There were only three plates with three eggs each, even though we had ordered four for the table, but the waiter promised more coming out soon. I took one right away. The egg was deep fried with a thin coating around it. The altered yolk was both above and below the fried portion and there were a few decorative sprouts on top. I cut it in half and scraped it up from the bottom trying to get as much yolk as I could. Opening my mouth wide, I inhaled it and concentrated on the flavors. Oh my egg! It was crunchy, spicy, cool – wasn’t that the name of a TCL album? Yep, the egg was stunning. The dijon gave it a traditional flavor and the sriracha and deep fried goodness made it absolutely special. I forced my wife to try one – she doesn’t normally like deviled eggs – and she said it changed her outlook on them. They were incredible.

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With my eggs nearly done, the last order of them came out to the table and so did some meatballs. My friends sitting across the table from me also had meatballs – the lamb version. I immediately changed my mind about the $9 marbles of meat. They were each of average meatball girth, but instead of the five or six I expected, there were nine of them. “Not so expensive if you get nine,” I thought to myself happily. As I grinned with meatball anticipation, I got a good look at them. They were caked in sauce and topped with scallion. I tried a half. The texture was soft perfection and the sauce interesting – sweet with lots of flavor. It was a little different than Korean BBQ sauces I had tried previously. The more bites I took, the more I liked them. I tried the lamb meatballs across from me too, but those didn’t have quite the same tang. I had chosen the right ones.

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Everyone finished their various apps and some doubled down on their beverages. My wife ordered a Diet Coke. Then the entrees made their way out. My pizza was topped with the steak and green pepper. My wife had a good chunk of fish with a cup of fries and small cups of the remoulade and ketchup. My grubby hands grabbed the pizza. It was nicely done with some golden brown spots on top. I shoved as much as could into my face. Overall it was good, with much credit given for the thick layer of cheese. This truly was a steak and cheese pie and there was no skimping on the mozzarella or steak, but I thought the meat needed some seasoning. Either that, or it need more of the cognac mustard sauce which I hardly got. It was hearty and not bad, it just lacked  something it needed to take it to the next level.

My wife enjoyed her fish and fries. I tried the fries, mostly so I could taste the remoulade which I found to be very good with the crispy spud sticks. Presumably it also went well with the haddock for which it was intended. Everyone finished their food with reviews ranging from good to outstanding. The Fried Chicken – which I sampled – could have used a more heavy seasoning, the Coconut Shrimp Steam Bun was well received, and the Scallops were dubbed “amazing”. We were all done and dessert seemed like a possibility, so we were receptive when offered the menus.

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After both a thorough look and listen, since there were some verbal updates to the dessert list, we made a decision to order something. She wanted the Fig Tart à la mode, of which I agreed only to eat a single bite. There was also an order of an Ice Cream Sandwich with chocolate cookies and mint ice cream. Those didn’t take long to come out. I ate my bite of tart, and though it was certainty good, for me it was too sweet, which is why I had only wanted to take one bite. I did have the opportunity to try the ice cream sandwich and that was really my style – the cookie outside had a little bit of a snap when bit into and the mint was an honest, real mint flavor. That was a double winner.

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All were done as we finished the desserts. I was ultimately very happy. After tax and tip, we got out for only $84 with great service and were quite full. 33 Elmwood is on the right path and has tons of potential. Through not every item was an unequivocal winner, they were all at least within a step or two and there were some that were most certainly perfection – notably the eggs. Though everything seemed a little expensive at first sight, in the end I completely changed my mind about that. The quality of the food and the portions were appropriate for the prices they were charging.

I think 33 Elmwood has the ability to become a destination for a lot of people, especially with the bowling coming soon and the games that are already there. The place is beautiful and the atmosphere enjoyable and enticing, and apparently there might be occasional shows to bring in even more people. We played a round of bocce for seven and it was fun and inexpensive, so I can see the value in a visit for food and games. The only question I have at this point is if are they going to be a fun place with games and pretty good food or a fun place with games and spectacular food. Right now, they’re right in between. I’ll be back, but if they make a few tweaks to some of the items and knock ’em dead every time, I think they’ll be making some serious noise in this area.

Stay hungry.

Hungry for more? Get notified whenever Peterpeterportlandeater releases a new blog entry by clicking the “follow” button on the right side of this page after entering your email address directly above it. Seriously, do it. What are you waiting for?

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook and follow @portlandeater on Twitter. You can now also find me at pppe.bangordailynews.com.

Peter Peter Portland Eater’s Eating Portland, ME Awards 2016

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“People who love to eat are always the best people.” Julia Child

Food is a wacky thing. For many – maybe even most – it is an emotional experience. Enjoying a bit of fine dining can bring those people, like myself, memories that will last practically forever and cause us to salivate at the thought of that great spread the fancy restaurant provided for us. But those same people can get a somewhat similar feeling just by going to visit their mom and eating one of her famous – in her house only – fluffernutter sandwiches on white bread for a miniscule fraction of the cost. What is it that makes our sense of taste so conjoined with our emotion despite the scenario? I’m sure someone much smarter knows, but I don’t, and I’m not sure it matters.

Our heartfelt relationship with food is natural, but I think many Mainers, and more specifically Portlanders, also have developed that association with their surroundings. Being in a food mecca and near the ocean where lots of food is produced, adds a different element to just eating good food. It takes it up another notch. Sit outside in the summer at one of the waterfront restaurants we have in Portland and throughout Maine and you’ll instantly feel a sense of peace and serenity that is hard to match. Listen to the waves, enjoy the sun, sip that cocktail or local beer, and chow down on the shimp cocktail recently harvested from the waters in your line of sight.

So what has happened this year in the Portland food scene that’s worth mentioning? Fortunately, more of the same. Breweries, distilleries, wineries, restaurants, and food related business popped up all over the place. More food trucks. More innovation. More Portland food and drink on tv. More of everything good. Of course, there were some closings too, but on the whole, there was lots and lots of the good stuff we’re used to. And 2017 has plenty in store as food entrepreneurs continue to see Portland as the place to be. Who can blame them? We sure do love our food.

That brings us to a review of the best of what happened in 2016. There was no shortage of exciting food happenings and I’m here to tell you exactly what I felt was the tops among them. Use this as a reference to make a list of the next several places you should go eat. I’ve kept the same categories as always and I’ve used similar judging criteria focusing on food, service, atmosphere, value, and how the restaurant compared to others in it’s genre. I’ll reiterate similar sentiments as last year when I state that it’s seems new restaurants are having difficulty providing customers with exceptional value which has little in my mind to do with price and more about overall feeling after the meal is done. I don’t mind paying a high price for a meal that is captivating and of exceptional quality, but if I leave shrugging my shoulders, they simply haven’t hit the mark.

In addition to the judging criteria above, I’m focusing only on restaurants I’ve reviewed on this blog in the past year which means no winners will come from my BDN blog since those are mostly re-reviews to this point. If you haven’t checked out that blog, find it at pppe.bangordailynews.com. Thanks so much for continuing to support me in this food blogging endeavor and please continue to like, share, follow, comment, and subscribe. I very much appreciate your support and look forward to providing lots more food related content for your viewing pleasure. Now let’s get this party started!

Restaurant of the Year – Hot Suppa

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/09/25/hot-suppa-portland-south/

My restaurant of the year for 2016 is Hot Suppa. Not exactly an obvious choice and not without some serious competition, they edged out my other choices by a narrow margin. I went there expecting a decent meal, but Hot Suppa was so insanely good, so decidedly flavorful, and just spot on in every way that after I left I had to figure out if my time there was a dream or reality. There’s a reason what they’re always busy and I’m thrilled I figured it out this year on my first ever visit.
If I have any regrets about my stint at Hot Suppa, it’s that I only got to try a few items. But with large portion sizes, I ate all I could handle at a very reasonable price. I started with the deviled eggs which were very good and the meal only went up from there. Their fried chicken won me over with the first spicy/sweet, tender bite, their award winning mac and cheese was practically the definition of comfort food done to perfection, and the cornbread was like nothing I ever had. When I finished off the warm chocolate bread pudding with bourbon butter sauce, I knew I had experienced something special.
I think Hot Suppa needs more noise made about it and I’m making it here. I absolutely can not wait to get there again and attack more of their sensational southern sustenance. Just as impressive as what I ate was their spectacular menu. Diverse, with lots of really stellar options, I was more than certain I could go there a number of times and always order something different without running into any food I didn’t like. Hot Suppa surprised me like few restaurants have, but that’s the kind of surprise I could deal with every day and that’s why they’re my restaurant of the year.

Honorable Mention – Isa

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/01/18/isa-they-do-it/

In the beginning of the year, I was lucky to visit Isa. The bistro interior was pleasant, but what makes it my ROTY runner up was its highly laudable food. The escargot, cabbage salad, and potato gratin were worthy of my highest praise and I haven’t forgotten about that meal since. The cabbage salad itself was certainly one of the best salads I ever had. Isa makes magic an an atmosphere that just feels right. I’ve sent a number of people there throughout the year and haven’t heard any disappointment yet.

Best Ethnic Food – Rossobianco

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/08/19/rossobianco-portland-just-got-a-little-more-italian/

Rossobianco is temporarily closed, but that doesn’t change anything, because the Northern Italian restaurant deserves a heaping helping of praise regardless of their current status. From their truly amazing appetizer – more on that later – to their stunning pasta, they hit the mark. I’m not the biggest Italian restaurant fan, but they made me a believer, mostly leaving behind the tomato dishes and focusing more on cream – that’s the northern part of them. When they reopen, expect the menu to change, but let’s hope they keep the same flavor concepts, because if there’s one thing that stood out, it was the way they created intense, bold cuisine with what could have otherwise been just “meh”.

Honorable Mention – Vignola Cinque Terre

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/08/25/vignola-cinque-terre-one-of-portlands-original-italian-stallions/

Vignola provided a nice meal and though I didn’t order anything too crazy, I was impressed with what I did have. The tuna stuffed cherry pepper app was a first for me and was not only unique, but delicious and maybe even on the healthier side. Their pepperoni pizza was more exciting than a standard version of the spicy meat pie which was a bonus. Most importantly, they left me wanting more as their cheese and charcuterie options, which I didn’t end up ordering that night, put a bug in my head for the next time I went.

Best New Restaurant – Big J’s Chicken Shack

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/08/29/%E2%80%8Bthe-thompsons-point-quadrumvirate-stroudwater-distillery-bissell-brothers-brewery-cellar-door-winery-and-big-js-chicken-shack/

It must have been the year for fried chicken, because this is the second winner with a fried chicken meal. A trip to Thompson’s Point led us to Big J’s Chicken Shack just four days after they opened their doors and it was well worth it. The food was delicious from start to finish, and the chicken was crispy and full of flavor. Whether you order Portland hot or Nashville hot, you’re in for a treat because both are spiced right depending upon your tolerance for heat. Their sides are also winners with waffle fries, mac and cheese, and the brussels and kohlrabi slaw acting as standout accompaniments.

Honorable Mention – Mash Tun

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/11/06/mash-tun-a-beer-list-as-long-as-the-bar/

Mash Tun has added itself to the list of places I’d almost go for the atmosphere alone. The good news is that the atmosphere is just the first awesome part of the place. Add in maybe the best burger under $10 – It’s only $6! What? – in all of Portland, a phenomenal beer list, excellent drinks, a cheese plate that is way better than it looks, and a total mish mosh of customers and you’ve got a place that takes cool to Arctic proportions. If all that isn’t enough to get you there, I’ll throw this in – they’ve got a wicked long bar and a Drew Carey lookalike bartender. Now I dare you not to go.

Best Upscale Restaurant – Northern Union

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/06/29/%e2%80%8bnorthern-union-ogunquit-food-and-wine-in-the-summertime/

My wife decided that a visit to Northern Union in Ogunquit for our anniversary would be fun. After all was said and done, I couldn’t have agreed more. Starting with a complimentary glass of awesome prosecco was only the beginning. We chose to sample lots of small plates and ended with the sharing of a brilliantly executed lobster tagliatelle. Everything was first rate. Though we don’t get to southern Maine too often to eat, our trip to Northern Union prompted us to get there a few more times this year than most, because they showed us that that part of the state obviously has some great food to offer.

Honorable Mention – Back Bay Grill

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/05/11/back-bay-grill-the-grand-re-review/

Back Bay Grill really rolls out the red carpet for it’s customers and that was exactly how it felt when I went earlier in the year. The service was perfect and whether someone was there with their wife like myself or with a bachelorette party like the table next to us, it didn’t change the way anyone was treated. Of course, the real draw at the eatery is the food and there was nothing that wasn’t extraordinary. I can honestly say that they fed me one of the best bone-in chicken dishes I had ever tasted. And their apps and dessert weren’t far behind.

Best Eats on the Cheap – 3 Buoys

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/05/04/3-buoys-baba-buoy-baba-buoy-baba-buoy/

I criticized 3 Buoys about a couple of minor issues I had with them when I went and it hardly matters. They were awesome. Their portion sizes are so enormous for the price and their seafood so fresh that I’m not sure anything else makes a difference. If you want fish and don’t care if you’re staring at the ocean while you’re eating it, they are a great – and I mean great – place to go. We had the scallops and haddock and both were slightly bigger than a Smart Car so you definitely won’t ever leave hungry. Sure, you’ll need to sprinkle a little salt on the food, but I promise you won’t mind.

Honorable Mention – Rosie’s

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/10/11/rosies-still-what-it-used-to-be/

It’s hard to find fault with Rosie’s. The popular dive serves food and drinks that are within reach even if your wallet is on the thin side. Their bar food menu has plenty of options and their beer selection is better than it needs to be. Order nachos, wings, a burger, or whatever and a beer that costs less than anywhere else around Portland and you’re guaranteed to be happy. It can get a bit crowded and crazy, but if you’re going, you probably already know that. My only word of advice is to be careful of the patrons playing darts, because regardless of how little you spend there, it’s not worth it if it comes with a hole in your head.

Best Appetizer – Rossobianco

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/08/19/rossobianco-portland-just-got-a-little-more-italian/

I’ve never had the same restaurant be a winner of two categories, but Rossobianco’s Arancini con Funghi was So. Crazy. Good. that I must give them their just deserts for that app. The crusty ball of mushroom risotto sitting in a cheese puddle was decidedly the best app out of many that I had all year. If you go to Rossobianco when they reopen and they don’t still have it on the menu, demand they bring it back, because it’s just that good. In fact, even if you have reservations somewhere else, go there first, have a glass of wine, and order one of those.

Honorable Mention – Woodford F+B

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/04/27/woodford-food-beverage-upscale-diner-for-dinner/

Woodford F+B’s classic deviled eggs are truly classic. They keep the traditional flavor and other than adding a sprinkle of bacon, they’re pretty similar to what I grew up eating on holidays and at family gatherings. Why are they so good? Because Woodford makes them perfectly. With pickled mustard seed and a paprika base on the plate, these are flawless and keep that great zing for which the evil eggs are known. Sure, pretty much everything at the restaurant is awesome, but the deviled eggs are to die for.

Best Place to Grab a Drink/Beer/Wine and Chill Out – Thompson’s Point

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/08/29/%E2%80%8Bthe-thompsons-point-quadrumvirate-stroudwater-distillery-bissell-brothers-brewery-cellar-door-winery-and-big-js-chicken-shack/

Not a single restaurant, but what has become a destination, Thompson’s Point is where it’s at for hanging out with drinks. It doesn’t matter if you want beer, wine, or liquor, because they’ve got you covered with Stroudwater Distillery, Bissell Brothers Brewery, and Cellar Door Winery. They’ve all got something great for their visitors and when you’re ready for some food, just ring up Big J’s – my best new restaurant – to fill your belly. And one last thing – the cherry bomb at Stroudwater is one of the better drinks in the city.

Honorable Mention – LFK

https://peterpeterportlandeater.com/2016/12/18/lfk-dark-bar-on-a-stormy-night/

I went to LFK on a dark, dreary night and felt like I was in exactly the perfect spot. Their dark bar and strong drinks are where you need to be if you just broke up with your significant other and want to have a drink alone or if you want to get away from winter. They also work well for big parties since all their tables are large. I wasn’t thrilled with their mac and cheese, but if you go, pony up 10 bucks for the burger which is well worth it. Though their menu is small, they have some other really good options too.

And that’s the awards for this year. Go to all of these restaurants soon if you know what’s good for you. Stay tuned in 2017 as I bring you lots more to chew on. Have a great year and wherever you go, whatever you do, tell ’em Peterpeterportlandeater sent you.

Stay hungry.

Hungry for more? Get notified whenever Peterpeterportlandeater releases a new blog entry by clicking the “follow” button on the right side of this page after entering your email address directly above it. Seriously, do it. What are you waiting for?

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook and follow @portlandeater on Twitter. You can now also find me at pppe.bangordailynews.com.

Espo’s Trattoria – Traditional Italian

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Espo’s once had a handful of locations, but now has only one on the “other” end of Congress St. They’re known for pretty traditional Italian Food – a “trattoria” by definition is an Italian restaurant serving simple food according to Google – in addition to large portions and an abnormally large meatball. I wouldn’t say I go there a lot, but when the mood hits me for regular ol’ Italian, it seems to be a decent choice. I’ve been there a number of times and they tend to be consistent with their product.

We hadn’t planned to go out to eat, but a last minute mood led us out find some food away from home on a Wednesday night. Upon arrival, the decor and overall atmosphere was as I remembered and reminded me of old school Italian restaurants. There was a modest crowd and a thick calmness throughout the room. It wasn’t dark, but felt a little dim in a way that seemed appropriate. We were taken to a table and I sat, but I either had hot air blowing in my face or on the back of my head depending on which side of the table I was on and neither was remotely pleasant, even on a really cold evening.

When the waitress came to give us waters, we immediately told her we needed a solution to the hot air blowing on us and she adjusted the vent which instantly fixed the issue. That was a welcome improvement and we were then able to fixate on the menu. I was thinking of getting an app, hopefully to share with my wife, and also an entree of some sort. To start, I was interested in the Fried Mozzarella or Basked Stuffed Mushrooms, but after some discussion with Mrs. Portlandeater, decided against an app altogether. The entree I ordered would certainly be large and anything beyond that would simply be too much.

While looking for the right entree, we got some bread with cheesy, herby olive oil which was mixed in front of us. I took a piece so I would have enough energy to choose a meal. It was sliced thickly and super dense and heavy. The oil had plenty of grated parm in it and I felt it quite a delicious pairing with the excellent bread. After a couple bites, I narrowed down my meal options to either Chicken Parmegiana or Meat Lasagna. My wife decided on Eggplant Parmesan – layered freshly fried eggplant baked with marinara and cheese served with choice of pasta and served with a salad. She chose linguine as her pasta. Because of her choice, I went with the Meat Lasagna – homemade cheese lasagna with sausage, pepperoni, and ground sirloin served with a garden salad. We both chose the house made Italian dressing.

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Our salads came out quite quickly. They weren’t anything fancy, just a simple veg mix with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, and purple cabbage. I always feel a salad is required with a decent Italian meal and enjoyed mine with the dressing. Once that was done, I ate more of the bread and we waited a bit for our food. When it came, it was no surprise. The portions were massive. I accepted some fresh shredded parm on my lasagna, took a couple deep breaths, and got to work.

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My first bite of lasagna was huge as I tried to get a little bit of everything on my fork. I appreciated the extra cheese on top and the sauce was very tasty, but what really got my attention was the three meat madness in the Italian staple. The spicy sausage and pepperoni and glorious ground sirloin made for a superb pasta palate presentation. In my opinion, lasagna is always best with at least two meats, and three was a big plus. Outside of the triple meat, the lasagna was mostly the standard version, but I presumed it would be.

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My wife loved her eggplant and there was much more of both her parm and pasta than she could eat in a single sitting. She worked until totally full and so did I, though I was able to finish it all. We had the rest of hers boxed to take home which was plenty for another meal. At $18 for my food and $13 for hers, the meal was affordable. I wasn’t looking for a big mid-week spending spree at a restaurant and they delivered exactly what I needed without breaking the bank.

In addition to Espo’s reasonable prices and monster portions, the food is really good. It’s not extraordinarily inventive, but it doesn’t need to be. They serve up traditional Italian with high quality ingredients. They also have a nice drink list, and though I didn’t take advantage of it this time, I have in the past. They did have a number of interesting winter cocktails available when I was there. I’ve been to Espo’s quite a few times, and while I only ordered one item – a very rare occurrence for me – I can vouch for many on the menu. Try the fried mozz, meatballs, chicken parm, or any of their great traditional Italian food. You be well fed and then some.

Stay hungry.

Hungry for more? Get notified whenever Peterpeterportlandeater releases a new blog entry by clicking the “follow” button on the right side of this page after entering your email address directly above it. Seriously, do it. What are you waiting for?

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook and follow @portlandeater on Twitter. You can now also find me at pppe.bangordailynews.com.