Hot Suppa – Portland South

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It was…oh I don’t know..maybe three years since I first said to myself, “Self, I wonder how that Hot Suppa place is.” Since then, I every time I drove by the Congress St. eatery, which was at least once a week, I noted that I had to check it out at some point and then just forgot about it until I drove by again. I never bothered to look at their menu or figure out what they were all about, though I had heard from reliable sources that they started out as a breakfast and lunch joint and had adopted a dinner service over the last few years. That all sounded well and good, but didn’t really matter unless I actually went to check it out for myself. I finally did on a nice Friday evening as my hunger was reaching its peak.

Walking into Hot Suppa, I was a little surprised at their layout. We entered into a sizable waiting room and when I peered into the seating area, I saw that the restaurant was small. With about ten tables and six or so seats at the bar, there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room in there. The tables were full and the bar empty, so we asked to sit at the bar and were told that was fine. We prepared ourselves to enjoy some southern food, looking at the menus with great anticipation.

Though I saw some good options, I decided to skip a drink as I was both driving and a little sleepy after a long week. Mrs. Portlandeater eventually ordered a Congo Square Zombie – anejo rum, light and dark rum, pineapple, passionfruit and lime juices, angostura bitters. That sounded good to me, but I still opted out. She got her libation quickly and we slowly scrubbed the menu for the best possible eats. The bartender also described the specials which hung from a board on the wall and included a good selection of local beers. Usually I find myself focused on choosing from a few items that grab my attention, but their menu was full of food that looked both adventurous and delicious.

Among the items I considered ordering initially were Charbroiled Oysters, a Pimento Cheeseburger, and the Spicy Korean Barbeque Pulled Pork Sandwich. I kept looking past those however, continuing to search for the night’s final selection. I knew it when I came to it, Deviled Eggs – three bacon, three Sriracha – to start. Then I wanted the Nashville Hot Chicken and Side with white bread and pickles. I chose the Mac and Cheese as my side for an extra buck. The chicken came with the message “Warning: This dish is painfully spicy; Order at your own risk!” I jumped on that risk with reckless abandon. My wife went with one piece of the Nashville hot chicken – reckless abondon included – and then threw in Hand Cut Fries and Cornbread – ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

As our requests got sent to the back, we discussed our busy week and observed the happenings around us. The restaurant was a cozy, little place and it’s diminutive size was a partial explanation for why it always seemed packed. The place settings included a great selection the standard hot sauce favorites – Tobasco, Texas Pete’s, Sriracha. The staff were running around getting everyone’s orders to them in a timely manner and it appeared that at least one novice server was in training mode. Despite my non-order of a beverage, the bartender had some good suggestions for others who pulled up to the bar for a drink and was able to describe them well.

Before long, my little devils came out and I was ready to get egg into my face. The bacon variety had a little piece of bacon sticking out of them and the sriracha were topped with a bit of pickled onion. I started with a bacon, shoving the entire thing into my mouth. The inch-or-so piece of pork somewhat overpowered the egg. It was undoubtedly good, but the pickled flavor in the yolk filling was drowned out slightly by the bacon. It’s hard to argue with the smokey swine, but I was hoping to get a little more fill flavor. Next I tried a sriracha egg. That one was beautiful with just the right amount of the hot and sweet red sauce. A more balanced flavor than the bacon, I thought it was awesome. Even though it’s tough to miss with sriracha, they played it perfectly and those were the sure winner on the plate.

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Once the eggs were done, I had the plate taken away and we waited a bit for our meals. I wasn’t starving any more after the starter, so the extra wait was no big deal. When the food came out, I had one slice of bread, two pieces of chicken, and four pickles all held in a stack with a large toothpick. I also had a large bowl of mac and cheese with it. That was good, because I love me some mac and cheese. My wife had the one piece of chicken with bread and pickles, two sizable pieces of cornbread, and a pile of the fries. It was time to get to work.

I took my fork and knife and got into the fiery fowl, grabbing a piece of the meat and skin together. It was juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside, truly hot, and had an almost unnoticeable sweetness from being brined in sweet tea overnight.  I couldn’t think of anything wrong with it. It was a first class example of the burning bird. After that, I switched to the mac which came with a spoon; is is weird that I prefer eating macaroni with a spoon? Al dente without remorse, the cheddar cheesy, buttery covering gave the dish all it needed. I remembered how much I loved to eat boxed mac and cheese as a kid. This was what happened when someone tried to mimic that 25 cent box using real, delicious ingredients. It brought back my childhood joy and multiplied it many times over. I followed it up with a bread and butter pickle to wash it down.

Next, I wanted to try my wife’s food. Looking past the chicken, she offered me an entire piece of cornbread. It was cut into a wedge, huge, heavy, and cake-like. It was definitely different than any cornbread I’d ever had – more buttery, more moist, and almost a soft pudding-like base. It’s probably unfair to compare it to the traditional stuff, but this was the best thing I’d ever had called “cornbread”. After that, I took a fry to try. They were fine, but I was completely distracted by my previous bite of corn concoction.

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We continued to eat our meals. Each of us had a small fit of coughing at one point due to the spicy chicken, which got hotter and hotter as we ate. Toward the end, I started to sweat, probably from a combination of eating so much food and the hot, hot heat of the chick. We worked hard to finish all our food and I would have been comfortable leaving, but the wife had a hankering for dessert. There were three available and we went with the Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding with bourbon butter sauce. Bourbon makes everything better, so once we decided on that, I sort of changed my stance on a sweet finale.

The bread pudding came out and we both put our forks to it. It was drenched in the sauce and covered in whipped cream. I tried to get all the parts in a single bite. Holy mackerel! It was warm and gooey and the sauce was over the top. When I took my succeeding bites, I made sure to get extra bourbon butter on them and the wonderful whiskey shined through in a way that left me wanting a glass of it. This was good stuff, the kind that could cause you to waddle out the door if you ate too much of it, but also the kind that leaves a smile on the face long after dinner is done.

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With the last bits of dessert down the hatch, it was time to make our way to another dimension outside the restaurant. The meal came to $70 bucks after tax and tip. These days in Portland, anything under $100 after tip is is pretty low end price-wise, so our tab was super reasonable. Here’s the scoop on Hot Suppa – they’re absolutely awesome. The combination of service at the bar, cozy atmosphere, and really excellent food undoubtedly made this one of the restaurants I will return to regularly. Everything was so good, I have no doubt I could eat their chicken, mac or pretty much any of their food all day long without trouble. They’re open for three meal per day most of the week, so maybe that’s how many I’ll eat there next time I go.

Stay hungry.

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Sapporo – Sushi Central

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Right in the heart of touristy street walking on Commercial sits an unassuming Japanese restaurant. Though I’d seen it busy on many occasions and walked by it probably 1000 times, I never had it in my mind to actually go in and eat there. But with my kitchen in pre-renovation shambles and a hungry wife craving some sushi, we thought a trip to Saporro might be just what we needed. She had been, so it wasn’t totally new to her, but would still have a little essence of newness since her last visit was years ago. We headed there on a Monday, which isn’t a day we usually go out, ready to eat some fine Japanese tidbits.

We walked into the restaurant and I marveled at the tiny space. A waitress greeted us and quickly took us to another room which was at least the same size as the one we walked into, removing the quaint atmosphere feeling I had when entering. We sat down and took a look at the menu. I was reminded by it how odd of a human I am when it comes to sushi. I wished I didn’t have such a distaste for raw fish and avocado and an aversion to chopsticks, but unfortunately, I was born that way. Luckily, as is always the case, Sapporo seemed to have at least some items of cooked and vegetable sushi.

I moved through the menu looking for something that stood out. I had a bit of teriyaki chicken running through my head, but I decided I wanted something a little more exciting. Then I saw the Yaki-Tori – grilled chicken and vegetable skewers. I thought that might be an novel way to begin my meal. My wife said she was going to start with some Miso Soup and Seaweed Salad – a variety of shredded and marinated seaweed. It was off to the races to figure our our main courses and we were both looking at some sushi, even though she also considered, as I did, the teriyaki clucker.

When the waitress came to take our orders, I asked for silverware and then we put in our apps and went with some rolls. I had the Umukyu – Plum paste and Cucumber Rolls and also the Fried Tuna Roll – deep fried tuna with wasabi mayo. My wife went with the spicy tuna roll, which is a favorite of hers, and also ordered a riesling. The waitress left to bring the orders to the sushi chefs and I noticed that the restaurant was starting to get pretty busy. It was a little surprising for a Monday night, but I supposed people needed to eat on Mondays too.

The wine came quickly, but otherwise service was slow and it was confirmed by our waitress that the rush had them scrambling. I finally received my chicken skewers, though my wife remained seated with only vino and her thoughts. Chicken, scallion, chicken, onion, chicken, red pepper. Nicely grilled and sizable, the chicken and veggies were topped with teriyaki sauce and a significant amount of the sweet, brown liquid also sat at the bottom of the plate. I grabbed some chicken and then scallion, dipping and dragging them through the puddle before consuming them. The starter reminded me of something I might have made in college if I had had a grill. The skewered bits with teriyaki topping were simple, but pretty tasty.

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After a few minutes of skewer madness, I had only two empty sticks and some sauce left. It was a while before we got the rest of our food, but when we finally did, it all came out at once. I poured some soy sauce into my little bowl and got to eating. I started with my umekyu. Wasabi on fork, fork into roll, roll into soy, roll into mouth, eat, consume pickled ginger. My sushi ritual was complete for piece number one. I was a little surprised by the sour plum paste, thinking I might have preferred just plain cucumber rolls, but there was something about the roll that I did enjoy. Maybe it was the change of pace from my usual cucumber rolls that provided a bit of a smile to my face.

As I worked on the sushi, I came upon two issues of minor concern. The first was that there was just barely enough pickled ginger to go with my plum and cuke rolls. Next time I’ll be sure to ask for more as I would have liked some for my tuna too. The other issue was that the wasabi was cut too weakly; it just wasn’t quite hot enough for me. I wanted a bit of that “scorch your nostrils and eradicate your tastebuds” sort of feeling I’m used to with the hot, green Japanese paste. I wanted to cough with tears running down my face while people around me gave that knowing look and I tried to catch my breath. I used a little extra on my rolls and it sufficed, but it wasn’t ideal.

Once I worked my way through the first rolls, I took the midnight train to tuna town. The fried rice and tuna roll was bland on its own, but I dipped a piece in the wasabi mayo that came with it. It added a creamy seasoning that took the sushi to some great places. Not very spicy, but still a nice addition, the mayo added a layer of flavor that worked well with the seafood. The outside crunch from frying provided a little extra touch. I crunched and munched the rolls, adding a dose of wasabi to every bite in order to get some heat through the cool sauce.

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My wife made her way through the soup and some of the salad, moving on to the sushi which she seemed to enjoy. Once I finished my rolls, I ate the rest of her seaweed and it was about what I figured it would be. I enjoy a good seaweed salad here and there and it fit the bill. She offered me some of the raw tuna, but I shook my head and gave a “No!”. She finished the sushi and we passed on dessert when asked. I was still a bit hungry, but figured I’d grab a snack at home.

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Our meal came to $40 before tip which was quite reasonable, especially since it included an $8 glass of wine. I liked my food, though I would have appreciated a more spicy, harsh wasabi and the service could have been a bit speedier. The rolls were good and my starter was basic, though worth the four bucks it cost. Sapporo has been around for a while and there seem to be a steady stream of patrons rolling in. I think they could improve a few minor items, but I wouldn’t hesitate to go back. I felt they had a solid menu, good food, and a pleasant atmosphere. Go grab some rolls or a teriyaki of some kind and report back.

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 see me at pppe.bangordailynews.com.

Christopher Kimball 50% off promo code

Christopher Kimball will be appearing at the State Theater Thursday, September 8 at 7:30 and you can now get 50% off tickets to the event by using promo code MSK50.

To get tickets:

1. Start here: http://www.statetheatreportland.com/event/1235107-christopher-kimball-live-portland/

2. Click through to buy tickets and then select promotions and special offers when you get to Ticket Type.

More about Christopher Kimball and his appearance:

Spend an evening with Christopher Kimball, founder of America’s Test Kitchen and, most recently, Milk Street Kitchen. Participate in a live audience taste-test to discover whether you are a super-taster. Enjoy rare blooper footage including a disastrous Today Show appearance and Mr. Kimball’s TV moment as Carmen Miranda! And watch live experiments on stage as we magically whip egg whites to 50x their volume, drop Jell-O in slow motion to explore the science of gels, and demonstrate the theory of parallel universes using Angel Food Cake!

This is also an evening to share your cooking problems and memories with Mr. Kimball as he answers questions from the audience and invites audience members onto the stage to compete in a culinary quiz ($100 prize!). Plus, we smack down conventional cooking wisdom, reveal the worst ingredient substitutions ever made by home cooks, and go behind-the-scenes in Mr. Kimball’s Vermont hometown.

A limited number of premium tickets are available for each show which entitle the holder to a meet and greet with Mr. Kimball plus a personalized book signing for The Cook’s Bible and The Dessert Bible.

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.

​The Thompson’s Point Quadrumvirate – Stroudwater Distillery, Bissell Brothers Brewery, Cellar Door Winery, and Big J’s Chicken Shack

In the past year, Thompson’s Point has gone through a transformation. From an old, broken down area with some industrial business, it has become a place to hang out with several new businesses now residing at the upstart Portland location and four of them offering a combination of home grown food and drink. I thought a trip to see what was going on over there might make for a decent Saturday afternoon. Who wouldn’t love to spend a nice day sipping some drinks and consuming some fried chicken? We thought it was a great idea and headed in that direction. 

Our first stop was Stroudwater Distillery. With two bars and plenty of tables, the tasting room was pretty large. One of the bars was full while the other bar and tables were empty, so my wife and I headed toward an empty pair of seats in front of a bored bartender. We scooped up some menus and got to seeing what the booze bakery had to offer. Quite a lot, it turned out. An extensive list of cocktails and two tasting flights were up for grabs and it didn’t take long for both my wife and I to order. She chose the Cherry Bomb – Stroudwater Spirits Vodka, Owl and Whale Cherry Shrub, Owl and Whale Cherry Bitters, Total Rose 3 Chile Syrup, seltzer. I went with a tasting flight of all four spirits – vodka, gin, bourbon, and rye, which came with a souvenir glass. 

We took a look at a snack menu and chatted with the bartender as he made our drinks. Once they were ready, we got to sippin’. My wife tried hers first. “Wow, this is really good. You have to try it.” So I did. I don’t like seltzer, but I must say, the combination of cherry and chile produced a unique sweet/hot that was very taste bud friendly and sobriety unfriendly. After ridding my mouth of the cocktail flavor, I started with a sip of the vodka. I like vodka, but generally like it mixed. Of course a visit to the distillery and a tasting fight offered a nice opportunity to get the unadulterated flavors of the spirit. My sip produced a fine flavor, that of candy with a smoothness I wasn’t used to in the popular cocktail component. It was really flavor forward for a vodka and it’s inclusion with my wife’s drink was quite logical.

Next I tried the gin. My initial sip seemed a little harsh and the juniper was a bit strong for me. To be fair, I’m not much of a gin connoisseur, so it’s likely ginophiles will appreciate its flavor much more than I. I jumped right into the bourbon since, unlike gin, it’s one of my favorites. I found it to be outrageously smooth with a standard bourbon body and just a tiny sweetness that gave it an extra pop. No doubt, this was a sipping whiskey if there ever was one. Lastly, I commandeered the rye. Getting it into my grasp, I gave it a taste. The informational place mat indicated there was a grassiness to it and I agreed. It was earthy and strong. Though I preferred the bourbon, I could see the rye appropriately used in a variety of delightful cocktails. I put those rye cocktails from Stroudwater on my to-drink list.

After we finished our drinks, we settled up the tab, I grabbed my souvenir glass, and we made our way over to Bissell Brothers. Our stop at the brewery was as much about seeing the new location as it was about trying the beer since I’d had a bunch of them in the past. I had heard about the magnitude of the place and that it was now the largest brewery tasting room in the state. It was indeed huge with two levels and significant floor space, lots of tables, and quite a crowd sipping the suds. Mrs. Portlandeater went with an old favorite – Substance IPA. I tried the Nothing Gold Double IPA.

At 8.1% ABV, the Nothing Gold was a bit of a beast. However, I had a mere five ounces to consume, so I felt it was a safe amount after my flight of booze. The beer smelled of fruit and a taste confirmed a fruity beer with a hint of berry and citrus sour to it on the back end. I enjoyed it and was entranced by the atmosphere Bissell provided. It was a lively place attracting a lot of attention and one massive wall of beer cans which was quite the showstopper. When all the beer was done, we moved on.

Our next stop was at the Cellar Door Winery. Holy moly, that place was massive too! With a couple tasting bars in the front room and another in the back accompanied by some comfy chairs, there seemed to be enough seating for a small army. It was grand and I was excited to try some wines especially since I hadn’t had any of the great grape solution recently. We sat down at the bar and were given a sheet on which to mark our selections and which also described them in detail. We could either choose four one ounce pours or one four ounce pour for $8. The winetender explained a number of informational points about the qualities of the wine, how dry or sweet they were and the like.  With ten whites and seven reds, I was a little surprised at the number of choices but excited that there were so many. I was primarily looking for just a single glass however, while my wife was looking for the full tasting experience.

I decided that I wanted the to try the Petite Sirah. My wife, who prefers the whites, chose the Sauvignon Blanc, Stone Tower, Perfect Stranger, and Riesling. We got our first – my only – pours and started down the long and wine-y road to vinoville. My earthy red brought some nice flavors of a fruit and berry bouquet while walking the line between dry and sweet with perfection. I enjoyed both it and some little treats I called biscotti bites which were provided with our drinks. She seemed to like the Perfect Stranger the most. They noted that as their most popular and a little taste confirmed for me that it was pretty damn good. I don’t like my wines too sweet and I sometimes find that the whites are a bit much, but this one had an understated flavor that allowed for plenty of light fruity notes without beating me over the head with sugary sweetness.

Once we had finished all the wine, it was time to move on and grab some food at the chicken shack. Big J’s Chicken Shack – open only four days – was hopping with patrons. We got in line and spied the menu on the wall. Once to the front, we placed our orders. We started with three of the Nashville Hot and three of the Portland Hot Tenders, both served with white bread and pickle. Since they each came with one sauce, we went with the Honey Dijon and Spicy Ketchup. Next we ordered a couple sides – Mac and Cheese and Brussels and Kohlrabi Slaw. Lastly, we threw in some waffle fries because, why not?

“Mrs. Portlandeater!” Our food was ready. Napkins, forks, plates, and gloves came with. Yes, gloves. The menu stated that the Nashville Hot is served with the glove because “it’s that hot”.  We sat to eat, putting a bit of each on our plates. I went straight to Nashville. The tenders were so crispy, I was certain they would be awesome. The chicken produced an outstanding, rigid crunch and it was indeed firey.  I was impressed. As Big J clearly knows, hot food in Portland is not truly hot, but the dry-rubbed tenders were serious, giving spicy food lovers something to turn to for a mouthful of flames. It should also be noted that those flames were accompanied by some nice flavor and paired well with the honey dijon if one wanted a little sweet mustard alongside.

My next tender was a Portland hot. The heat mixed with sweet in what was basically a Thai Chili sauce. It was really good, but certainly not hot. I threw a little of the spicy ketchup on those and the pairing wasn’t bad, though additional sauce wasn’t really needed and I think some might find that an odd combination. I actually liked using the spicy ketchup on the waffle fries which gave them a little extra zest. The mac and cheese wasn’t creamy but was plenty cheesy and the cole slaw was essentially an Asian slaw with some golden raisins and peanuts. I liked the veggie variety it offered.

Stuffing my face with chicken, I started to get full, but still managed to finish everything, ending with the pickles. Then I realized I still had white bread sitting at the bottom of the chicken boxes. I took a piece, folded it, and jammed it in my mouth. Weird, sure, but I had to see what that was for. The bread was simply an edible sponge, soaking in the chicken flavoring and giving the eater one last blast of Nashville or Portland level heat. Yeah, it’s strange, but it’s worth eating. It’s like licking your fingers at the end of the meal. Of course, you can do that too.

Once we were done, I reminisced about my afternoon. It was one hell of a party. Drinking all manner of adult beverage, eating some fried chicken that’s a style all it’s own in Portland, and just enjoying what Thompson’s Point had to offer was well worth it. Everywhere we went was a place any town would be thrilled to have. The variety of offerings in that one little area was a beautiful thing, and to add to it, there was a raw oyster cart outside for those looking for a little bivalve business. 

More is in the works to make Thompson’s even more consumer friendly. Big J’s will soon have an app allowing drinkers to channel chicken from their seats. They will be notified when it’s ready on the app, go there to pick it up, and return to their drink to eat at any of the tasting rooms. Or patrons can buy some cans or a bottle – may I suggest the Stroudwater Bourbon? – and sit down at the shack to tip back some bourbon and bird, wine and wings, or beer and whatever. Wine lovers can also learn about pairings when Cellar Door has classes or food and wine tastings. Apparently, there’s more business coming to Thompson’s too, so if that’s not enough for you, just wait.

I give much credit to all the businesses at Thompson’s for offering everything at a very reasonable price. I’m impressed that we got out for a total of right around $70. My wife hasn’t stopped talking about her cherry bomb from the distillery, but everything was the real deal. I think the first time you go, it’s imperative that you try all four locales. Drink first and then go to Big J’s when you finish getting your drunk on and feel the need for something fried to spill on yourself. If you eat the Nashville Hot chicken, the sides of your tongue will burn, and later your belly. But unless you’re putting you hands in your eyes, you probably don’t actually need the glove, just the special sauce.

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.

Announcing Peter Peter Portland Eater at BDN

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I am proud to announce that in addition to continuing Peterpeterportlandeater.com, I will now also be blogging as a part of the BDN Blogs Network as Peter Peter Portland Eater at BDN. I will be adding exclusive content to the Blogs section of the Bangor Daily News website on a regular basis. This will give me the opportunity to do more of what I do now, add some new wrinkles to it, and build an extended following which will in turn give me more opportunity to provide you, my readers, with unique and entertaining tales of food related fun.

Thanks to everyone who has read, subscribed, liked, commented, followed, shared, etc. You are in on the ground floor of this project, but I assure you, the best is yet to come. Please keep supporting me. I really appreciate it. If you want to support this leg of my blogging journey, you can do the following:

1. Read my blog posts at https://pppe.bangordailynews.com

2. Follow/subscribe to my blog at BDN Blogs

3. Like BDN Maine Blogs on Facebook

4. Follow @BDNMaineBlogs on Twitter

Finally, thanks to Sarah Cottrell at the Bangor Daily News for finding me and helping me through this process.

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.

Vignola Cinque Terre – One of Portland’s Original Italian Stallions

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Vignola has been around a while and opened even before I made my grand return to Maine a decade ago. I had been there since, but that was still long ago – maybe six years and long before I started blogging incessantly about what I was eating. It was time to go back and see what they were up to, especially because there is a bit of a new Italian scene popping up in Portland and I felt it was only right to give an updated look to an originator of it. I didn’t remember the last time I was there as particularly noteworthy, but to be fair, that was hardly relevant after so many years. I preempted this visit by doing my homework and found they have a farm in Greene that grows exclusively for the restaurant, which only added to the excitement of a return.

I arrived a few minutes early for our reservations and waited for Mrs. Portlandeater who had a nearby appointment, but was going to meet me. I was quickly seated where I scoured the menus multiple times, texted some friends, observed the goings-on around me, joked a bit with the table next to me, rearranged the table settings, asked questions about some menu items, listened to the list of rotating local taps, ordered drinks for both of us, and wrote an entire book about the developments in sustainable farming over the last 500 years. Then my wife arrived.

Soon the order of drinks flowed to our tables. I had an Allagash Black, which is one of my favorites from the local brewer. She had a can of Bantam, Rojo cider with sour cherries and pink peppercorns which was pretty good for a cider and tasted exactly how it sounds with the peppercorns as a very minimal addition to the cider’s flavor. We were happily drinking and I was pleased to finally be able to discuss food with my other of significance. I didn’t recall the menu being as extensive, diverse, or interesting last time I was there. I was thoroughly impressed with the deep cheese and charcuterie list which took the entire first half of the menu and also featured some great accoutrements. I was quite interested in ordering something from that area, but my wife wasn’t as keen on the idea, so I evacuated that thought from my brain, noting that those would be given prime ordering consideration on my next visit.

Once we nixed the meats and cheeses, I again tried to see if my wife and I had the inclination to share any food, but we decided sharing wasn’t really caring and picked provisions to only feed ourselves. I looked toward the salads, but saw a couple apps that looked to be more to my liking. After a careful decision process and verifying that the tuna was cooked, I started with the Tonno – Tuna belly stuffed pickled cherry peppers, bread crumbs, raddichio. Then I went with a Pepperoni pizza – House-made beef pepperoni, olives, San Marzano tomato sauce, aged mozzarella, fennel salsa verde. She opted for a salad to start, Lattuga -Organic Leaf lettuce, organic cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, basil buttermilk vinaigrette  – and then the house-named pizza, Vignola – Roasted tomatoes, aged provolone & stracciatella cheese, San Marzano tomato, basil pesto.

As we waited for the orders, we nibbled on some focaccia, sipped our drinks, and watched the food work it’s way to other tables. After skipping any cheese or charcuterie, those luscious conglomerations of meat and dairy made my mouth water as they went by and I had a tiny bit of non-ordering regret. Still, I was excited for what I did request, and as we watched lots of people head upstairs for a wedding party of some sort, my desire to dig into some food grew to a bundle of ravenous anticipation. No sooner did the drooling start than I received my Tonno and she the Lattuga.

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The Tonno looked pretty much like what I expected. The four stuffed cherry peppers were topped with crumbs and sat in a field of shredded raddichio. A couple of the peppers were on the plump side while the other two were a bit small. I had ordered that particular starter because I have a fondness for both pickled cherry peppers and tuna. I wasn’t looking for anything too far out of the box and a bite of one of them proved to be what I envisioned. The cherry peppers exhibited a nice, but not extreme, heat and some acid. The tuna added a little heft, and the crumbs provided a small crunch. I’m not sure where the raddichio fit in outside of offering a nice presentation, but I ate it because I happen to like the partially purple leaf. My wife nibbled on her no-frills salad as I sliced, diced, and consumed my peppers.

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We didn’t take long to finish our first courses and soon our places were cleared for pizza. Those came out without any significant delay and we observed the seductively sizable saucers steaming. I took a tiny bite, but it was too hot for my sensitive palate, so I laid back for a minute as it cooled. My wife took a bite of hers, and being much tougher than I, felt it was of an edible temperature and seemed to be enjoying it. I slowly went back to my slice and got into it. The house-made pepperoni was thicker than the standard and had a definite beef flavor. I didn’t find it as spicy as a typical pepperoni, but enjoyed it for what it was – a slightly new look at the common pizza covering. In addition to the ‘ronis, the olives added a bit of flavor and the slightly sweet tomato sauce was also a nice touch. I wasn’t sold on the fennel salsa verde when I ordered, but the amount on the pie was just enough to add a little extra seasoning to the pizza and I hardly noticed any fennel flavor, which to me was a bonus.

My wife’s Vignola wasn’t far off from a Margherita, but the addition of the sweet, creamy stracciatella gave it a little more of a substantial flavor profile. My issue with a standard Marguarita is that cheese is used sparingly and, while that is the proper preparation, I prefer more cheese in addition to lots of tomato and basil. This one had a leg up on the old classic and like the salsa on the pepperoni, the basil pesto added just the right amount of pop to give a little “umph” to the righteous, crusty creation.

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After eating my entire pizza and a piece of the wife’s, we were ready to call it quits. We looked at a Dolci menu, but a full belly led us down a dessert-free path. At only $68 before tip, our meal seemed quite reasonable. We enjoyed our food, and though we didn’t get particularly adventurous with our choices, I think it’s safe to say that Vignola has their ducks in a row. Our relatively simple food was prepared well and with a little extra style that made it worthwhile in a city of fantastic food. Though I’m basing it off a memory which hardly exists any longer and despite our orders, it seems that their menu has more exciting choices than they did back in the day and they definitely have superb cheese and charcuterie options. I think that from now on, Vignola will be on my list for both meals and pre-meal drinks and snacks. Consider adding it to your repertoire too.

Stay hungry.

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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.

Rossobianco – Portland Just Got a Little More Italian

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Portland’s Italian food scene isn’t huge, but it’s growing, and the newest addition to it is Rossobianco – an eatery from Chef David Levi, founder of Vinland. I tend to not get too hyped about Italian food most of the time, though I often enjoy it when I have it. The problem for me is that I’m really looking for something that stands out from what I’ve had before. I’ve eaten all manner of pasta, pizza, and the like, but I want something of a new take on those. I want rich, cheesy creations with fresh pastas, powerful red sauces, and flavors that are different and generally kill – in a good way. I didn’t know if I’d find those at Rossobianco, but I was hoping to.

A chalkboard sign outside the restaurant touted it as a “Northern Italian Wine Bar” on one side and told of cheap snacks, house-made pasta, and new wines daily on the other. As we entered, another sign told us to seat ourselves and we picked a table by the window. I observed a massive chandelier hanging by the bar, a mostly wood interior, and a nice overall feel to the place, though other than the chandelier, nothing stood out as extravagant or exceptional. A waitress brought us water and menus which included the small food menu, lots of wine including some wine cocktails, and a small beer selection.

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With a few options under each of five categories of food, the choices weren’t extensive, but they were sufficient. My wife ordered a sauvignon blanc and asked about the size differences between the small and large portions of the main courses. We were told if we were ordering apps and/or salads that we may want to consider the smaller portions, while, if we were just sticking with a main, the large might be more appropriate. In a stroke of genius, my wife suggested we just order apps and salads first and then could decide how hungry we were for the larger dishes. I agreed and we started to figure out what to eat.

My thought out of the gate was to get one item from the Cicchetti or snack column. I decided to go with the Arancini con Funghi – fried risotto ball with oyster mushrooms, Grana Padano fonduta. That seemed like a sound decision, but I wanted to try something more and also went with the Frico – Montasio, cabbage, spring onion – which was under the heading of Antipasti. Mrs. Portlandeater kept it simple, choosing the Insalata – farm lettuce, herbs, shishito vinaigrette. We stopped there temporarily and waited for the beginnings of our feast.

Before anything else came out, we made our acquaintance with a basket of fresh bread and simply seasoned olive oil. After several bites of that, the fried risotto ball rolled up in front of us. The between-golf-and-tennis-ball-sized food was fully encased in a crusty shell and sitting in a small puddle of the fonduta. I made it my mission to cut into the sphere and grab a bite smeared in melty cheese. As I did that, I made sure to also get plenty of actual risotto and outer shell into my mouth. With a couple chews, I discovered incredible flavors. The crunch of the fried coating led the way to a creamy risotto with a nice mushroom flavor, but the fonduta added a first class salty cheese that took cheesiness to a whole new level – if that’s even possible. It was a ball of greatness and upon trying it, my wife gave a confirming “that’s really good”.

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The ball wasn’t huge and didn’t last long, but soon the insalata and frico joined us at the table.  My wife’s salad looked like standard fare, but my frico was a bit unusual. Four charred squares of cabbage pancake sat on the plate with onion on top of each one. I went for it and sent my fork to cabbage town where it cut and shoveled half a pancake into my face. Wowee zowee! What had I eaten? It took a minute to sink in, but my shredded cabbage was encrusted in the cheese which again was salty and a sensational play-up of the green stuff. The onions were a safe and tasty finishing touch. My wife’s salad was simple but offered some nice notes with the herbs and shishito peppers.

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We munched until all the food was gone and then considered our next menu-guided move. We were both in the mood for some pasta or risotto and had four choices. We thought about ordering small portions of all four, but eventually decided on three and another risotto ball since they were so delicious. My wife ordered the Scialatielli con Passato di Pomodoro – basil pasta, tomato, rosa bianco eggplant, smoked mozzarella – while I went with the Cannelloni – buckwheat pasta, chicken, potato, leeks – and Risotto e Aragoste – short grain rice, lobster, butter,  mushroom. It would have to wait until our next visit, but I thought the Tagliatelle al Ragu alla Bolognese – fresh egg pasta, meat sauce – sounded pretty damn good too.

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Our first dishes came out after a short wait – the risotto ball, scialatielli, and tagliatelle. “Wait. I didn’t order tagliatelle.” As the waitress walked away, I was processing that the dish in front of me wasn’t something I ordered, refusing to believe it was the wrong item, and simultaneously digging into it. It was definitely egg tagliatelle with non-tomato meat sauce, and not anything like canneloni. The fork hit my mouth. It was buttery with a little shredded cheese and al dente in texture. The fresh pasta stood out and the meat was tender. It was the first bolognese I’d had without tomato and it wasn’t what I ordered, but…it was awesome. There was no sending this mistake back. It was hard to even call it a mistake.

My wife’s pasta included a red sauce and it was quite good, with a nice acid and aromatic basil, but I stuck to only one taste as I’m not a fan of eggplant. We finished what we had in front of us and waited for the risotto which took a while to come out. When it finally did, it looked luxurious with lots of sauce, cheese, and specks of lobster throughout. The rice concoction went directly into my mouth and the glorious flavors gave me a rush of food-borne adrenaline. The mushroom laden risotto from earlier had now had joined forces with more saucy sassiness and bits of clawed crustacean and the results were astounding. The dish was full of flavors and rich without remorse – a superhero of sorts.

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When everything was finally finished, we were offered dessert, but it was not to be as I needed a food break. The meal came to $110 after tax and a solid tip and included a second glass of wine. Rossobianco is no ordinary Italian. They checked all the boxes on my list. Their pasta was a thing of beauty with freshness that shined through in every mouth-watering bite. They didn’t hesitate to put cheesy, buttery decadence on the front line of their food, and they dove straight into deep, flavorful waters. They focused on bringing together the richness of ingredients where each one stood on it’s own, but perfectly complimented the others. The risotto was a stellar example with mushroom and sauce sharing the starring roles while the lobster added another tier of taste.

Rossobianco offers a light, casual atmosphere that will be accessible to all types of eaters. Good for a snack and wine or a hearty meal of pasta or steak and beer, they are giving Italian cuisine a different look than anywhere else in Portland. If my first impressions are correct, Rossobianco is going to get busy and stay that way, because their food is absolutely magnificent. When you go – and go soon – start with a bunch of the risotto balls – everything there is a worthy offering, but one of those definitely won’t be enough.

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.