Monthly Archives: September 2013

Flatbread Company – Another Great Portland Pizza Act

20130921_173224

“This pizza is awesome and I ain’t no sucka!” I exclaimed as my wife questioned my ability to eat more pizza and still consume the ice cream dessert we had planned. I took another piece and started to shove it into my face. I was only half done my Carne Special which was full of awesome toppings including local pork with pineapple jerk sauce, organic green peppers, organic red onions, dried cranberries, mozzarella, parmesan, and herbs. I was hungry as an expectant mutha and I was just getting started.

The decision to visit Flatbread was rather spontaneous. After a busy day, my wife asked if I wanted to go eat and where. With little discussion, we decided on Flatbread. We hadn’t been to the popular Portland waterfront location in a while. When we showed up for an early dinner, the place was all but full with only a few bar seats and a table or two available. After about a five minute wait, we were seated and a waitress showed up to take our drink order. We ordered waters and discussed which alcoholic beverages we might want.

When the waitress returned with a pint glass full of high-quality H2O and lemon slice, we were prepared with our final drink requests. I asked for the Baxter Hayride Autumn Ale, a seasonal out of Lewiston. My wife went with a Sauvignon Blanc – a diversion from her usual Chardonnay. We looked at the menu with a discerning eye, hoping to find the perfect pizza to refuel after what had been a long day of hard work. When the drinks finally came – they took a while – we were more than ready to order.

I saw the Carne Special on the giant four-piece chalk board that overlooked and divided the restaurant down the middle. I knew it had to be mine. I couldn’t even stand the thought of ordering a small…so I didn’t. My wife, taken with the salads at Flatbread, ordered the organic salad and a small Casco Bay Community Flatbread – organic caramelized onions, organic mushrooms, mozz, and parm with tomato sauce, organic garlic oil, and organic herbs. If you can’t tell, Flatbread uses a lot of organic ingredients. This even includes their dough.

The salad didn’t take long to show up. It was made of various types of lettuce, celery, carrots, and topped with sesame seeds, local kelp, and ginger-tamari vinaigrette. I took a few bites of my wife’s salad for research purposes. It was outstanding which seems to be a theme with Portland pizza joints. The dressing had nice combination of sweet and acidic flavors with neither being overly strong. The Maine kelp and sesame seeds were a really nice touch.

Once the salad was done, we waited patiently for our pizzas and sipped our delicious drinks. My mouth watered with anticipation. Before long, I saw someone eyeing our table with pizza in hand. My pizza was delivered with the promise that my wife’s was following shortly behind. Mrs. Portlandeater insisted that I dig in to mine. I grabbed a slice, salivating like Pavlov’s dog. I was just a tad disappointed that the toppings didn’t make it quite to the edge of the pizza. It’s sort of a pet peeve of mine. Why doesn’t the edge of the pizza get any love?

Despite my irritation at the BCOE (Barely Covered Outer Edge), I ate the first slice. I do admit that it was pretty good even though it lacked significant topping coverage. After a couple bites though, I finally hit the jackpot. Wowee-wowa! The salty sweet pork, organic veggies, and sweet little cranberries were like a Jamaican Thanksgiving. I’m not even sure what that means exactly, but it was really good. The pizza was crispy but not dry, and cheesy but not greasy. My wife’s pizza came and she was also pleased. It was as good as she remembered.

I continued to eat to my cold, black heart’s content. My wife stopped when she completed just over half of her small, and I found my stopping point to be with a single slice left on the pan. I could have eaten it, but I stopped at my wife’s insistence. Little did she know, I still had more than enough room for dessert. The bill came to about $56 before tip. It wasn’t bad for a small pie, a large pie, salad, and two beverages. The food was really good so it was worth it in my blog.

Flatbread now has 11 locations, with most located throughout New England, though there is one in Hawaii and one in Canada. That’s really branching out. But Portland was their second and you never forget your second. Isn’t that what they say? So I think it’s fair to surmise that our humble, little food town will always hold a special place in the hearts of Flatbread Company. Ah hell, who cares? They’ve got great pizza. Go grab one and see for yourself.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or feel free to post your thoughts below.

Want to be notified whenever Peterpeterportlandeater releases a new blog entry? Subscribe to my blog by clicking the “follow” button on the right side of this page.

Elsmere BBQ and Wood Grill – BBQ Is Back in Town!

image

For a long time, the Portland BBQ scene has been a bit schizophrenic. The few BBQ joints that pop up in the area seem to come and go and have had varying quality from great to not so good. The problem is that the great ones seem to disappear for whatever reason. So when a new BBQ place showed up in South Portland last month with a giant smoker outside, I was hoping it would turn into a go-to for BBQ.

Owners Adam Powers and Jeremy Rush are longtime friends with extensive experience in BBQ. Adam is also a founding member of the rock band Twisted Roots according to the restaurant website. In an effort to verify that, I pulled the Twisted Roots CD out of my collection and indeed, Adam Powers is listed as the guitarist. Aside from that bit of trivia, the website makes it clear that both Adam and Jeremy love food.

Saturday night brought a fine time to try Elsmere when some visiting friends suggested they would like to go. We made our way there and got a great glimpse of the smoker as we approached. Word has it that up to 600 lbs. of meat or as many as three dead bodies can be smoked at a time. It’s a magnificent sight and like nothing I’ve seen before. I also noted that they had a sizable patio out front which is great for nice days when you want to just chill outside with a drink and some smoked meat.

As we walked inside, I realized there was much more to see. A huge neon sign stood out and graced the bar which immediately gave the feeling that we were in an old school atmosphere. Flames shot up from the wood heating the grill. The look of the place was made complete by lots of reclaimed wood, including some from old whiskey barrels. I also couldn’t help but notice that the restaurant was set up with many different seating areas including two bars, a couple rows of booths, and a couple areas with tables. Upon taking in the scenery, someone walked up to us and offered us a booth if we were willing to wait a minute or two. We agreed, and within a couple minutes, as promised, we had a large booth that easily fit all five of us.

We sat with menus and a waitress immediately visited asking if we wanted drinks. We weren’t ready yet, so we asked her to come back. The drink menu was solid. There was a good mix of draft and bottled beer, wine, and signature cocktails. When the waitress made her way back to us, there were a couple beers ordered and I ordered the Elsmere Lemonade – peach infused bourbon with house-made lemonade. We began to check out the food menu.

I was really impressed with the menu. There weren’t too many items, but there was something for everyone. Among the starters, sandwiches, “mama’s plates”, and sides, were also some fish and vegetarian items. With only a few of each category, the menu is easy to navigate and not at all confusing. My eyes quickly focused on the sandwiches and mama’s plates – plates of smoked meat with cornbread and your choice of two sides.

Everyone at the table seemed to be ready to order some smoked meats. I decided that a sandwich would not work. I just needed a pile of meat and some fixins. I settled on pulled chicken with cole slaw and macaroni and cheese. The other meat options were sausage, ribs, pulled pork, and brisket. Others at the table wanted plates with two meats and my wife prepared to order the Flatbread with pulled chicken.

When the waitress came back, she brought our drinks. We were ready to order so she started with my wife. After ordering the flatbread, we were told that they were out of both the pulled chicken and the brisket. Unfortunately, everyone at the table planned on ordering at least one of those. It was odd that they’d be out of two of their main items on a Saturday night, but we had no choice except to change our planned orders. The waitress apologized for not letting us know sooner.

After receiving the bad news, we collected our thoughts and my wife made a game-time decision to go with the Portabella Mushroom Sandwich – a large marinated wood-grilled cap on a roll. I decided to go with the pulled pork. Between the remaining three orders, a mama’s plate – pulled pork and sausage with baked beans and cole slaw – was ordered twice. Despite the fact that no one ordered their first choice of food, we were ready to consume our alternates.

Before the food came, I tried my drink. It was tasty and definitely one of those drinks that I suspected was much stronger than it seemed after the first sip. It’s rare that I don’t like a drink with lemonade and this one was no different. The lemonade with just a slight peach taste was perfectly refreshing. Everyone was happy with their beers and with hardly enough time to take a couple gulps, our food came out. It was on like Donkey Kong.

Relatively nondescript plates were put in front of us. There was no garnish or fanciness – just a basket lined with paper and the food on top. They had a sizeable portion of meat flanked by warm cornbread wrapped in foil, a couple pickle slices, and small bowls of two sides. My wife’s Portabella sandwich was topped with a corn salsa. I was ready to dig in and took a couple bites of the pork immediately. It was tender and tasty with nice smoke flavor, but it was missing something. Then a light bulb directly above my cranium was lit from the energy produced by the hamster wheel in my head. The meat was missing sauce. It needed spice, spice baby!

By the time I was ready for sauce, my more intelligent friends at the table were already dumping some on their plates. The sauce options were Red Black Pepper BBQ and Golden Mustard BBQ. I waited until they were available, barely avoiding just grabbing them out of someone’s hand, and poured the mustard on the right side of my pork and the pepper on the left. Now the real test was on. I tried them in successive bites and they were both fantastic. This was a legit BBQ joint. The mustard sauce was my favorite with a great mustard flavor and a bit of vinegar bite with just the right amount of sweetness. The pepper sauce had a kick and also perfect sweetness. These were some of the best BBQ sauces I’d had in a while. It was BBQ heaven. Everyone agreed the sauces were outstanding though there was some debate about which one was the winner.

The sides were interesting. The cole slaw was free of mayonnaise and had a sharp vinegar taste which actually made it difficult for me to tell if the peppers in it were jalapenos or just bell peppers. It was tasty, but if you aren’t a big fan of vinegar, you’ll want to avoid it. The mac and cheese was good too, but very mild which was a bit of a surprise considering all the other food had such strong flavors. I would have preferred a stronger, sharper cheese flavor, but it was good nonetheless. My wife was very happy with her burger and loved the salsa on top. Everyone very much enjoyed their meals.

Portions were large as evidenced by the food we had left over. Even though we had some snacks before, there was definitely enough food for even a hungry, hungry hippo. For five of us, including three drinks, the bill came to just under 100 bucks before tip which wasn’t bad for the amount of food that came in the meal. The BBQ sauces were stand out superstars and took the meat from good to outstanding. I look forward to going back and trying the other meats. I’m sure they’ll all be good if the meat quality is consistent.

Now it’s official – the Portland area has a new BBQ restaurant that is ready to serve your BBQ needs. Go now so they stay in business. I want to make sure this one is around for a while. They deserve to be and I can only imagine everything will continue to get even better as they hit their stride. After all, they just opened.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or feel free to post your thoughts below.

Want to be notified whenever Peterpeterportlandeater releases a new blog entry? Subscribe to my blog by clicking the “follow” button on the right side of this page.

Yosaku – Sushi in the Old Port

20130901_173657

On the beautiful Sunday before Labor Day, my wife and I were craving some sushi. We had been for a while. Having always had good experiences at Yosaku, we decided that would be the place to quench our sushi desires. They have a great outdoor area and we got there shortly after they opened so we knew there would be plenty of seating inside or out even though they tend to be quite busy.

I’m actually not a connoisseur of sushi. I love the fish, the rice, and the seaweed wrap, but I detest the raw fish and avocado that come in almost all sushi. I’ve tried them a number of times and I just can’t bring myself to enjoy those ingredients. Contrary to common belief though, sushi really just refers to the vinegared rice that is part of the dish. So when my wife first took me to Yosaku, she hooked me by suggesting options without either raw fish or avocado.

When we arrived, we got a great seat outside right away. Left with menus, we perused them and were quickly visited by a waiter asking if we wanted drinks.  We hadn’t decided yet, so he said he’d come back shortly. We finally decided on some beverages and the waiter took our order. My wife went with her usual chardonnay and I settled on an Asahi, a beer I had never tasted.

We received our drinks a bit later and I couldn’t help but laugh when my bottle said “The Beer For All Seasons”. I was happy I didn’t order it at the wrong time of the year. It wasn’t great, but not bad either – slightly better than your average, mass-produced, American beer. Though I realize that many would still feel it wasn’t good, I didn’t mind it, and it was only four bucks, so it wasn’t masquerading as premium ale.

It was time to finalize our food orders. I was very hungry and ready to try something new. Yosaku has an extensive menu including lots of appetizers, dinners, sushi, and more. I was focused on the sushi even though my options were relatively limited based on my taste. I had a general idea that I was going to return to some old favorites, but needed a new item to add to the approved list.

I decided that I would try the Maine crab roll. Yosaku has a pretty good selection of Maine seafood items and I figured I should try one.  My wife started with edamame. I added an order of the Yosaku – tempura fried spicy tuna with a special sauce while she got an order of the Spicy Tuna Rolls. We finished our ordering frenzy by each asking for the spicy scallop rolls – broiled scallops in a spicy sauce. We assumed those would be the finishing touch as they tend to take a while to come out based on our previous experience there.

Before long, our edamame, and then shortly thereafter, the Maine crab rolls came to our table. I was excited. A little mound of wasabi and a pile of pickled ginger accompanied my crab-topped seaweed and rice rolls. I took my little soy sauce dish that was at the table and filled it with the sensational salty condiment, though it was the lower-sodium version to prevent a blood pressure burst. There was a soy pouring problem though due to an issue with the pour-top and it created a mess. Some of the soy went into the bowl with the rest decorating the table in a soy sauce splatter.

Before I go any further, I should tell you my dirty little secret. I love condiments, little bowls of extras, sides of additional ingredients, and the like. The sight of delicious wasabi, pickled ginger, and soy sauce to throw on my sushi was music to my mouth. A tiny, little tear came to my eye as I watched the traditional sushi condiments rest before inevitably lining my mouth with a magnificent flavor combination.

Ready to eat my rolls, I realized that I only had chopsticks and no silverware. I don’t use chopsticks due to my inability to put food in my mouth with them. But I was hungry, so I took the wooded utensils and used them to throw some wasabi and ginger on my roll. Then I took my hands, plopped it into the soy and dumped it in my mouth. The plain rice and seaweed wrap topped with Maine crab was complimented beautifully by the ginger, soy, and just enough wasabi to burn my nose hairs. My new crab roll adventure was a success. After eating both of those and helping my wife with the edamame, it was time to start our main course.

The spicy tuna and Yosaku came out with perfect timing. I usually have the first bite without any condiments just to get a sense of the flavor by itself and figure out how much condiment it actually needs. The Yosaku has some of my favorites, spicy and tuna, so I knew it couldn’t be bad. It wasn’t. But one thing definitely stood out about roll. It was deep fried and topped with sauce, so any idea that it was going to be healthy was incorrect. If you’re looking for something a little more on the healthy side, don’t get the Yosaku. However, if you’re just looking for a delicious roll of sushi with some cooked seafood, it’s a great choice. It had a little spice, decent tuna flavor, and with the condiments added – and without them too – was full of flavor. My wife loved her raw tuna roll.

Next came the spicy scallop roll for each of us. Again, it was topped with a sauce, though this one was not deep fried. My wife exclaimed that it was one of her favorite foods anywhere around Portland. The chopped scallops were both in the roll and in the sauce.  They were a little spicier than my spicy tuna which I liked. Of course, I piled on copious amounts of the sushi add-ons. Then I continued to shove scallop rolls into my mouth until they completely disappeared. It wasn’t easy as they break pretty easily, but I was determined and experienced total success.

Our hunger was satiated and we were pleased with the experience at Yosaku. Our meal came to the mid-$60 range before tip, which wasn’t too bad considering we got four full sushi orders, a two-piece, the edamame, and two drinks. While I am not someone who has had a lot of sushi, I can tell you that Yosaku is a solid choice. I don’t really have anything to compare it to, but if you aren’t fond of traditional sushi, I can definitely say that Yosaku might still have something for you.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or feel free to post your thoughts below.

Want to be notified whenever Peterpeterportlandeater releases a new blog entry? Subscribe to my blog by clicking the “follow” button on the right side of this page.