If Portland restaurants are the swimsuit model on the front page of Sports Illustrated, Westbrook restaurants are the ugly duckling younger sister. The model is incredibly beautiful, fun to be around, and attracts quite a crowd. The ugly duckling wears her hair in a bun, dresses in frumpy clothes, and always has her face in a book. When the duckling gets asked on a date though, she lets her hair down, gets dolled up, starts to dance, and everyone takes notice. I wanted to dance with that duck and get my ugly on, so I drove on over to Westbrook and visited PHOever Maine.
PHOever Maine is a family-owned restaurant located on the Westbrook-Portland line in a non-descript strip mall. The restaurant is very nice inside with a bunch of tables and a bar. We sat at the bar with some friends who arrived before us. I was excited to try some Vietnamese food for the first time ever, though much of it appeared so be somewhat similar to other Asian food I’d had in the past. That weren’t no thang for me though as I love pretty much all Asian cuisine. In fact, after fresh, Maine seafood, I’d have to say Asian is my favorite.
The restaurant wasn’t very busy and my friends are quickly becoming regulars there, so we struck up a conversation with the bartender who was one of the owners. He mentioned that the restaurant opened about a year and a half ago and specializes in making authentic Vietnamese food they have made in their family for years. We talked and talked about food, life, and just about everything before I told everyone to focus because at some point we had to order. We started with drinks. Everyone else ordered beer and wine, but I went with the Tet Tamarind – tequila, tamarind, and Vietnamese chili syrup. I also asked if I could try a sample of the Sam Adams Cold Snap on draft. Then we continued talking.
Drinks arrived in short order. I tried my mini beer first. It was too light for me, but I was ready for my tequila elixir. The drink had a color that was slightly dark and was accompanied by a slice of lemon. I tried a sip. It was ugly duckling’s first dance and she was shaking her ass. Holy mother of mayhem! You probably wouldn’t believe that it was one of the best drinks I ever had, but I promise you I was. I had my womanly cohorts try it just to prove my point and they loved it. It was potent and slightly sour with great flavor infused by the chili syrup that brought a nearly, but not completely, undetectable hint of heat. It was executed perfectly. I once again focused everyone’s attention to the menu while keeping my lips on the luscious libation.
I found it difficult to want to eat anything but pho, considering that it was clearly their specialty, but there were a number of other items that made me think twice. However, I kept going back to the pho, you know? Once I decided on pho fo sho though,I had to pick which one I wanted. They had all manner of proteins to go with the pho. The menu indicated that we could mix and match too. I settled on Pho Ga Chicken – noodle, scallion, onion, and cilantro in broth – after considering the one with meatballs. I stuck with the regular size, but for a buck less you got a small and a buck more gave you the large. I also graciously offered to share Crab Rangoons with my wife who ordered Cadillac Mountain Pad Thai with chicken as her Maine course. Our friends went with an app of crispy Tofu Triangles with peanut dipping sauce. They also ordered up Pho with Tofu and Mixed Seasonal Vegetables and the Veggie Vietnamese Crepes.
By the time we finished ordering our food, I was long since done my utterly delicious drink and thinking about getting another one. I noticed a martini menu in a table tent and took a look at that. After careful consideration, I went with the Maine Very Berry Martini – Absolut Berri Açai, fresh squeezed sour mix, simple syrup, and merry garnish. Shortly after that, everyone else followed my lead and ordered a second drink.
When my drink came out, I took a sip. It was excellent and pretty much exactly the type of drink I like – fruity and flavorful, but in truth, it didn’t compare with the Tet Tamarind. The Tet was simply on another level. Nonetheless, the martini was very good and I sipped it happily. Everyone continued to drink and chat until the food started to arrive.
Our crab rangoons and tofu triangles were soon presented to us. I tried a crab rangoon. They were excellent – crispy, creamy, and seemed to have real crab meat in them which is key to the perfect rangoon. I tried the sweet and sour sauce that came with them, but I’m not a fan of sweet and sour in general, so I preferred them plain. Then I tried a tofu triangle. They were tasty and crispy on the outside. With these, the peanut sauce definitely took them to another level. The sauce was very peanuty and delicious. We chomped down on our last bites and waited for the entrees.
Veggie Vietnamese Crepes were the first meal to come out. There was a whole set-up to go with them. The crepes needed to be quickly dipped in water, let to rest and soften momentarily, and then filled with its innards of veggie stuff and wrapped. I was very interested in the process, but other food followed immediately, drawing my attention in a different direction. My wife’s pad thai arrived next, followed by the pho. The pho came with a side of bean sprouts, culantro, Asian basil, and lime. I pulled all the culantro and basil off the stems and threw it in. Then I dumped all the bean sprouts in the bowl in a fit of sprout spasm. There were a lot and after I dumped them, I realized I might have made a mistake. Half of them probably would have been sufficient. I left the lime alone for no particular reason.
Before I could try the pho, I had to eat a bunch of bean sprouts. I ate sprout after sprout until my bowl didn’t look like a bean sprout forest. Then I noted the great looking slices of white meat chicken in broth along with the onion and scallion. I took my spoon and scooped some broth into my pho hole. It was delicious. The pho flavor was intense even though the broth was light and simple. Rarely has so much been made with so little. I tried the chicken and it was tender and saturated with great flavor from the broth. It was only aided by the herbs I added. Everyone loved their food, though my wife found her meal a little on the sweet side. My only regret was not using any of the sauces they had available – hoisin, soy, fish, chili, and sriracha – but the food didn’t need it.
We finished our food and I actually felt pretty good. The pho was relatively healthy but also very tasty and, as you would expect, not at all heavy. I was quite pleased, but even more so when the entire meal including tax and tip came to only $55. That included 4 drinks, an app, and two entrees. It was one of the least expensive meals I’d had in a while. I’m surprised this place isn’t filling up. It should be. The food was top of the line, the staff is very friendly, and it’s really nice inside. This ugly duckling has let her hair down and untucked her shirt. Go get some Vietnamese food at PHOever Maine and start with the outstanding Tet Tamarind. You’ll be sure to leave happy.
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