Monthly Archives: August 2016

​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.

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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.

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.

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.

MK Kitchen – Gorham Grub and Gulps

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MK Kitchen sits in the center of Gorham and has earned a reputation for solid food and drink that stands out in its location a little outside of Portland. I was in the right mood to head out of town and into an area I visit infrequently, so we made reservations and took the drive. I had heard positive reports on the restaurant, though I didn’t have any particular intel before we visited early on a Saturday evening, so it was time to learn more about the eatery first-hand. We arrived hungry and thirsty, found a prime parking spot, and headed in to experience MK to the fullest extent possible.

The restaurant was large with a small but attractive bar all the way to the left. Its two rooms were filled with many copper top tables. It looked beautiful, felt spacious, and had a calm, inviting atmosphere that gave a strong first impression. It was honestly more than I expected, but that’s one reason why I always try new restaurants – I never truly know what I’ll find. Business was slow, but we were early, so that was hardly notable. We were quickly visited by a waitress who schooled us on the menus, adding a scallop special which was available both as an app and an entree, and then offered us drinks. We told her weren’t quite ready yet, but would be soon.

We took another minute or two and were prepared with drink orders when our server returned. My wife stuck with her safety drink of sauvignon blanc. I went with the MK Seasonal Manhattan – house infused peach bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters, served up with an amerena cherry. I love peach and was taken by the idea of a Manhattan with some some of the hairy fruit in it. I couldn’t imagine it being anything other than a match made in heaven. After ordering those, we spent some time reviewing the food menu which had a substantial number of apps, soup and salads, pastas and grains, entrees, and sides.

Upon delivery of our drinks, which hardly took any time at all, we ordered the food. She ordered the Grilled Romaine Caesar – croutons, shaved parmesan, house made creamy garlic dressing – and a small serving of the Mushroom Risotto – roasted local mushrooms, fresh herbs, baby arugula, truffle oil, and parmesan. I considered an app of Lobster Cones because they sounded amazing, but eventually decided to start with the MK Wedge – romaine hearts, cherry tomatoes, bacon crumbs, blue cheese, pickled onion, and buttermilk dressing. After a lot of internal debating, I finally ordered the Pan Roasted Scallop special with parsnip puree, fennel arugula salad, butter sauce, bacon crumbs, and tomato jam.

When the waitress left, I focused on the drink in front of me, taking a serious haul of the bourbon based beverage. I had expected major peach flavor, but instead got something quite different. The peach provided only a hint of fruit background, the bourbon kept it’s full flavor, and the combination smoothed it all to a light, oddly refreshing cocktail which would work both for nights of heavy drinking or as a single summer sipper. It was very unique as I’ve had many bourbon Manhattans and this one was different than any of them. I continued downing my drink and nibbled on some delicious focaccia, momentarily forgetting we had more food on the way.

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Despite my obsession with the whiskey and bread, when the salads came to our table, I dug right in. I was a little nervous about the blue cheese as I’m not a big fan, but picked some of it off and felt it would be perfect after that. I took a few bites. The fresh lettuce and tomatoes were boosted with great flavors from the onions, bacon, and dressing. It was a really nice take on a traditional wedge. The one change I felt would have made it even better was a little more dressing. I thought that would have added the ability to better blend the cheese into the plate and given it a creamier taste. It was still nice to get plenty of crisp vegetables leading the pack, but next time I might suggest denser drizzle when ordering. My wife’s salad was excellent with no shortage of parm a beautiful punch from the creamy garlic.

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We kept eating until we were finished our greens and then waited for the main courses. I hadn’t had scallops in a while, so when they came out, my mouth was watering. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of food in my bowl; the four scallops were large with a hearty base of the parsnip puree and the salad on top.  The scallops were sensationally seared with the bacon, butter, and jam adding just a tiny bit of flavor enhancement. The puree was creamy and added a really nice feel to the mouth without overpowering anything else in the dish. The salad was a also good accompaniment with just the right amount of fennel not to take over and alter the flavors negatively.

As I plowed through my meal, the one thing that stood out about the dish was that the scallops were truly the centerpiece and despite so many other items added to them, nothing distracted from the unbelievably plump and delicious sea cylinders of yum. The other ingredients were all easy additions and the bacon, while a stronger flavor, was used only sparingly to add just a touch of goodness. I finished and was happy to take a couple bites of my wife’s risotto which packed a deliciously loud mushroom wallop.

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When we were both done, we decided that a look at the dessert menu wouldn’t hurt anyone. Mrs. Portlandeater had a hankering for the Peach and Blueberry Tart, but I overruled her by going with the Cheesecake “Crème Caramel”. With blueberry compote, coconut, graham cracker crumbs, and blueberry sorbet, it sounded like a winner to me. Fortunately, it came out after only a few minutes. The little cake was topped with the coconut and compote. Along the side were the sorbet, crumbs, and whipped cream.

Our forks touched down on the cheesecake at the same time. It was beautiful with a bit of burnt caramel and the standard creamy, cheesy awesomeness a great cheesecake offers. The blueberry and coconut allowed for different and interesting flavor combinations and the graham cracker threw in a traditional, but nearly essential element. I actually preferred the sorbet on its own, though I loved its super strong blueberry flavor that mimicked eating sweet frozen blueberries. It all worked together, but there’s no doubt the cheesecake itself was the leader of the plate.

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A few minutes into the dessert, it was gone forever and we were done. The bill came to $100 and based on quality and portions, it was well within the realm of reasonable. After all the eating, it was clear that MK Kitchen has a particular talent for taking a central ingredient and altering it only slightly to play up flavors both delicate and intense. While certain ingredients can distract or hide the main player of a dish, MK avoids that completely, instead allowing the diner to revel in the beauty of natural and intended flavors while throwing in notes that create a well-played conglomeration of sensory superlatives. They do it right and there’s plenty of people who seemed to already know that as the restaurant was nearly full when we left. I recommend you take the time to head to School St. in Gorham and taste for yourself. I also suggest trying the lobster cones I passed on. Those gorgeous treats made their way past our table multiple times and will be my starter on our next visit.

Stay hungry.

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