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

  1. Pingback: Peter Peter Portland Eater’s Eating Portland, ME Awards 2016 | Eating Portland, Maine

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