Tag Archives: food

New Portland bar with presidential theme opens on June 1st

Owner Ryan Deskins doesn’t expect to sell a lot of the Trump cocktail. Served in a beautiful gold martini glass (which you can keep) full of hot air with an elaborate orange twist garnish, the price of $2,500 is probably a bit steep for most customers, especially for a drink that “will leave you feeling regretful and unsatisfied, with hints of existential horror.”

Those visiting Sagamore Hill in Downtown/West End and not thrilled about laughter at 45s expense might be more inclined to order “The Blue Dress” or any other of the presidential-themed cocktails being offered when they open on June 1st. There won’t be any meals served, but Deskins promises a variety of bar snacks holding to the theme, including peanuts, pretzels, and jelly beans. Food trucks will also be present starting June 10th.

Opening in what was once the lobby of a luxury hotel, with an outdoor patio for up to 40 patrons in addition to the 60 seats inside, the bar pays tribute to the summer home of Teddy Roosevelt and the elegant details reflect that. Those details include 3,000 pounds of curved walnut ribs above the bar mimicking a boat hull, in reference to Roosevelt’s time as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

The bar has been a year and a half in the making, so June can’t come soon enough, but Deskins says they might even open early and potential visitors will know they’re open “when the pictures in the windows come down”. In addition to specialty cocktails, patrons can expect 30 or so beers (draft, cans, and bottles, with many locals), about 20 wines, and a stong selection of bourbon and rye, including some rarities.

Hours will be 4-1 Mon-Fri and 12-1 on the weekend. Though all the design and construction isn’t quite complete yet, it’s getting very close. Sagamore Hill looks to be a fun place to grab a drink whether you’re with friends, on a date, or headed to or from dinner. It’s theme and beautiful detail will make it inviting and comfortable. The patio will be a great option in the warmer months. Take a swing by in June and let me know what you think.

150 Park St.
sagamorehillmaine.com

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Popular locale continues legacy of precise flavors, quality ingredients

Some friends accompanied us (or did we accompany them?) to Back Bay Grill, one of Portland’s perennial favories and a legend of the Portland restaurant scene. Opened in the 1980’s and with the same owner since 2002, BBG is known for it’s typically excellent food, outstanding and knowledgeable service, and – to be honest – its relatively high prices (though its fans would argue that they’re not without merit).

We had an 8:30 reservation – well past our usual bed-time – and were seated immediately upon arrival. After our counterpart was assured that whatever she ordered would be prepared without the use of ingredients that would trigger her life-threatening allergies, she suggested we order a bottle of white Sancerre for the table and we did just that.

Sipping on the barely fruity, acidic wine which I found to be peculiarly smooth, we placed our orders and were treated to an orange goat cheese morsel compliments of the chef. The cheese was a typically mild goat with a little orange flavor; I suppose it was exactly what you’d expect of something called orange goat cheese.

The apps came out quickly enough. I had ordered the Roasted Red Pepper Soup – spiced hazelnut, fine herbs, chive oil. Mrs. Portlandeater went with the BBG Caesar – butter lettuce, thyme croutons, parmesan, garlic dressing. Our friends both ordered the Truffled Beef Tartare – farm fresh egg yolk, white anchovies, cornichon, olive oil crackers.

I’m a big fan of roasted red peppers (rrp) and was curious about how a soup that featured them might interact with my taste buds. A spoonful of the red liquid presented a powerful rrp flavor with just the right amount of herbs. There was also a nice bit of garlic in the mix. I really enjoyed the peppers maintaining the central focus of the soup while only being lightly altered with other flavors.

Everyone was clearly taken by their starters, and the phrase “this is the best tartare in town” was heard at least once in the process of consuming them. While I didn’t try the raw beef starter, it’s presentation was quite attractive with a yolk on top of the cylindrical pile of beef and surrounded in clockwise order by crackers, cornichons, and anchovies.

With the apps but a distant memory, we prepared for our main courses by getting refills on the wine (still the same bottle). I had ordered Chicken Breast – white bean, parmesan broth, sage, local roasted radish which was a menu change in place of sausage stuffed chicken leg. There were duos of Cast Iron Seared Local Scallops – local mushroom risotto, shaved radicchio and pickled orange pepper salad, lemon vinaigrette – for the ladies. He had Grilled Lemon and Rosemary Brined Hampshire Pork Chop – potato, honey bourbon carrots, charred scallion chimichurri.

My chicken was tender, perfectly seasoned, and very well concocted overall. I don’t remember ever having roasted radish, but the root veggie and bean with broth added a nice, mild addition with the chicken as the clear standout on the plate. Those other flavors hardly detracted from the bird, which they seem to have a particular skill in preparing based on multiple experiences eating it there.

Our table unanimously praised the food, enjoying it all and finishing most. From the presentation to flavors (and the company, of course), the meal was excellent. We finished with a compliment of chocolates and a macerated raspberry (allergen-free), passing on a dessert from the menu since we were quite full.

Back Bay Grill has maintained exactly what they are known for – high level service, quality food, and a great experience. They always use exceptional ingredients, but their dishes really hit the mark with each bite, focusing on exactly what they should, taking a main ingredient and making sure that all the other parts of the item add to it, while still maintaining the primary intent. You can taste each piece, and you’ll never forget what you ordered.

Our meal came to about $300 for four after tip. As I mentioned at the start, BBG meals don’t come cheap, but they do a great job of earning your money. They’ve got both the art and the science of culinary excellence down and are always there to impress. Take someone there if you want to make them happy, because that’s really what BBG does best.

65 Portland St.
207-772-8833

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Remarkable Biddeford eatery succeeds with quality in every detail

The interior is one of the nicest I’ve seen in recent memory. The brick walls…modern, rustic, Brooklynesque, alluring globes of light overhead. Nothing avant-garde, just warm, inviting beauty. First the dining room with a trio of seats at a bar looking into the kitchen (no one was sitting there) and an incredible wet bar in a room off to the side – two tables parallel to it – that give the feeling a day could pass rather quickly if you were sitting there.

Elda made an impression from the second I walked in. From appearance alone, few restaurants could compete with it. But I was curious about the follow up and, seated at a centrally located table, started to get a feel for their menu. The drink list had many bottles of vino and also a fair selection of beer, glasses of wine, and signature cocktails on the opposite side.

Eventually, I chose Ashes & Pears – milagro blanco, mezcal, spiced pear, lime, habenero – as my drink to start. Mrs. Portlandeater kept it light with a soda and lime. The food menu was small and the current date at the top suggested it changed daily. There were four courses with three or four options each. We could either order off the menu per usual or for a flat price of $42, could choose one of every course.

Menus, like food, are subjective in their appeal, but theirs – at face value, anyway – had much to be excited about. More than half the menu was seafood based and everything had a creative, artistic feel to it. My wife and I both decided that the four course meal was the best deal for us and would provide the most opportunity to try a variety of items.

My drink had only a hint of mezcal smoke and the habenero was light too. The pear was more present and made up the bulk of the flavor. It was a mild, smooth cocktail and fit the chill music and the atmosphere all too well. My wife’s soda/lime came with a metal straw, which I found to be a touch of class. Shortly after receiving the drinks, we were presented some sourdough bread with butter and sea salt and a cute wooden butter knife.

We had received a shitake and oyster mushroom broth around the time our drinks arrived and it had finally cooled enough to sip. If you could imagine liquid mushrooms, that was exactly how it tasted. Brilliant, strong flavor and slightly herbed, it was a perfect food liquid and a tasty start to a meal, along with the uncannily delicious sourdough which was some of the best bread I’d ever had.

Her first course was a Black Cod doughnut with preserved lemon, mine Mussels roasted in juniper branches with pickles and toast. The toast was served with seasame aioli on top. The five mussels in a pot on the juniper were accompanied by a small set of wooden tongs. The pickles and toast were on a separate plate. I plucked the meat from the mollusk and placed it on the toast with a few pickles.

With a hint of citrus and lemon, the mussel toast went down beautifully. I love the bivalve and found the concoction tasty, if a bit adventurous. The juniper and pickle pairing was a little out of the ordinary, but that definitely put me in the mood for more of the same. I hoped it was a bit of foreshadowing for the rest of the meal to come.

Warm Crab with egg yolk and carrots was the second course for both of us. With a little pile of both the crab and carrots, the dish was mostly covered in what the person delivering the dish called soft-serve egg. The frothy yolk, shaved carrot, and lumps of crab sat in a salty broth pool and presented a pleasant combination of ingredients. The crab was insanely fresh and sweet and the carrot added some solid texture.

After the crab was finished, it was on to main courses. I had ordered the Roasted Chicken with fennel and dandelion and she the Buttermilk Fried Skate with spinach and yogurt. My plate had a fair portion of shaved fennel and a small hill of dandelion. A light covering of herbs and greens sat on top. Her fish came encrusted in batter with a small bowl of greens and what appeared to be a yogurt-based sauce akin to tzatziki.

It didn’t take long for me to realize how beautifully prepared my chicken was. Two pieces of thigh meat were salty seasoned and had the crispiest skin imaginable. The flavor was excellent, the meat was tender, and the non-chicken parts threw in a nice compliment which always kept the focus on the fowl. Avoiding the bones in her dish which were like organ pipes laid down sided by side, I tried the fish which was mild even with the sauce. I enjoyed the delicate flavors and the crunchy outside.

As our final course, I went with New England cheeses with seasonal garnishes and she ordered the Warm Rhubarb and yogurt cake. I actually started with two bites of hers. I find rhubarb to be utterly delicious with just a hint of sweetness, but the rhubarb topping on the sponge cake didn’t even have a hint. It was all tart. Fortunately, I figured out that I was doing it wrong and grabbed a piece with some of the yogurt filling. That made a world of difference and turned the cake into a little bit of magic.

I moved to my cheeses which were accompanied by orange marmalade (with a small wooden serving spoon), pickled apples, and buckwheat crackers. The cheeses – one soft, one hard, and one blue – weren’t my personal favorites, but on the crackers and with some pickled apple and occassionally a dab of marm, they made pretty decent, little open-faced sandwiches. The apples were new to me, but added a mild, sweet tang to each bite.

In the end, our meal came to $102 before tip. Ordering the four courses was the perfect choice and saved us $21 off regular prices. I thought that to be a great deal and also liked that the service was very good, eveen though I hardly ever noticed our server was around. None of the dishes we had were particularly large, but after four each, we were plenty full and that was good reason to be happy as we left. But Elda definitely has a lot more than that going for it.

Elda has a truly inviting, comfortable atmosphere. The food and drink is crafted in a way that makes it more exciting than even most of what I’ve seen a few exits north on I-95 recently. And there’s certainly a touch – maybe more – of genius in the way its presented too. From the little wooden utensils and metal straw, to their incredible bread, they make an impression with every detail. Elda gave us a stunning meal that will bring me back, even if it’s out of the way. And I’ll be sending people to Biddeford now when they need a “good place to go eat”.

140 Main St, Biddeford
207-494-8365

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Italian restaurant comforts but the bill leaves me with questions

It had been a few years since I was last at JP’s Bistro. The busy Woodford St. neighborhood restaurant lives in my memory as having had an insanely long wait for food. I gave it a bit of a pass at that time however, since I assumed they were having an off night and because the waiter back then was relatively attentive during our time there, even while we were sitting hungry without anything to eat. I figured I should go back to give it another try and maybe update my thoughts.

This time, we made reservations for 4 o’clock on a Saturday – right when they opened – because it was all they had available. That was fine. We just wanted to grab some food and spend the night in after a long week. I was fairly certain that our early slot would enable us to avoid pretty much any wait at all that could arise as a result of them being really packed.

We got there and were seated promptly. I took a picture of the specials board – which is larger than the permanent menu – and sat down. It’s actually a necessity to take a pic, because unless you are seated with a view of it, there’s no good way to look at or remember it. I don’t have any problem that and I understand what they are doing, but maybe a print out might be helpful for some.

My wife ordered a drink first – Sables d’Azur Rose – and when that arrived, I requested a draught Hidden Cove Summer Ale. Once we had our libations, she ordered the Small Caesar Salad – homemade dressing served with romaine lettuce garlic croutons and shaved parmesan, sans anchovies. I asked questions about the specials which included items like Chicken Sorrentina, Pork Chop Theresa, and Haddock Casco Bay, eventually deciding to start with Short Rib Ravioli – four pan seared jumbo cheese ravioli topped with braised short rib jus and gorgonzola cheese.

Mrs. Portlandeater went with the main course of Parmesan Crusted Haddock – pan sauteed and served over a bed of sauteed spinach, grape tomatoes and garlic. I found a few of the specials to sound quite appetizing and decided on the Scallop Andrew – topped with crab and crumbs with mushrooms and tomatoes in a wine and butter sauce. We both chose garlic mash over rice pilaf and were told the meals also came with vegetable medly.

Since it wasn’t busy, our apps came out quickly as anticipated right as we finished eating complimentary bread with delicious garlic butter. My starter looked exactly in line with it’s description. If anything struck me about it, it was the generous portion of short rib and gorgonzola on top. Being a newcomer to the world of blue cheese, I was mildly concerned that it might be too much for me, but I was still ready to dig in and try it.

A sip of the jus was a little strong with the blue, but I moved to cut one of the ravioli in half and took that with the rib and cheese all together on my fork. I was impressed. The dual cheese and relatively thick short rib combined with the dough to create excellent textures and flavors. This was a hearty appetizer with plenty of meat and eating it all together was where the gorgonzola had the opportunity to shine. My wife noted that her salad was standard fare, though up to par.

Our remaining food also came out without delay. I liked the look of the meals – colorful with plenty on the plate. Though my scallops were difficult to see since they were covered in crumbs, it seemed like there were enough there. A bite of one on the edge of the plate confirmed a delicious, fresh offering if still a little hot on the mouth. The crumbs and sauce were tasty compliments to the tender scallop.

As I delved further into my plate, I was pleased with the combination of flavors. The mushrooms and tomatoes were dispersed in the perfect proportions, not overpowering the scallops and the crab was so good as a second seafood flavor. It was an item that had all the right ingredients to combine into an well put together dish. The potatoes and vegetables were sound sides.

I finished my food, though my wife couldn’t quite eat all of hers. We both were pleased with the meal and I only half seriously suggested ordering the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake. That cake, though it was exactly my style, would have put both of us over the edge of any reasonable fullness. We decided to call it an end to the meal and head out on our way.

Upon receipt of the bill, I noticed a “TW MW Surcharge” of 2% right below the tax line which brought the total to about $86 before tip. A quick search of the internet indicated that some restaurants in other cities – I couldn’t find anything about it in Portland – were using a surcharge by that name, but in varying amounts, to account for the increase in minimum wage.

The additional $1.56 charge was hardly a shock price-wise, but prices should be increased by raising the cost of items on the menu, maybe with a note about wage increases on the menu or reciept if it’s important to the restaurant to make that known. If they must absolutely increase the price with a separate surcharge, it should be clearly stated in some very visible location that all prices are 2% higher than the listed cost so the customer is aware prior to ordering.

Will most people care about a 2% surcharge? Maybe not, but I think surprising people with a cost different that what is clearly printed on the menu will bother some because it feels deceptive even if that is not the intention. JP’s Bistro serves excellent Italian comfort food including all the staples and a fair number of more unusual, but delicious options. However, I think they should reconsider how they charge. The prices are not out of bounds, but should be perfectly clear up front.

JP’s Bistro 496 Woodford St.
207-899-4224

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New burger bar not perfect but surpasses expectations

Black Cow opened recently in the location that was formerly home to Sonny`s. With the same owners and a completely different theme, they’ve gone from Latin flair to simple burgers and fries, housemade soda, shakes, and cocktails. We made time to pay them a visit for a Saturday lunch. While I didn’t prep for the affair by checking out their menu online, I had heard through the food grapevine that it wouldn’t be a great hangout for a vegetarian.

There was a cashier at the front and seats could be taken at any open table or the bar after ordering. While my wife parked, I took a look at the menu above the register and then peered at a paper menu which was easier to read and described the food in more detail. When she arrived, we hopped into the line and made our final choices.

I decided to stick with the basics for my first visit, ordering a Peanut Butter Shake and Cheeseburger Sandwich – beef patty, American cheese, iceberg, pickles, mustard, onion, c.t. mayonnaise (c.t. is caramelized tomato). Then I added a regular-sized Potato Fries and Pickles. Yes, they really do call the cheeseburger a cheeseburger sandwich and the fries potato fries. She ordered the Fried Chicken Sandwich – chicken patty, iceberg, onion, pickle, American cheese, honey mustard.

We sat at the bar where my wife requested a Citizen Cider and I sipped water. My shake came out before all else in a tall, slender glass. I was excited to try it, but felt a little disappointment at my first sip. It wasn’t terrible, but it sat half way between a vanilla shake and a peanut butter shake. I definitely needed more peanut butter flavor. Nonetheless, I steadily slurped it until the rest of the food arrived.

Our entire food order showed up on one tray just before I started wondering what was taking so long. As I began to divvy up the goods, I realized it all had to stay on that same tray which necessitated that I position it between us. It wasn’t a big deal, but since there weren’t any plates, it would have been better if we each had our own tray so we could each have had the food directly in front of us. Maybe next time I’ll think to ask for that.

My burger wasn’t exactly big, but at only 6 bucks, the price was right. I tried a bite and was quite impressed. I was immediately pleased with the quality of the meat. It was tasty and cooked to about medium – I assume that’s their regular. While everyone enjoys different toppings on their beef, I was quite happy with the standard offerings, particularly liking their take on mayo, which to me brought the whole concept together.

If I was pleased with the burger, I was super-pleased with the fries. Were they incredibly well seasoned or overly special in some way? No, but what they did right – which is both so easy and seems so impossible for almost everyone – is they cooked them long enough that they were all very crispy. That’s probably my most frequent food complaint and they absolutely nailed them like I hadn’t had in a while.

The house-made dill pickles were also quite tasty – thinly sliced and potent. There were a few on my burger, but it was nice to have a little cup of them to pick at throughout my meal. My wife didn’t have any complaints about her sandwich, mentioning that it was plenty delicious. We finished everything we had, even considering their dessert options – tin roof sundae and banana split – before deciding against it.

Lunch came to an easy $35 plus tax and tip, $14 of which were the shake and cider. Even though I really didn’t expect much from a burger joint, I think Black Cow is a winner. Their menu is no frills, but what they offer is very good (and they do have a grilled cheese for vegetarians). If you’re really hungry, get a second patty on your burger for an extra two bucks. I left not quite satiated, but next time I’ll know better than to go with a single.

Black Cow will be a Portland institution soon. They’re sure to make people happy by keeping things simple and smart. They also have online ordering available which I’ll be using in the near future when I just want to take a couple burgers home. They can definitely spruce up the peanut butter shake, but they hit the nail on the head with the fries and the burgers are solid. Cheeseburger, cheeseburger sandwhich…fries, potato fries…call them what you will, just make sure you try them soon. You’ll be happy you did.

Black Cow 83 Exchange St.
207-772-7774

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Easter brunch slightly off at excellent eatery

After leaving town for a short getaway from the snow, Mrs. Portlandeater and I returned to cold weather and decided to celebrate Easter with one last hoorah of caloric indulgence – brunch. We had noon reservations Five Fifty-Five. The restaurant, named after it’s location at 555 Congress St. is probably best known for its dinners which offer a number of noteworthy options including a Grilled Caesar and Truffled Lobster “Mac and Cheese”.

I’d never eaten brunch there, but based on my experience with their evening service, I expected more of the same high-quality experience. The menu had a nice mix of breakfast and lunch items, and though I was primarily interested in the former, I noted the latter to include options with lamb, fish, and fowl. I didn’t suspect a single breakfast plate would kill my by-that-point-in-the-day accumulated hunger, so I first did some searching for a small plate with which to start as she ordered a Coffee.

In my attempt to skip anything sweet like the Pastry Basket or Hot Cross Buns, my wife and I settled on sharing the Cheese plate – crostini, fruit compote, candied nut brittle, honey – choosing both the beemster x-o gouda and manchego as our cheeses. As her main course, she went for French Toast – Maine blueberries, cinnamon whipped cream, maple syrup – and I opted for the Sunday Morning Breakfast – cheddar and chive scramble, hard-wood smoked bacon, house made sausage, home-fries, toast.

Our cheese plate came on a board with the items indicated on the menu, the honey drizzled underneath. The compote was apricot which I though to be good because I’m a fan of the peach-like fruit. It seemed as though the plate might have been a little short on crostini based on the amount of cheese we had, but I figured I’d make the ten pieces work by adding more topping to each one.

The cheese was a strong chioce and I found the brittle particularly tasty because it wasn’t too sweet. It also had a slightly charred flavor which pleased the mouth. We consumed crostini after cheese-topped crostini until it was all gone and then waited for our main courses. Unfortunately, despite the restaurant being only moderately busy, that wait turned out to be pretty long.

It felt like an eternity, but it was actually about 30 minutes from when we finished our cheese until the time we received the rest of our food. My wife’s whipped cream was on the side as she had requested. My meal wasn’t notable in appearance other than the sausage which was about the circumference of a 50 cent piece and the thickness of my toast.

My first bites of scramble were quite good. I enjoyed the cheese and chive combo. I didn’t find the toast and home fries particularly noteworthy, but the potatoes did go well with the ketchup and hot sauce I had requested. The bacon and sausage were tasty, but the sausage was a little small which really became apparent once I cut into it and realized it might only have about four bites to it. I tried a bite of my wife’s French toast and liked the blueberry and cinnamon whipped cream additions to it.

We finished our food and paid the $44 tab. The meal was fine, but either the wait lowered my enthusiasm or I’m just too used to their dinner which I really love, because it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. However, the prices were relatively standard for the city, so to be fair, I did get what I paid for. The biggest issue was definitely the delay in receiving our food. That needs some work, especially considering the modest crowd when I was there. Maybe I’ll stick to dinner when I go back.

Five Fifty-Five 555 Congress St.
207-761-0555

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Pictures of what to expect on Tiqa’s new menu

I was invited to Tiqa for some complementary selections from their new menu. With new chef Gaetano Ascione at the helm of the Pan-Mediterranean restaurant, Tiqa plans only slight changes at first, eventually hoping to come up with a more permanant base menu and then focus on nightly and seasonal specials. These nightly specials are intended to keep the food exciting and interesting no matter how often you pay them a visit.

We started the night with a Prosecco followed by a couple hor d’oeuvres. First was Lamb and Beef Meatballs with za’atar. These were pretty much as you’d expect – tender, moist, and well seasoned. I love za’atar, with it’s well-placed, multifaceted flavors.

Next, we tried Salmon Mousse. Oddly, besides the fish flavor, this very much reminded me of creton (the French pork spread) due to its texture and seasoning. While not always my favorite fish, it was pretty good.

With a pour of red wine, we sat to get started on the meal. We were given a plate of “Surf and Turf” – carpaccio beef, sea urchin, garlic confit, herbed salt. While this took me well out of my ccomfort zone, the beef was ultra tender and the garlic confit incredibly tasty. They were best eaten with urcin and confit rolled into the circular beef and dragged through the salt.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup made with chickpeas was next. The flavor was mild and moderately salty and the texture slightly gelatinous.

The next piece of the meal was Three Beet Salad – ricotta salata, saffron peach, honey and cidar vinegar dressing. As a lover of beets, this one was excellent. Bites of golden, red, and chioggia were all included. The squares of ricotta were a stellar addition and the dressing was perfect.

After the beets was Ricotta Gnocchi with parmesean crust and simple tomato sauce. We started by using the back of our spoon to break the crust. I was blown away by the gnocchi which had perfect texture and great flavor and the parmesan crust was a decadent housing. Cheese is usually a winner. Crispy cheese is always a winner.

Our final savory course was Berkshire Pork Belly from Snake River Farm (Idaho) – rosted, then grilled and soaked in Maine maple syrup with onion marmalade with pinenuts, raisin, and pear. This was one of the best preparations of pork I’d had in a while – sweet and tender with tons of flavor. The onion marm was a true hit at the table with everyone commenting on its uniqueness.

Our dessert was “Caprese” – mozzarella (actually gelato), tomato (tomato marmalade), and basil (actually mint). It was a delicious finish and the marmalade was particularly stunning.

We finished the meal with pistachio and rose candies and a little chit chat. If the food we had is any indication – and it is, this incarnation of the menu looks to be a winner. Tiqa has consistently put out solid food since it opened, but a new menu and specials will keep it fresh and fun. Note that while these are the types of foods you can expect, some or all will be offered as variations of what was presented here.

Tiqa 327 Commercial St.
207-808-8840

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