Wednesday, October 10, 2012
More Portland eats
Columbus Day weekend wasn't the best time to enjoy the fall foliage in Southern Maine, and so I answered the usual batch of emails from would-be seasonal visitors by suggesting they hold off just a bit if they possibly could. Well, peak colors are looking like a good bet this coming weekend, and so that's when I'd start thinking about getting up here.
Urban by Maine standards, Portland isn't exactly a primo place to look at the changing leaves, but the surrounding areas sure are. My advice is to peep around the town's periphery but save the eating out for right here.
Last year I listed a bunch of the best places to eat in Portland. A couple are no longer open (the Porthole and District), but all the others still are. This time around there are three new places that weren't open last year, plus three others that I'd neglected to get around to.
You can't go wrong with a single one.
EVENTIDE OYSTER CO.
This is by far the coolest new place to open in town for quite a while. Eventide's oyster selection is the best you'll find in these parts. Not only is the quality top notch, but the shuckers know what they're doing. Every oyster I've had here was clean and cold, the way they're supposed to be. And there's plenty of other good stuff to be had. Definitely go for the lobster roll. It's served in a soft, Chinese-style steamed bun and it's fab. The roll comes with a choice of toppings, but I'd go with the brown butter here (not the Hollandaise). Chowders and stews are prepared to order, very tasty, and accompanied by these tiny biscuits that I could eat all day long. Eventide is not a seafood-only restaurant. They do some nice things with pork belly, for instance. This is a small place, with mostly barstool seating, and it can be a little hard to get into at dinner. Lunch is the safer play here, but a very nice lunch it will be.
You'd never guess by its name, but Local 188 is Spanish-influenced by way of Maine, thanks to the kitchen's locavore sourcing philosophy. Always bustling, even late at night, this colorful, friendly spot across from Longfellow Square is especially welcoming when the weather gets cooler. You can hang out and eat in a lot of different places at Local, all in one big room: there's a standard dining area, a hoppin' bar, a cocktail lounge with comfy couches and tables, and—my favorite—a counter in front of the completely open kitchen. Housemade charcuterie, paella, and the unusual specials are always a good bet here, and the wine list is interesting and reasonably priced.
A rustic Greek taverna this ain't. Emilitsa is one of Portland's most grownup dining rooms, in the sense of polished surroundings, elegant food, and attentive service. It's also a great place for quiet conversation, romantic or otherwise. The food at Emilitsa is refined but simple, in the traditional Greek manner, starring classics like marinated lamb chops, whole grilled dourade and a very nice version of moussaka (my fave). As for wine, don't let the Greek selections throw you. Sure, they're unfamiliar to most Americans, but the staff is accustomed to fielding questions and suggesting pairings.
With two locations in Portland—and two in the Boston area—Otto Pizza not only serves great pies but it's also open late (until 11 p.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends), a blessing in a town that can roll up the sidewalks dishearteningly early, especially in the winter. Whether you choose the hole-in-the-wall Arts District location or the atmospheric, tin-ceilinged tavern that houses the newer East End outpost, the pizza's the same: thin and crackling of crust and tasty of toppings. Strange as it sounds, the mashed potato, bacon and scallion pizza is amazing, but there's also a creditable Margherita and some two dozen other pies both classic and creative. No salads, no apps, but a good selection of beer and Italian wines served in sensible stemless tumblers keep hands and mouth occupied while you're waiting.
SCHULTE & HERR
It would be hard to find a friendlier or more likable place than Schulte & Herr. It's not much to look at—think clean, well-lit finished basement—but everything to love. The food is homemade down to the delicious rye bread, and the chef-owner has a deft, light touch with German food, which can be heavy in less skillful hands. Whether you come for brunch, lunch or dinner, do not fail to order the wonderful cured salmon with potato pancakes. Sauteed spaetzle is also amazing, comforting yet ethereally delicate, and there's an unusual and delicious gulasch made with local seafood. Being able to bring your own wine or beer is another plus. In fact, my party has even arrived with a shakerful of cocktails to enjoy while considering the menu.
The Speckled Ax is about as geeky a coffee place as you are ever apt to encounter. And I love it. The glass siphons standing on the bar make it look like they're making moonshine here, not coffee. And forget having your fix flow from a spout attached to a stainless steel cylinder: they make coffee to order here by pouring water over grinds in a paper cone filter. Not only that but your drink will be prepared for you by an earnest coffee lover who really gives a damn. The product they put out here is terrific, but the Ax is worth checking out simply for curiosity's sake.