First Look at Forage Market

I’ve been stalling on writing this post. It has nothing to do with the lovely, newly opened Forage Market in Portland, but more because I’m not ready to wade into the bagel fray. I’m not trying to publicly declare who makes the Best Bagel in Portland. Or Why Your Favorite Bagel is Inferior. 
You see, there are now as many bagel places in the Greater Portland area as there are opinions about bagels. There’s *takes a deep breath* Mr. Bagel, Scratch Baking Co., 158 Pickett Street, Union Bagel, The Purple House, Rover Bagel, Rose Foods, and now Forage Market. Prof. A. of Portland Food Map called 2017 the Year of the Bagel, and the bagel madness continues into 2018. 
I love most bagels in the Portland area. I have always loved bagels—I grew up eating frozen Lenders onion bagels in the suburbs, so you can form your own opinion about my authority on the subject. Lately I have very few qualms about eating a Scratch salt bagel smeared high with herb cream cheese for breakfast several times a week. While some are certainly better than others, I’ve yet to meet a bagel I didn’t enjoy. 
Forage bills itself as a market, but really it’s a bagel place. Broadturn Farm shares a small corner of the new space on Washington Ave. in Portland, so you can buy some fresh flowers with your bagel. But Forage’s menu is largely bagels. Some lunchtime sandwiches are available on baguettes. But we’re here for the bagels. 

The space is large and industrial, with high ceilings and large windows. A wood-fired oven faces the seating area, so you can watch bagels being fired while you enjoy your meal. This would be a large place to spend a morning working, although I don’t know about the existence of Wifi or not.

Because I like strong flavors, I got an everything bagel with a Kalamata olive cream cheese. This is one of the few places in Portland that services Kalamata olive cream cheese, which is my absolute favorite. (Some places serve olive cream cheese, but it features the inferior green olive.) 
The bagel itself is crunchy, thin, and airy, with big holes in the baked dough, in the Montreal style of bagels. But really the minute I saw the black olive cream cheese, I was won over. Forage Market’s bagels moved to the top of my personal leaderboard of bagels. 
Did I just say they’re the best bagels in Portland? You’ll have to stop in and see for yourself. 
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Crown Jewel, Great Diamond Island

There’s a new dining experience on Casco Bay’s islands: Crown Jewel on Great Diamond Island. Our visit two weeks ago was a great, casual island experience with some fantastic food. I love escaping to the islands, and Crown Jewel adds an exciting facet to Portland’s already dynamic food scene. 
I paid my first visit to Crown Jewel with my aunt, uncle, and husband on a beautiful night—under a sunny sky filled with clouds that created a beautiful sunset on our way back. We took the early-ish ferry (at 4:15pm), which gave us plenty of time to enjoy dinner without getting back too late. We walked around Diamond Cove a bit and saw the former military barracks turned summer residences. 
Crown Jewel is in a space that was formerly a small general store and has been rennovated to be a hip restaurant space, still with a little market in the back. I love the on-trend decor: lots of brass, palm leaves, rattan, and neon pink flamingos. I’m sure it will look dated soon, but hey, we’re here for a good time, not a long time, right? 
We started our meal off with Hemingway daiquiris ($12), a rum daiquiri with a bit of grapefruit juice. I was also tempted by the strawberry mezcal smash ($12) and the Crown Jewel rum punch ($13). My friend A., the owner of East End Cupcakes, is the manager at Crown Jewel and I was so thrilled to have her whipping up these delicious drinks for us. After our round of cocktails, we ordered a bottle of the Lambrusco ($36), a chilled, slightly sparkling red, to enjoy with our meal. 
The menu, like most these days, has a large selection of starters/small plates and salads and only a few entrees. There wasn’t much on the menu I didn’t want to order, and we knocked out a fair amount during this meal (I’ll hit the rest on my next visit!). 
We started with a half dozen of both raw ($18) and grilled ($19) oysters—the grilled ones topped with butter, yuzu pearls, and pickled mustard seeds. The oysters were lightly grilled and the toppings unobtrusive, so the oyster flavor still took center stage. 
Next up was the Fried Green Things ($8) a heaping bowl of fried Brussels sprouts, kale, and maybe also zucchini? The selection of vegetables may change, but it’s always served with apricot harissa and slivered almonds. I’ve yet to meet fried Brussels sprouts I didn’t enjoy. 
The summer lettuces salad ($12) might have been my favorite—a take on a Caesar, with fried white anchovies, fried lemon wheels, and crispy pieces of fried Parm. With a lemon-y dressing and lots of black pepper, this salad had tons of flavor. 
After salads, we each had a larger plate—I went with the gnocchi verde ($18). I am generally suspicious of gnocchi in restaurants (so much of it is bad), but I trusted the chef at Crown Jewel to make delicious ones. 
The soft, potato dumplings were covered in a pea puree, with asparagus, jicama, and Pecorino. A decidedly spring-y dish, but the perfect balance of comforting and light, even enjoyed in late August. 
A. had a fantastic hamburger ($14) with a soft Brioche bun and an impeccably flavored burger patty. 
We opted to skip an earlier ferry back to the mainland, giving us an additional hour to enjoy dessert and another slow walk back to the ferry. We were all pretty full by this point, but Alysia insisted we had to try the brown bread ($10), so we happily acquiesced. And it was incredible—warm and gooey, with crispy, bruleed edges. 
I knew Crown Jewel was right up my alley, so it’s no surprise that I absolutely loved everything about it. Its island location makes it feel like a special escape, even one that can happen on a weeknight. 
Don’t let the location or the weather stop you from enjoying one of Portland’s most unique dining experiences. Crown Jewel is open daily, except Tuesdays, for lunch and dinner until Columbus Day. 

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Dinner at Chebeague Island Inn

My husband and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary out on Chebeague Island this year with a stay at the Chebeague Island Inn. We were married on Peaks Island, so it seemed appropriate to spend the night on another island in Casco Bay a year later, fortunately with the same gorgeous weather we had on our wedding day. 
And while the meal and the stay were lovely, honestly, my favorite part was cozying up during a brief thundershower in the inn’s living room with a book and a cocktail. I enjoyed a Hardshore gin and tonic with Orphan Train, in an overstuffed armchair, and felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. Fortunately for you, the public is also welcome to order drinks from the bar and enjoy them on the covered, wrap-around porch of the inn. 
When it came time for dinner, I reluctantly tore myself away from my cozy chair and took my spot at a table on the screened-in porch. Since I last ate at the inn in 2015, the Prentice Group has taken over, meaning Chef Matt Ginn of EVO oversees the kitchen now. I was looking forward to the traditional menu of the inn now updated with some modern touches. 
We started our meal off with some housemade biscuits and a bowl of steamed Bangs Island mussels ($17). The mussels were big and in a bowl of spicy, garlicky broth with bits of chorizo. The last time I’d had the mussels here, they were smoked and not served in a broth, so we loved the change to the more classic preparation. 
A. ordered the pan-seared chicken breast with potato salad, cippolini onions, and a blueberry glaze ($27). I had a small bite and found the chicken was perfectly cooked, with a nice sweetness from the blueberry sauce. The sauce erred on the side of savory, which I appreciated. 
The squash rollatini with hazelnut, grain salad, and burrata ($28) called to me, but I went with the scallops, served with pistachio, shishito peppers, and cucumber. The scallops were seared just right—crispy on the outside and rare inside. But the dish never came together in a coherent way. The peppers, cucumber, and hazelnut sauce all seemed like separate ingredients that didn’t really go together. I really enjoyed the shape of the little scoops of cucumber though. 
Our meal with two glasses of wine came to $108 before tip. Since we were staying at the inn, we signed the meal to our room and decided to take the inn’s bikes to the Slow Bell Café for ice cream. Just like anytime on the island, it felt like we’d escaped on vacation in this idyllic place. 
The Chebeague Island Inn is accessible by the Casco Bay Lines from Portland. There is no car ferry, so call to arrange a ride from the ferry dock to the inn (about 3 miles). Otherwise, drive to Yarmouth to take the Chebeague Transportation Company‘s ferry and you can walk to the inn from the ferry dock. 
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Maine Food for Thought Tour

I previewed the recently launched Maine Food for Thought tour last week and had a great time checking out the new tour, while enjoying some small plates from 6 of the best restaurants in Portland.  
The tours are the work of Sarah and Bryce Hach, a husband and wife team that moved to Maine 5 years ago. That’s them in the photo above—Bryce is one of the tour guides, while Sarah does more of the behind the scenes work. 
The tour started at Union, where we heard an introduction from Bryce and then from chef Josh Berry. Maine Food for Thought features businesses that, according to Bryce, “go beyond their bottom line to source locally and sustainably.” Union’s menu is shaped by local produce availability, with the menu often being determined by what’s available at the farmers’ market. 
Union’s seafood chowder (for the MFfT tour, not available on the regular menu) featured fish and clams from Harbor Fish Market and local potatoes. Coconut milk and kaffir lime gave it a tom kah gai-vibe, and it was a delicious start to our tour. 
Next we headed down Exchange Street to Fore, bound for Evo. I have raved about Evo before—I think it’s one of the more underrated restaurants in Portland. At this stop, we heard about the two Maines, the urban and rural divide and about the crops in the rural part of the state, potatoes and blueberries, and they dynamics of these industries. We snacked on turmeric potatoes with yogurt, peppers, and cilantro, again, much of it sourced locally when in season. 
The third stop was Solo Italiano, a restaurant at which I haven’t had dinner yet. The chef there, Paolo Laboa, is famous for his world championship wining pesto, so we enjoyed some housemade pasta with it. 
The basil is sourced from Oliva’s Garden, a hydroponic growing outfit in New Gloucester, and we learned about the immigrants and young farmers that are a growing part of Maine’s agricultural industry. 
At this point, I was getting a little full, having vowed not to finish any of the dishes, but completely disregarding that when faced with a plate of delicious pesto pasta. 
We headed down Commercial Street to Scales, full of activity as the staff performed its weekly deep clean of the live seafood tanks that separate the kitchen and the restaurant. Chef Fred Eliot took a break to welcome us, and to tell us about their mussels, from Bangs Island Mussels, steamed with butter, garlic, cream, mustard, and dill, then served with bread from Standard Baking Co. 
While we pried apart shells and dipped our bread, Bryce told us about the state of seafood in the Gulf of Maine and efforts around sustainability and aquaculture. 
After our cozy snack at Scales, we headed up to East Ender for their lobster melt. Here, we learned about the lobster industry, its telling indicative of the approach of the Maine Food for Thought tour. Rather than repeat the same tired story about prisoners petitioning to not be fed lobster anymore, Bryce delved into the impacts climate change and the pressures of overfishing on our local ecosystem. 
From immigrant workers in the time of Trump to poverty and food insecurity, Bryce didn’t present a storybook version of Maine, but represented the real challenges within our food system. 
Our last stop took us to Piccolo for dessert. Chef and owner Ilma Lopez is known for her amazing desserts, as well as her charity work with anti-childhood hunger organization Full Plates Full Potential. 

We loved her poached rhubarb, lemon curd trifle, and at this point I was pleasantly full. The tour had been nicely spaced between stops and no portion too big or small. 
I appreciated Maine Food for Thought‘s overview to Maine’s food system—more nuanced than just lobster, potatoes, blueberries, and great restaurants. This tour would be great for visitors or for locals with out-of-town guests. Tours are $72 per person and offered Tuesday through Saturday at 11am-2pm. 
I participated in Maine Food for Thought tour free of charge. The words and opinions expressed in this post are my own. 
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First Look at Eaux Portland

Former food cart Eaux opened its brick and mortar last night, and I was particularly excited about this move. I’d always wanted to try the Cajun-themed cart, but never managed to catch it (I guess my days of hanging for hours at breweries have waned). 
So I walked down to the Old Port last night, a particularly nice night, to have dinner at Eaux, now operating in the former home of Crooners and Cocktails on upper Exchange Street. 
Eaux’s decor is pretty minimalist, something I figure they’ll embellish as they go, but the space is nice with big windows and a pressed tin ceiling. The tables in the back get a little dark, but it could be seen as cozy. 
There’s no host stand, but we were greeted immediately by a waitress, one of two, who ended up being our server. We sat ourselves at a two top and she dropped menus quickly. I ordered a daiquiri from the cocktail list—filled with New Orleans classics like Sazerac and Hurricane. 
A. ordered a Goodfire draft beer from a list exclusively filled with local beers, representing the breweries that hosted the food cart, from Industrial Way to the East Bayside breweries. 
The food menu offers 6 starters and 6 entrees, and I knew from social media posts that I was having the chicken and waffles. So I ordered a few plates of vegetable snacks to round out the meal. 
I didn’t know what to expect with the chilled Brussels sprouts ($8), a salad of halved Brussels, mustard greens, cider vinegar, and sassafras. At first I thought it was strange, but then found it oddly compelling. It was tangy, creamy, and crunchy… but you’ve got to like Brussel sprouts to enjoy them in this preparation versus the oh-so-popular fried version.
The crispy yams ($6) also impressed, indeed crispy and chewy, served with a sweet roasted onion puree and a horseradish cream sauce. Boiled peanuts, a farro salad with shrimp and rhubarb, and fried butter beans are other snacks well representing the Southern genre. 
After a pleasant break—not too short, just long enough for me to wonder if there was starting to be an issue—our entrees arrived (I don’t think there was an issue, I think we’ve all just become accustomed to having all our food arriving all at once.) A. enjoyed his gumbo with shrimp and hake, spicy and served over rice. 
I loved my chicken and waffles ($14), with spicy pickled peppers, apple slices, and fried sage leaves. The most striking part was how much flavor the fried chicken had—the breading was pleasantly salty and the chicken was very tender. 

Eaux is a welcome addition to Old Port dining options, and I’m impressed how easily the chef and staff transitioned from a one-man outdoor show to running a full restaurant. Stop into Eaux for a taste of the South, bringing something different to Portland.

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Food Round-Up: Mami, Local 188, The Treehouse

It’s been quiet around these parts—I haven’t been eating out much and haven’t even had a recent restaurant opening to bring you! But there’s still a few tidbits to share, so here’s what I’ve been up to lately in food.
Weekday Lunch at Mami
okonomiyake with pickled ginger
I always think of Mami on Fore Street as a lunch spot. Maybe it’s due to its origins as a food truck, but since I don’t work in Portland, I don’t go out to for lunch often. But when I was passing through town after a program, I stopped in and grabbed A. from East End Cupcakes and we checked Mami out. 
steamed pork buns and okonomiyake with chopsticks
She had a salmon poké bowl ($13) (but Big Fin Poké still has our hearts) and I had pork buns ($5) and okonomiyake ($12). Both dishes were rich and contained mayonnaise—I should have skipped the savory pancake and ordered some shishito peppers. But I loved Mami’s counter service, making it a quick option for lunch or a great happy hour where you won’t have to wait for a beer refill. 
salmon poke bowl with fish roe, avocado, seaweed and cucumbers
Brunch at Local 188
Original Roomie A. and I went to the farmers’ market bright and early on a Saturday for some plants, then found ourselves considering “brunch” (meaning we wanted a sit-down experience) options at the decidedly non-brunch hour of 9am. We thought of Local 188 and it was a stroke of genius. 
scrambled eggs with herbs and mushrooms, home fries, and english muffins
We had the place to ourselves, our bartender was so friendly and attentive, and the food came out quickly and was perfect. I’ve experienced some lackluster brunches at Local, probably due to the fact that they were slammed, and so going early was a fantastic experience. A. and I both had the scramble ($11), which that day was with mushrooms, herbs, and goat cheese. We shared a fruit plate ($6), and I really felt like I’d reached peak adulting. 
fruit plate of apples, grapes, berries, oranges, and mango
Dinner at The Treehouse
For a dinner out with friends to celebrate their engagement, we went to The Treehouse, formerly Pat’s Café, on Stevens Ave. I’d never been before, so I don’t know the history of the place… but they certainly ran with the treehouse motif! It’s on the second floor of Pat’s Meat Market and is decorated with fairy lights, flowers, and I guess tree branches. It’s partitioned off into cozy little spaces and I loved it. I look forward to going back to sit on the outdoor deck in the treetops. 
restaurant interior with twinkle lights and flower, leaf decorations
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The menu featured a lot of repeating elements, like phyllo dough and dishes served “over fettuccine.” I had the gulf shrimp saffron sauté ($30) with mussels, bacon, red peppers, tomatoes, shallots, and a saffron cream sauce. There was also half a zucchini—surprise! It was a good meal at a cozy spot, but its prices mean I’ll probably stick to drinks and apps when I visit again. 
pasta with zucchini, cheese, mussels, and peppers
Charity Dinner at Oxbow
Finally, I attended a Full Plates, Full Potential benefit dinner at Oxbow, where Rob Evans of Duckfat and his crew cooked. The Duckfat/Oxbow bee
rgarden
 is nearly ready which allows Evans to cater special events at Oxbow like this one. 
table set with plates, menus, candles, and plant decorations
We enjoyed a three course spring-themed dinner, from scrambled duck eggs eaten out of the shell to a spring-dug parsnip soup topped with burnt marshmallow. The entree was a collection of poultry, from duck meatballs to turkey boudin, prepared on the grill, served with farrow and roasted carrots, and dessert was a sabayon with poached rhubarb and citrus olive oil. 
bowl of parsnip soup with toast on the side

Your next chance to enjoy a Rob Evans prepared feast is June 21st with a VIP night at Oxbow before the Lettuce benefit concert.

And we are due for a flurry of summer openings, so stay tuned for some previews!

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BBF Travels: NOLA Eats

I ended up being a Spring Breaker this year—taking advantage of a week off from my grad school course to vacation in New Orleans for a long weekend. Between Spring Break and St. Paddy’s Day, it ended up being quite the festive time in The Big Easy, although from what I understand, the city’s residents find something to celebrate every weekend. 
While there were parades, music, and cemeteries to check out, you know I was scouting out the food options. And despite only being in town for three full days, we managed to enjoy a little bit of all the NOLA classics, from the old school institutions to James Beard foodie spots. 
We stayed in an Airbnb in the Central City neighborhood, a few blocks north of St. Charles Street. I’d recommend the area, as it was centrally located and close to the streetcar line that runs the length of St. Charles. We loved our shotgun house with its porches and architectural character. Plus, I love staying in a neighborhood, especially one that regularly hosts a second line. 
From snowballs and beignets to muffalettas and po’boys, we ate most of the classic New Orleans foods. Hansen’s makes the best snowballs and I was delighted to visit another area that celebrates this unique style of shaved iced. Baltimore and New Orleans are the two places in the country that serve snowballs, and despite not having my favorite flavor egg custard, Hansen’s made me happy. 
We sat outside under an old tree and dug into big platters of crawfish, sausage, potatoes, and corn at Bevi Seafood Co. And of course we had delicious, powdered sugar-dusted beignets at Cafe Du Monde (and maaaaybe definitely inadvertently cut the long line for a table). 
We had lunch at Cochon Butcher, which was perfect for our group with a menu that pleased everyone, local beer on tap, and lots of Star Wars ephemera to entertain my nephew. The muffaletta was killer, even though I was too full from beignets to eat more than a quarter of it. 
Po’boys at Domilise’s were recommended as the best, so we stopped in before hitting up Hansen’s nearby. Protip: if it’s too busy inside with a wait to order, snag a number and wait outside for yours to be called. I went with fried shrimp, my faves. 
Our one foodie dinner was at Shaya, modern Israeli cuisine. We went early to snag a seat before the dinner reservations filled up the restaurant and scored a table on the patio (more like a courtyard). 
My favorite dish was the hummus with lamb ragu and crispy chickpeas. It might not look like much, but between the soft, warm pillowy pita and the crispy chickpeas, it was outstanding. 
The fried halloumi over strawberries (it was strawberry season) and roasted cabbage with harissa and tahini were both amazing too. I wish I had the ability to eat through the menu, as there were so many other tempting things on the menu. 

After dinner, we walked through Audubon Park as the sun set. Then we were off to hear live music on Frenchman Street. A wonderful last evening in New Orleans, and I already can’t wait to go back.

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