Friday, October 24, 2014

Lunch in Portland, Maine

Ceci alla Sicilia from Slab

As I continue to eat and think like a hobbit this week, I feel it's only fitting to mention that it is on this very day, October the 24th, that Frodo Baggins wakes in Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings.  The following day he will volunteer to carry the ring to Mordor.  We all know what that means: he'll need a good lunch.

In many ways, this lunch post is the hardest one to write.  There is such an endless supply of great lunch places in Portland that narrowing my list is a challenge.  I'll do my best.

Heavenly sandwiches and homemade pickles from Small Axe

  1. Micucci Grocery  The home of the Sicilian Slab.  (Note to locals: I know about all the controversy, and yes, I do like Slab, too--see below--but I still really love the Slab pizza at Micucci's best.  It's got more cheese and it's got more sauce.  We did a taste test comparison side by side with Micucci's and Slab last weekend, and everyone agreed that Micucci's won hands down.)  This is the Italian market in town, and their baked goods, cheeses, and olive oils simply can't be beat.   
  2. Nosh Kitchen Bar  This place is located on Congress Street in the heart of the downtown Arts District.  They have my favorite French fries in Portland, which is saying a lot.  They're cripy, flavorful, plentiful, and they come with your choice of toppings and sauces.  I love the vinegar and sea salt with some Tabasco honey mayo or some chipotle mayo on the side.  I also adore their falafel on soft naan.  For burger lovers, this is pretty much paradise.  I love hanging out at the bar at Nosh any time of day or night, but it's definitely a great place to go for a noisy, bustling, fun lunch.
  3. El Corazon Food Truck  Mr. Magpie's favorite lunch in Portland is the Sonoran hot dog from this food truck.  It's a bacon-wrapped dog with pinto beans, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, mustard, guacamole, and aioli all on a soft roll.  Sounds weird, but it is an incredibly popular item, and the food Mr. M craves above all others.  I crave their potato and cheese taquitos and their homemade agua fresca.  Most weekdays they can be found set up for lunch on Spring and Temple Streets.  Yum.
  4. The Local Press  I feel incredibly lucky that this tiny lunch spot is in my neighborhood!  The owner, Casey, is just about the nicest guy you could ever meet, and he is passionate about making great food with quality, local ingredients.  The menu board at this popular lunch spot has a wonderful variety of panini and cold sandwiches, and they'll let you customize them to suit your preferences and dietary needs.  Plus, their house soup, the "Rundown," a spicy, vegetarian Caribbean chowder made with coconut milk, curry, and root vegetables, will warm you up on even the coldest day.  This is a gem of a place.
  5. Duckfat  This place is famous.  They've been written up and featured everywhere, so I don't really need to mention them, but I will, because they make great food.  The handcut Belgian fries are, of course, cooked in duck fat.  The sandwiches, salads, and soups (hello, cream of tomato fennel) are creative and delicious.  The handcrafted sodas and homemade donut holes--don't get me started.  Duckfat is famous for a reason.  Go there now that there's not so many tourists around.  It's got a great neighborhood vibe, and you will adore the food.     
  6. Olive Cafe  I've been loving this little cafe for five years.  Most people don't really know about it, but they should.  The food is Lebanese, and it's fresh, and it's comforting.  I get the falafel or the fish tacos, and I always get the sweet potato fries.  They are cooked until quite dark and cripsy, then they are topped with spices and honey.  Incredible flavor.  This place is small and charming, and the service is wonderful.  
  7. Pai Men Miyake  Beautiful housemade sushi and noodle bowls.  Everything at Pai Men is gorgeous to look at, and even more gorgeous to taste.  I love the brussel sprouts dish, and my last visit there I had ramen noodles with vegetables and a raw egg yolk from the Miyake farm.  The egg yolk made the spicy noodle dish creamy and rich, but not overpowering.  This place is very busy at lunch, and it's the perfect place to go to get a sense of what has made Portland such a food destination.
  8. Slab  For folks from away, Slab is a new restaurant that was formed by the former baker at Micucci Grocery.  He joined forces with the owner of Nosh to open this place in the former Portland Public Market.  The space, both indoors and out, at Slab is wonderful, and the Sicilian street food is really good.  As I mentioned above, the Sicilian Slab hand pie is not as cheesy or saucy as the one at Micucci's, but there is so much else to love here.  For me, the best item on the menu is the Ceci alla Siciliana, a humus made with cecis beans, blood orange juice, red onions, and parsley.  They serve wedges of the delectable luna bread with it, and for 5 bucks, it's one of the best lunch deals in town.
  9. Kamasouptra  My favorite place to get a quick bowl of soup.  They have a large variety, and it comes with a large, homemade wheat roll (or a gf roll).  My favorite soup at Kamasouptra is actually a combo of two flavors.  I order half loaded potato and half beer & cheddar.  The mix is creamy, spicy comfort food at its best.
  10. Rosemont Market  We shop at this local market and bakery several times a week.  They have a few different locations, including the original one in our neighborhood.  This is the place to go for local produce, local meats (including lots of their own homemade sausages and smoked meats), wonderful cheeses and wines, and loads of great pantry staples.  It's also the place to get a delicious sandwich made fresh daily on their own breads.  Or sushi from Miyake.  Or a slice of pizza.  Or the fixings to make your own lunch at home.  And, you can get a chocolate-stout cupcake for dessert, which alone would make this wonderful store well worth the visit!  
  11. Small Axe Food Truck  Last but not least, this little food truck packs a serious punch.  You can find them most days at Congress Square Park right across from the Portland Museum of Art.  Go there for sandwiches, but what you will find is so much more, including homemade kimchee, pickles, and creative combinations that make this food truck yet another addictively good lunch spot. 
Stay tuned for afternoon tea.  I still have so many delicious surprises in store for you.  If only the inter-webs had smell-o-vision!  xo Gigi

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Continuing on with our list of favorite foodie haunts in Portland, Maine, we're up to what might be my favorite of the favorites: Elevensies.

Who doesn't love this scene from the Lord of the Rings trilogy?  And who among us doesn't love the idea of Elevensies?  In the prologue of Tolkein's book, the total number of meals is six: 

“And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them).”

Bless Peter Jackson for taking the idea just a wee bit farther in his adaptation.  If you love the idea of a hobbit's meal schedule, you might be interested in this print from Stuart Thursby, available at society6

And if, like me, tend to think like a hobbit about food and drink, then you are in luck when you visit Portland.  

  1. Tandem Bakery Okay, I know I listed a bunch of yummy pastry places yesterday for Second Breakfast, but I saved Tandem Bakery for Elevensies.  That's how much I adore it.  It's in an old gas station/laundromat on Congress Street (the coffee shop and roastery are located in another spot in uber-hip East Bayside) with big plate-glass windows for people watching and cheery sunshine.  The baked goods are astounding.  Poppyseed cake with grapefruit glaze, chocolate chip cookies topped with sea salt, pistachio pound cake, scones filled with creative ingredients, and so much more.  If you go, wear your best plaid shirt and, gentlemen, wax your mustaches.  It's super hipster, but also super delicious.
  2. Black Cat Coffee This is our neighborhood coffee shop right in the heart of Deering Center.  It's full of comfy furniture and friendly people, plus they serve Matt's wood roasted coffee, and a wide variety of the best baked goods in town (even Holy Donuts).  It's just what you want a neighborhood cafe to be.  
  3. Maine Squeeze Smoothie & Juice Cafe This juice bar has two locations, one in the heart of the touristy Old Port and one upstairs in the Portland Public Market House.  I love the bustle of the Market House, so that's the one I visit when I'm craving a juice or a smoothie to go.  I usually get one of their chocolate-nut-banana concoctions, and then I don't need another thing until dinner.  Yum.    
  4. Aurora Provisions If you're in the elegant West End and you want a quick, delicious lunch or a snack, this is where to head.  I'm listing it for Elevensies, because they have great beverages at this lunch bar/deli/gourmet food shop, plus they make my favorite gluten-free snack in town: the peanut butter & chocolate gf cookie, which tastes like the most delicious peanut butter kiss you've ever had.  It's a beautiful shop full of gourmet treats, and once you've finished Elevensies, you can just stay on and enjoy lunch!  
  5. Coffee By Design A Portland institution.  They were here before almost all the other foodie/roaster/micro-brewer hipsters had ever even heard of Portland.  They have loads of locations around town, but when Mr. Magpie and I have serious work to get done, we pack up our laptops and power cords and head to their newest location: the Diamond Street Coffee Bar and Roastery in East Bayside (the most up-and-coming hipster neighborhood in town).  It's hardly ever overly crowded, there's loads of room at their tables or bar to work, and the people are great.  I love that they carry not only their own fabulous coffee, but also delicious blends of local Homegrown Tea.  
  6. Bard Coffee These are serious coffee people, which they have to be in order to compete in a city  like Portland, but they are also incredibly nice, and this is a definite daytime hot spot in Portland's famous Old Port.  I almost always see someone I know here, so while it's not the place for me to get serious work done, it is the place to get a delicious iced soy latte and chat with a friend or two.  If you want to see and be seen, Bard is the place to go.  I often really enjoy the eclectic mix of music they've got playing as well, which adds to the fun.  Oh, and they make a wonderful chai latte.  I usually find chai too sweet and cloying, but theirs is just right.

I'm keeping this list short.  I could go on.  Seriously, it's hard to stop, but I need to save a few special places for Afternoon Tea, my friends!  Check back in tomorrow for the Magpie's favorite lunch spots in Portland.  Oh, Lord, I have no idea how I'll do it, I really don't!  Too many wondrous choices.

Thank you notes made all the sweeter with pistachio pound cake at Tandem Bakery

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Second Breakfast

Opening Day Offerings at Ten Ten Pie

As I mentioned in my last post, I am thinking (and eating) like a hobbit this month in order to bring you lists of what I think are some of the best food establishments in Portland, Maine. Monday's post was all about big, hearty sit-down breakfasts and brunches of the sort that put one into a food coma for at least a few hours after eating.  Today we'll cover that most marvelous of hobbit meals: Second Breakfast.  Do I normally eat two breakfasts in a day?  No, but I'd like to, and that is all that really matters.  For this category, I'm including slightly smaller, eat-on-the-go breakfasts of the kind to grab before work on a weekday morning or before flea marketing on the weekend . . . or as a late morning snack any day.  This list isn't exhaustive, but it is pretty darn amazing.  You'll also notice that a couple of choices are in South Portland.  If this is cheating, you'll be glad I'm a cheater.

  1. Ten Ten Pie  This place has only been open since the summer, but it won my heart on the very first day its doors were opened.  Think perfectly executed European pastries with an Asian twist.  I'm talking twice-baked matcha green tea and almond croissants, spiced pumpkin bread pudding with maple syrup, and savory pies stuffed with kale, feta, and caramelized leeks.  Come here for pastries, pick up a few groceries (it's also a corner store), and buy extra goodies to take home--like maybe the homemade canneles or the Chinese sausage tarts.
  2. Oh No Cafe  My favorite breakfast sandwiches in town.  I don't eat meat, so I tend to just get eggs and cheese on a croissant, but I also love the cream cheese, spinach, tomato, cucumber, red onion & Sriracha on bialy.  Mr. Magpie likes the maple glazed prosciutto, tabasco, Vermont cheddar & egg on a bagel.  Not a fancy place.  Very plain and simple decor, but who cares?  Grab your delicious sandwich to go.  Their eggs are fried to achieve a soft center with crispy edges--lots of salt and pepper, and top-quality ingredients.  This is a West End institution.
  3. Standard Baking Company  Located on Commercial Street in the heart of the Old Port, Standard becomes outrageously crowded with tourists in the summer, who come to take photos of the glorious baked goods for their Instagram accounts as much as they do to actually buy bread.  We wait all summer for the crowds to thin so that we can have our beloved bakery back.  I love every single thing I've ever had from here.  At breakfast, I usually have a blueberry-oat scone when I want something a little bit sweet and a fougasse when I'm craving something savory.  And I buy a bag of the chocolate sables for later--the best chocolate cookies in the city.  That's saying a lot.
  4. Big Sky Bread Company  I am blessed to have this incredible bakery in my neighborhood.  They make several varieties of bread every single day, plus my favorite granola, plus truly lovely sunflower-seed bagels, plus whole-wheat cheese squares stuffed with berries and fruit.  I recommend the blackberry cheese squares.  If you want to buy a loaf of bread to make your own breakfast at home, their cinnamon bread is lofty and packed with cinnamony, buttery deliciousness.  Mr. Magpie can't get enough of the English muffin loaf for toasting, and we both love their oat bread for sandwiches.  The old firehouse it's in makes for a great spot to hang out and people watch.  If you have kids, they've got a children's corner with real bread "play-dough" for kids to knead and shape.  
  5. Holy Donut  Yes, I know I had Holy Donut on the last list, but you'll need to go there more than once, so this time I can recommend the cinnamon & sugar and the lemon glazed.  Amen.  
  6. 158 Pickett Street  This is the spot for bagels.  It's in South Portland; it's funky and cute; the people are the nicest; and they've got a sweet little garden out back to sit in while munching.  Or, grab your bagel (mine's topped with pimento cheese, thank you very much) to go and head for Portland Head Light.  Perfect Maine breakfast.
  7. Scratch Baking Company  Also in South Portland, also incredibly good bagels, plus loads and loads of other pastries and breads to choose from.  Very high quality baked goods and the selection changes often.  They also make a killer granola.  
  8. Little BIGS Hand pies and donuts and cakes, oh my!  Another South Portland hot spot.  Good things really do come in small packages.  Go there.  Have a hand pie for breakfast and then split a donut with someone you love for dessert (or have a whole one all to yourself for Elevensies). 
Loaves Cooling at Big Sky Bread Company

Monday, October 20, 2014

Breakfast in Portland, Maine

I want to thank everyone for all the lovely notes and emails about last week's Autumn Gatherings post.  I have more posts like it in the works, which I'll be sharing in November.  Lots has been going on behind the scenes at The Magpie's Fancy, so November will be a fun month around here.  And I haven't forgotten the Rome garden post.  Mr. Magpie and I are collaborating on that one.  We'll share it as Halloween approaches (she said mysteriously).

In the meantime, I promised some posts about the food scene here in Portland.  What better way to share links to the places I love than to think like a hobbit?  Today's post will be all about my favorite meal: Breakfast.  The next Portland food post will cover my second-favorite meal: Second Breakfast.  And then we'll move on to Elevensies, and so on.  I promise that none will disappoint.

What anyone visiting Portland, Maine, needs to know is that this little city packs a serious culinary punch.  I am only one of dozens of bloggers who are writing about it, and I don't pretend to know every single restaurant in the city.  That would be impossible.  To give you some context: Portland is a small town.  In 2013, its population was 66,318.  It may be small, but it's Maine's largest city, so it actually feels like a much more cosmopolitan place than its wee population would suggest.  And the number of restaurants per capita is, well, staggering.  Trip Advisor currently has ratings for 531 restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops in Portland, while Yelp lists 631.  If we go with the Yelp count, that's one food establishment for every 105 people!  No one I know who lives here can keep up . . . but that doesn't stop us from trying!

So, you see, I am going with the hobbit-y categorization of meals out of necessity.  This will give me room to list more of the wonderful food joints I love, beginning with the most important meal of the day.  For this first Breakfast post, I'll list some of my favorite places to find a big, leisurely brunch.  I'll reserve weekday breakfasts and breakfasts-on-the-go for the Second Breakfasts post.

  1. Artemisia  This is where I go when I'm craving a pretty setting and extremely fresh, creatively prepared food.  While the lunch and dinner at Artemisia are fabulous, too, this is my number one go-to spot for brunch.  What do I order?  Usually one of three dishes: the California omelet, huevos rancheros, or the eggs Florentine, a dish which comes on a homemade herb biscuit.  Located on Pleasant Street, just outside of the Old Port, Artemisia is a place most tourists never find, so we treasure it during the half of the year when our city is inundated with cruse ships and other visitors from away. 
  2. The Front Room  If you want the epitome of a local, neighborhood bistro, look no further.  When we lived in the East End, this was our Saturday morning home.  And now that we live off the peninsula, the Front Room is still one of our favorites.  Go early or be prepared for a wait (I could say this about every good breakfast place in the city), but the wait is worth it.  My favorite brunch dish here is the veggie gnocchi, with house-made gnocchi, spinach, grape tomatoes, two poached eggs, and hollandaise.  It's not light, though, so I often go for the granola and yogurt.  They bake all their own breads, and the ever-changing grilled breakfast breads make a great side--or a breakfast in their own right with some fruit.  The best thing about the Front Room is that they serve brunch every single day of the week, starting at 8 am.  Hallelujah.
  3. Hot Suppa  It doesn't get any more bustling than Hot Suppa on a Sunday morning.  This is the spot to cure whatever ails you, from a nasty hangover to a broken heart.  Order one of their killer-hot Bloody Marys, and soon all will be right with the world.  Most things at Hot Suppa have a bit of a Cajun twist.  I love their waffles and their crispy hash browns . . . oh, and their grits!  I also adore their oats, their 7-grain porridge, and their fruit plate with organic maple yogurt.  Mr. Magpie often orders the corned beef hash.  My favorite brunch beverage at HS is the Maine Maple Latte.  
  4. Caiola's  What the Front Room is to the East End Caiola's is to the West End: the kind of neighborhood brunch spot you want to call your very own.  Like most of the places on this list, it also serves fabulous dinners, but why not go for a long morning walk through the gorgeous Victorians of the West End and then treat yourself to pancakes at Caiola's?  Or an oyster po' boy?  Or smoked salmon croque monsieur with a beet and field greens salad?  This is comfort food with an elegant twist, and the perfect restaurant to go on a brunch date.
  5. Bayou Kitchen  This place has been one of our favorites for longer than I can remember.  It's the only one on this list that's located off the peninsula.  We loved it before we lived in the neighborhood, and now that it's close by, we love it even more for its Cajun-inspired breakfasts, incredibly friendly people, and its funky vibe.  Mr. Magpie gets the hash (he likes things besides hash, I promise) and I often get the gator eggs (scrambled eggs with fixin's--for me that's spinach and feta).  And this time of year they've got pumpkin cornbread, which is a happy thing, indeed.  If you like pancakes, this is a great spot for them.  If you're craving crawfish and jambalaya, you'll be in heaven.
  6. Marcy's Diner  Old school downtown diner.  This is a cash-only kind of place--the place your dad brought you on a Saturday morning for a muffin and a hot chocolate back in the day.  The wait is long . . . for a reason.  Very reasonable prices and good, solid food.  The raspberry muffin is huge and sweet and loaded with crumb topping.  You know you want one.  Be sure to get it grilled.  This place will fill you with nostalgia of the very best kind.
  7. The Holy Donut  Okay, okay, I know Holy Donut is a donut shop and not exactly a brunch joint, but in the immortal words of Icona Pop, "I don't care.  I love it."  Their donuts are made with Maine potatoes, and yes, the do have some gluten-free, and yes, they do have some vegan ones, too.  And yes, they are every bit as lovely as the regular ones.  This place deserves a spot on all Portland breakfast lists.  Go there.  Get the dark chocolate sea salt.  While you're at it, grab a pomegranate glazed.  You're welcome.
After brunch, head to Deering Oaks Park.  On Saturday there's the Farmers' Market to enjoy (hello, smoothies!).  Sometimes we skip brunch and just get donuts at Holy Donut, then we head to the market.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Autumn Gatherings

After a long, hard week during which I barely looked up from my work to see the leaves changing colors on the trees, I had the joy of spending a couple of hours in my my garden this afternoon.

And after finishing my chores, I took a few moments to gather some blooms and other bits from the beds in true magpie fashion.  I am always surprised by how much is still blooming in mid-October.  Our nights haven't yet dipped down below freezing.  It's chilly, but just warm enough to save the blossoms from frost.

I am reveling in the fall glory of dahlias, spirea, marigolds, asters, gaura, hydrangeas, salvia, alyssum, and even roses.

And beneath the giant white pine, the yard is covered in a blanket of russet needles sprinkled with dozens and dozens of pinecones.  I'm gathering them up each day as they fall, saving them for winter fires on the long nights to come.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hometown of My Heart . . . and Belly

Happy Monday, my friends!  I took this quickie iPhone shot of Portland's Back Cove over the weekend, and I thought I'd share it with you this morning.  That's the old B&M Baked Beans Factory in the distance, where they still make those cans of brown navy beans that I grew up eating for Saturday supper and, honestly, still love heated up with a little mustard & molasses on a slice of whole wheat toast.    

From baked beans to lobster bakes, our little city has always done comfort food right, but in recent years, Portland (that's Portland, Maine, not Portland, Oregon) has made a name for itself as one of the top foodie destinations in the country.  A friend has inspired me to write a post about Portland's  incredible restaurant scene, so I'm working on one that should be up very soon.

In the meantime, here's a link to get your mouth watering.  And another.  And dessert.  

xo Gigi 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October First

The morning comes slowly, with silver limning the hawthorn and lilac branches in the yard.  Night's shadows hang on, and the sun never quite shows itself before the rain begins.

I welcome this dark, wet start.  My thoughts, bright as the last of the marigolds, seem all the clearer for it.  The day is full of lists that must be finished.  I work, piece by piece, without pause.  No leaping ahead to the next task; no what if I can't, what if they don't, what if it never.

Here is the secret the scarlet leaves whisper as they drop from the trees: there is this one moment.  Only this.