Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Apples and Obsession

Thanks so much, my friends, for the warm and funny emails and Facebook messages about the Portland restaurant series.  I had a fantastic time compiling the lists, and I now apologize for making everyone so hungry!  I made myself hungry, too.  

Fortunately, I'd just bought lots of apples at Sweetser's Apple Barrel, so much snacking has been going on around here.  The ones in the photo above are Stayman Winesaps (early 19th-century variety), which, I won't lie, I bought simply so I could photograph them.  I think they're just gorgeous little apples.  It turns out that they're also good ones for storing, so I'll be able to eat those, too, once I'm done taking their portraits.  In the meantime, I've been eating big juicy Snow Apples (a very old French heirloom variety) and  Cortlands (a 19th-century variety from New York) and Brocks (Maine heirlooms from the early 20th century that are a cross between McIntosh and Golden Delicious).  

I also made an apple crisp from my old standby recipe, mixing the different varieties together.  It was delicious, but I found that I had to bake it longer than I normally do, which is always something to keep in mind when baking with different varieties of apples for the first time.  Some, like McIntoshes, break down quickly when baked.  Others hold their shape and crispness for much longer, so pie, crisp, and  apple sauce cooking time can vary quite a bit.  The extra time was a small price to pay for the apple crisp.  It had a depth and complexity of flavor that I've never achieved in a crisp before.  I also upped the nutmeg a wee bit, which I wouldn't normally do, since nutmeg can be overwhelming, but I took a chance based on the flavors of the raw apples as I sliced them for the crisp.  I'm glad I did.  The nutmeg took on an almost ginger-y quality against the golden delicious characteristics of the Brocks.

Can you tell that I really, really love apples?  Yes, my love borders on obsession.  So much so that I wrote a poem about them several years ago.  That poem was later published in Soundings East.  It's been a long time since I shared one of my poems here on the blog, but all this talk of apples has me feeling nostalgic, so here's the poem, which is also a bit of a creation myth, I suppose . . .


I learn apple before I am born:
my mother sits beneath a tree at Green Point Farm,
slicing crisp moons of McIntosh.
She teases them from the blade with her teeth,
filling her Rome Beauty belly.
A is for apple, she sings--
Sack and Sugars, Slack my Girdles,
Golden Knobs.
I kick in reply,
begin my hungry dance into life.

Over time we make pies, cider,
sauce.  Delicious, I learn,
aren't delicious at all, and crabs
are best for jelly.
When she reads me Snow White
I know why the girl craves the Queen's apple,
heart-red, white as her own skin--
biting in, she becomes a greater tale to tell.

A is for ask, appetite, apologize--
Eve and Aphrodite stand sorry before me
in the Children's Book of Ancient Stories,
apples in their upturned hands.
With a pencil I draw them: Eve's Incomparable,
Aphrodite's Perfection--fruits I will eat
until the basket is empty.

Brown snouts are bittersweet
for blending with Hangdowns and Golden Drops.
I can pare one in seconds,
say the alphabet while I twist the stem:
Who will I marry?  K or M?
I make a crust to catch him,
pack it full of Seek No Furthers,
bake it till the sugar runs,
wait for my prince to come.

A is for apple, answers, alone.
My mother shines Jonagolds with her coat sleeve,
teaches me to carve swans and crowns,
stud them with cloves, make tarts
from Grannys, butter from Ida Reds, dry
the Packhorses and Admirables
for apple dolls with black, beaded eyes
and the faces of wise
old women.

By Gigi Thibodeau

Monday, October 27, 2014

Supper and Dinner in Portland, Maine

"Unexpected Party" Illustration by David T. Wenzel.  Available here.
For the past several days I've been thinking and eating like a hobbit in order to list some of my favorite restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops here in Portland, Maine.  I've wanted to compile a list like this for some time now, as I'm often asked by friends for food recommendations in Portland.  It's never easy.  This place is foodie heaven.  I figured that breaking it down into the seven meals that Pippin lists in The Lord of the Rings would give me a chance to include more of the places I love as well as to be as specific as possible about what makes me love these places. Today I'm up to the last two meals, Supper and Dinner.  

"It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did" (The Hobbit, Chapter 12). 

I'm going to try to be brave as a hobbit as I attempt to list both meals in this post.  Supper will be restaurants that I tend to visit on the early side; Dinner will be places that are open later or that are perfect for a late-night snack.  Within each category the restaurants are listed in no particular order.  These lists are not all-inclusive.  If I were to list all my favorites, these lists would be at least twice as long!

  1. Grace  This is one of the most beautiful restaurants in Portland.  Located in a former church, Grace is elegant and lively at the same time.  The perfect spot for a romantic dinner or for incredibly creative drinks at the gorgeous bar.  Go here if you want lovely food in a memorable atmosphere.
  2. East Ender  I think this bustling two-floor bistro gets overlooked by some folks.  It is one of my favorite places to go for comfort food and a friendly atmosphere.  Mr. Magpie and I order the lobster nachos (think loads of lobster, avocado, cheddar, salsa, and sour cream) to split, and then I get a salad with calamari for dinner.  Perfect.  They also have fun house drink specials, like the strawberry-rhubarb pie martini.  Yum.
  3. Schulte & Herr  Everything at this tiny German restaurant is homemade, including the delicious breads.  On a recent visit with friends, I tried the spatzle, with caramelized onions, emmenthal cheese, chives, & cucumber salad, which was hearty and filling, but with beautifully balanced flavors.  Another real standout for me is the zwiebelkuchen, a caramelized onion & gruyere tart that is simply one of the best things I've eaten at a restaurant in a long time.  If you like salmon, try the potato pancakes with house-cured salmon.  This dish will change any preconceptions some might have about German food being too heavy.        
  4. Veranda Noodle Bar  This place has my favorite peanut sauce in town, so I always, always always order the fresh spring rolls here.  And sometimes a little extra peanut sauce.  :)  This is the place to come for fresh, Vietnamese food.  It's just off the peninsula on Veranda Street, so it's a bit of a hidden gem.  We go here for the noodle bowls.  The one I find myself ordering time and again is the grilled shrimp vermicelli bowl.  The shrimp are marinated in a tumeric-flavored sauce and then grilled until slightly blackened.  
  5. Becky's Diner  I hesitate to include Becky's on this list, not because I don't love this diner, because I do love this diner.  This place has been featured on a certain Food Network show that shall remain nameless, and I have to say that shows like this kind of ruin places for locals.  I'm sure people all over the country share this same problem when their favorite diners--the places they've been going to for more years than they can remember--get featured on TV.  Suddenly, we can no longer get a table, especially during the summer.  Such is life.  We still go here, we just wait until the tourist season ends, and I usually get the broiled haddock or the broiled scallops for dinner.  This is simple, fresh, homemade Maine food.  Nothing fancy.  Mr. M and I sit at the counter.  Sometimes we even break our no soda rule and order a Pepsi.  Sounds crazy, I know.  We like to live dangerously.  
  6. Green Elephant  After the guilty pleasure of a buttery grilled fish dinner at Becky's, Green Elephant is just what the doctor ordered.  Everything at this Asian-inspired bistro is vegetarian, but I promise, meat eaters will love it, too.  Definitely order the brussel sprouts appetizer for everyone to share.  These little gems are as close to candy as a vegetable can get.  If you think you hate brussel sprouts, give these a try anyway.  If anything will change your mind, these will. I've loved every main dish I've ever tasted here.  One of my favorites is the pineapple brown rice.   I also love the peanut curry.
  7. Saeng Thai House  Our number one spot for take-out!  We also like to eat in at this tiny Thai bistro.  The food is reliably delicious, and I can't think of nicer waitstaff in town.  High up on our list of favorite items are the bikini shrimp appetizer--golden wontons wrapped around shrimp and fresh ginger, then fried and served with a sweet and spicy chili sauce.  My favorite main dish is the special pad thai basil.  It has ruined all other pad thai for me, as this is so much more interesting!    
  8. Walter's  I liked Walter's back in the days when it was on Exchange Street in the Old Port, but since its move a few years ago to very different, decidedly more upscale digs, I think the food has improved dramatically.  My family and I go for the bar menu, which balances creative takes on comfort food with some truly inventive dishes.  The menu changes seasonally, and I especially love the warm ambience here after a chilly afternoon of Christmas shopping in the Old Port.
  9. Back Bay Grill  This is the restaurant we chose to celebrate our anniversary this year, and it was absolutely the perfect choice.  This place was here long before Portland became a famous foodie destination, and I believe it will be here long after trendier places have closed.  The service is impeccable--the very best I've had in Portland--and the food is wonderful.  When you look up Portland restaurants online, this place always winds up very near the top of the list--and deservedly so.  
  10. JP's Bistro  Our neighborhood bistro.  Hearty dishes and incredible homemade desserts in a friendly, warm atmosphere.  It's located well off the peninsula, so tourists never go here, which suits us just fine.  If you decide to be adventurous and go looking for JP's, don't let the fact that it's located in a tiny strip mall put you off.  You'll love the seafood dishes, and seriously, save room for dessert.  Holy moly.
  11. The Front Room  I mentioned this place once before on another list, but I need to include it here, too.  Portlanders know and mostly love Chef Harding Lee Smith's "Rooms" restaurants.  For me, it's always the Front Room that brings me back (with occasional visits to the lovely Corner Room).  Think homemade everything in a noisy, darkened neighborhood bistro.  I crave mussels and gnocchi when I come here, along with lots of crusty bread.  I also crave cedar-plank salmon with pumpkin goat cheese risotto.  Oh, and white cheddar grits.  Pure comfort.  
  12. Flatbread  Honestly, this is my favorite pizza in town.  I do love OTTO, but the spicy sauce at Flatbread wins me over.  Plus the big wood-burning oven, the funky-hippy vibe, and the views of the ferries as they come and go to the islands.  I know Flatbread is sort of a mini-chain, and I've been to nearly all their other locations, but the one in Portland happens to be my favorite.  Lucky me.  On Monday nights they've always got music, and the place just hops.  Plus, and this is huge for me, they make an incredible salad with mixed greens, carrots, celery, sesame seeds, and seaweed.  Sounds odd, but tastes divine.  I get it with local blue cheese on top.  Then I dip my flatbread in the light vinaigrette dressing. 
  13. Caiola's  I've mentioned Caiola's once before, but it's worth mentioning again.  It's very neighborhood-y as in West End neighborhood-y, and the food's just fantastic.  Whatever else you get, please do order the polenta fries.  You won't be sorry.  
The menu on the wall at Otto

  1.  OTTO Pizza  I almost feel like I don't need to mention OTTO.  Everyone in these parts knows OTTO.  Incredible pizza with truly wonderful toppings.  I think their mashed potato, bacon, and scallion is probably the most famous.  I'm a fan of the butternut squash,  ricotta, and cranberry.  There are several OTTO locations now in greater Portland and Boston, but I still love the original best.  We go here for slices after seeing a live show at the State on a summer night.  They also make a good caesar salad, so Mr. M and I often split one and then each have a slice or two.  Perfect date night! 
  2.  Boda  This is where Mr. M took me to celebrate my birthday recently.  Why?  Because I love Thai food, and Boda's creative, street-style Thai cuisine is consistently good, consistently fresh, and consistently fun to eat.  On my birthday, the standout dish was the curried mussels, with a rich, coconut-milk broth and a side of sticky rice to soak it all up.  
  3.  Nosh  Yes, Nosh makes the list twice.  It's a great place for late-night eats.  Period.  Go to a show, then go here.  And, as I said before, you must order the fries.  You simply must.
  4. The North Point  Delicious cocktails, sangria, and lovely cheese and meat platters.  That's what you'll find here, along with a wonderful, warm atmosphere.  Portland has many, many trendy hipster bars these days, but this isn't one of them.  Tucked into a little spot on picturesque Silver Street, this is a perfect spot for dinner and movie or for meeting friends after work.    
  5. Great Lost Bear  I've been going here since my undergraduate days in the late 80's.  This is as local as local gets.  They have seventy-eight beers on tap.  No, that's not a typo.  They really do, plus great comfort food.  Try the chili.  They've got one with meat and one without.  I get the veggie chili, and it's the kind of stick-to-your ribs bowl of comfort that I often crave in the winter.  The Great Lost Bear is also famous for their burgers, and I love their fish sandwiches.  This place is dark, noisy, and just what Mainers need when we're feeling a little stir crazy in the dead of winter.  
  6. Silly's with a Twist  Truth be told, we come here pretty much anytime of day or night, but it can't be beat for a late dinner or even and after-dinner slice (slab, hunk) of delicious cake.  Silly's and the newer Silly's with a Twist right next door are two of the funkiest spots in town, and it doesn't get much more local than this.  The menu is huge and incredibly creative; the food definitely leans towards comfort, with large portions (we always end up taking half our meal home) and lots of cheesy, melty, gooey goodness.  I love the fabuffel burger (falafel doused in buffalo sauce), but I've tried many other dishes here, and I nearly always leave incredibly happy. They've got a huge list of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, plus milkshakes (hello, chocolate-pretzel shake), and one of the nicest staffs in town.  
  7. Local 188  Boisterous and bohemian, Local 188 is the perfect place to go after a film or for late-night tapas with friends.  I really think this is one of the restaurants that kicked off the huge wave of foodie havens in Portland, and it is still very much going strong.  Like so many of the other restaurants listed here, this is a popular brunch spot, too.  
  8. J's Oyster Bar  Extremely local joint down on the waterfront.  Dive bar that also happens to have great oysters and chowders.  I know everyone is raving about Hipster Eventide, and I get it, but I'm still partial to some of the old school spots like J's and Port Hole.  It's the Mainer in me, and the townie girl.  I won't apologize for it.  
  9. Gorgeous Gelato  Technically not a restaurant really, but still, this place is always in the number one spot for Portland restaurants on Trip Advisor.  And with very good reason.  The owners are from Italy.  The gelato is made fresh every day.  I was just in Italy for two weeks earlier this year, where I ate gelato for fourteen days straight.  Gorgeous gelato is as good as the best gelato I had in Italy.  For me, nothing is better than their wild berry, but I also love many other flavors, including, of course, pistachio, made with Sicilian pistachios.   
  10. Gelato Fiasco  How can I mention the competition on the same list?  Because their gelato is also incredible.  I think that the recipe at Gorgeous is creamier, but the variety of flavors at Fiasco can't be beat.  My favorite?  Sweet Resurgam, named after Portland's motto and made with roasted almond, burnt sugar, chocolate chips, caramel.  I think there's a wee joke in the burnt sugar and roasted almond, as resurgam means "I rise," referring to Portland's resurgence after three major fires throughout its history.  In fact, in the great fire of 1866, one of the buildings that famously burned was a sugar factory.  Oh, those folks at Gelato Fiasco are rascals.  The really good news about these two gelateria is that they are located across the street from each other on Fore Street, and they are open late, so if you're out and about late in the Old Port on a Saturday night, you can do a little comparison with your friends at both shops.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Afternoon Tea

Delicious tea and work go hand in hand for me at Dobra Tea

Of all the categories in my hobbit list of meals, afternoon tea is quite possibly the only one that might be a bit more challenging to fulfill.  Portland, Maine, is not the best place in the world to go for cream tea.  When I want that, I hop on a plane and fly to England.  When I want a cup of very good tea in a wonderful atmosphere right here in Portland, I do have a few standout choices, which I'll list below.  

  1. Dobra Tea  This is our wintertime hangout.  I can't think of a place in Portland where I get more work done while enjoying a delicious beverage.  And they've just moved to a new location on upper Exchange Street that I will be checking out later this week.  The tea menu at Dobra is presented as a storybook, with full descriptions of the history and characteristics of each tea they serve.  Ordering a pot of tea here is a wonderful event to be savored.  My favorite is the sweetened Touareg, a mix of green tea and Moroccan mint.  It's incredibly smooth and calming, and I truly believe it helps me concentrate.  I often order the oxidized and fermented Chinese pu-er teas for their flavor as well as their health benefits. 
  2. Homegrown Tea  This place is well known throughout the region for their creative tea blends.  I  especially love their mood-lifting blends.  If you're headed up to Munjoy Hill, stop in at their shop on Congress Street.  In the summer, their lemon-Squeezer is my go-to choice with its mix of lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemongrass, thyme and dried lemon peel.
  3. Arabica  Yes, Arabica is a coffee shop, and yes they roast their own beans, and I do love their coffee, but I also go here quite often just to get a delicious cup of tea, and that's because they carry so many wonderful varieties, including a few from Homegrown Tea, but also Vermont Tea and Trading Co., Turnaround Tea, and Mountain Rose Herbs.  It's nice to go to a coffee shop and find interesting teas made with care, plus the atmosphere at Arabica is classic, old-school coffee house.  AND, the sell toast!  That's right, every day you can order toast made from Standard Baking Company bread.  Toast and tea.  It doesn't get more comforting than this.
Okay, my friends, the last post about favorite food spots in Portland, Maine, will be coming up tomorrow.  I'll include both dinner and supper, and while the list will be enticing, once again, it will NOT be all-inclusive.  It simply can't be.  There are too many incredible places in this city.  

I hope you're enjoying the lists and also finding them helpful.  I've received some really lovely emails and Facebook messages about them.  I've also been told that I am making people very, very hungry.  I have a solution; go to any one of the establishments listed in these posts!  :) 

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.