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

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