We went to Maine for the wedding of two of our favourite people, Alexis & Andrew. I met Alexis a couple of years ago when we shared a cottage and a life-changing cooking adventure at Ballymaloe Cookery School. We’ve both changed our lives and careers a lot since then, mostly for the better I think. But changing your career and becoming self-employed is a big challenge; I love that Alexis is going on a similar journey to us, she understands the everyday elation and frustration of self-employment. You can read more of Alexis’ journey here. With Alexis’ culinary credentials she was never going to pick a city with a dud food scene to get married in – here are our top five things to eat and drink in Portland, Maine.
1. Wild Maine Blueberries
Smaller and sweeter than the regular ‘high bush’ blueberries that we can buy in the UK, these are utterly delicious. They grow (traditionally wild, but are now cultivated to meet demand) on low lying bushes and are harvested by hand with a tool that is a combination between a rake and shovel. The bushes are very low to the ground and pretty prickly. The harvest season is in August but canny Maine foodies flash freeze them for all year round enjoyment. I loved them matched with sweet sticky coconut rice, as an alternative to mango at Sticky Sweet but best of all cooked by Alexis and her Aunt Judith in crumbly shortcrust pastry tartlets for the wedding day dessert.
2. Craft Beer
So much delicious beer! Portland, Maine has to be up there with some of the U.S. best beer cities. The internationally renowned and Belgian inspired Allagash Brewing Company is based here – we did their excellent (and free) brewery tour which I would highly recommend. It is definitely worth the Uber ride out of the city centre. I loved their Little Brett, a sour with notes of pineapple and the Curieux, a Trippel aged in bourbon barrels. I think they have inspired Jo to make her next brew a witbier. We also enjoyed brews at Rising Tide Brewing (their taproom was the location for the wedding reception), Novare Res (a fantastic bar with an amazing beer list in downtown Portland) and Liquid Riot Bottling Company on the harbour. Liquid Riot’s Raspy Trouble, a sour dark ale aged on raspberries might have been my favourite beer of the trip.
3. Lobster Roll
You can’t come to Maine and not eat seafood and in particular lobster rolls. Lobster used to be cheap snack food for workers and fishermen, those days are long gone but you still get a lot of lobster for your dollar in Maine. The lobster roll is essentially a soft, brioche style roll filled with lobster flesh, a wee bit of lettuce and then topped with brown butter and/or mayonnaise as desired. It is often served with crisps on the side or sometimes chips (or fries as Americans would say). We had delicious lobster rolls at J’s Oyster on the harbour front in downtown Portland (and also delicious oysters), at The Lobster Shack, about 10km south of town and with the most awesome seaside setting and at Alexis’ wedding of course. The last was my favourite, maybe because I was a little drunk, as the brioche was the butteriest and it was topped with some tangy lime and jalapeno mayo.
4. Sticky Morning Buns
We visited Standard Baking Co every single morning of the trip for their freshly baked sticky morning buns (with or without walnuts), an iced coffee (for me) and a pretty good (by US standards) cup of tea for Jo. The staff were universally lovely, there is a sunny spot to sit outside and consume your baked goods and I brought home to Ireland a loaf of their wholewheat sourdough which we consumed in a 24 hour period – I blame the jet lag. The sticky buns are made with a laminated croissant style dough and then coated in some unimaginably delicious sticky gorgeousness. I’m usually a savoury breakfast person, but I would always make an exception for these. Time to get the rolling pin out, unless Standard Baking Co would consider starting an airmail service?
5. Asian Fusion
We love Asian food and somehow also managed to fit in several delicious Asian meals during the trip. I’m not sure if Portland is renowned for its Asian cuisine but everywhere we ate was great, and I have pretty high standards when it comes to Asian food. We had some delicious dishes from a Sichuanese inspired menu at Bao Bao Dumpling house, the dumplings were great but my favourite was the spicy ‘Ants Climbing up a Tree’ dish made with glass noodles. It inspired me to make my own version the day after we got home (pictured). The Khao Soi (Chiang Mai Curry Noodles) made with slow-cooked lamb and hand-cut noodles at The Honey Paw was a revelation – I’ve never had it with lamb before. Also at The Honey Paw the Sichuan-style Charred Aubergine with black vinegar, peanuts and coriander was perfect and Jo and Andrew shared the delicious but frankly ginormous Whole Fried Chicken with Skillet Coconut Corn Bread and Coconut Butter.