9 Restaurants Serving Small Plates with Big Flavor

These Days, We Graze

The popularity of tapas-style, or small plate dining, has spread like wildfire through Portland. More and more restaurants are offering mix-and-match options portioned somewhere between an appetizer and an entrée so their patrons may “graze” on a wider variety of dishes. In the time-honored tradition of “keeping the customer satisfied” burgeoning restaurant owners are following the trend, while some established businesses are revising their bill of fare to suit this model.

small plates grazing tapas

Each shareable dish is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate!

Menus once organized with such headings as appetizers, soups and salads, and entrees, are now more likely to be categorized by labels such as their chief ingredient. You’re also likely to find more rotating menu items and few mainstays, as chefs experiment with flavors.

Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better

Why this meteoric rise in small plate popularity? For one thing, attitudes about what truly constitutes quality and value are changing. For decades, bigger was considered better. Restaurants touted the size of the portions they offered, and American obesity rates grew proportionately. Today’s diners are looking for healthier options and portion size has evolved into a key strategy for controlling caloric intake while still enjoying an excellent dining experience.

Not only are today’s restaurant patrons more health conscious, they are also more knowledgeable and discerning. Modern “Foodies” are well versed in food preparation and content and enjoy experimenting and customizing their meals. Restaurant owners have noticed this and responded by giving their patrons more choices.

Don’t Wait, Dig In!

small plates with big flavor

So good you have to lick the plate clean

If you’re going to become a small plate diner, the first thing you’re going to have to do is adjust your thoughts on timing. Instead of courses being carefully paced so that groups will eat their apps, main courses, and desserts together, tapas dining is typically more of a – free for all.

Your server is going to politely inform you as you place your order that food will come out as it’s ready, and in no particular order, so don’t wait, dig in, because the next dish could be placed on your table at any time.

There’s Always Room for Dessert

The trend benefits restaurants as well as patrons. A variety of small plate options allow them to expand their boundaries, show off their talents, try out some new dishes and — because they have so many new opportunities to use a variety of ingredients — cut down on waste.

And, most importantly, by lightly dining on a selection of dishes that you’re sharing with friends, you’re more likely to have a room to also sample and share desserts!

chocolate dessert sur lie

Our favorite part of the shareable plates movement is sharing dessert! This one’s from Sur Lie.

Portland boasts multiple establishments offering small plate options. There is a dining experience to suit every taste, whether your group decides to sample and share several dishes at one restaurant or food crawls, visiting several places in one night. It’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable dining experience than a stroll through our beautiful city, with stops at a variety of restaurants to partake of a wide range of sophisticated styles and ingredients, all at an equally palatable price.

A Few of Our Favorite Things
Small plate dining isn’t for everyone, and there are still plenty of restaurants in Portland offering the more traditional dining experience. But, if you haven’t tried small plate dining and would like to see what all the fuss is about, gather up a group of your foodie friends and check out this exciting trend in Portland dining experiences. Here’s a list with a few of our favorite small plate restaurants to get you started this winter.

Bao Bao Dumpling
133 Spring Street
Boda
671 Congress Street
Central Provisions
414 Fore Street
Empire Chinese Kitchen
575 Congress Street
Evo Kitchen + Bar
448 Fore Street
The Inkwell
119 Exchange Street
Little Tap House
106 High Street
Lolita Vinotica + Asador
90 Congress Street
Sur Lie
11 Free Street

Who’s the Italian Stallion? Portland Pizza Delivery- Research Results are in!

university of southern maine tourism and marketing classPrime Delivery Time

As the instructor for TAH 410, a class on Culinary Tourism and Marketing at USM this semester, I decided to have pizza delivered each week to my classroom. Originally, the intent was to keep the students fed, as we met once a week from 5:35-8:05 pm, prime-time dining hours. But, it naturally turned into more than a way to assuage hunger and transitioned into a foodie discussion with my students, and before we knew it, a tasty, little research project evolved. It was decided that we’d enjoy a few slices of pie from a different pizza delivery service each week over the course of our Fall semester, and rank them on 3 criteria as we devoured them on our break:

1. Delivery: Was it on time? Was the pizza still hot? Was the staff professional? And did they remember the napkins and paper plates we asked for?

2. Taste: How much did we enjoy the flavor of the sauce? Quality of the crust and cheese? (Obviously subjective, but it was a class vote amongst 17 students.)

3. Options: Did they have a wide variety, including a good tasting vegan option?

And the winner is: Leonardo’s

Who has the best pizza delivery in PortlandWhy? Their delivery service was unsurpassed: always on time, always hot, always with supplies we requested in abundance, and cheerful staff members. They never called because they couldn’t find us, nor because they information to reach us was not communicated effectively by the business. (I gave them extra points, because the 2nd time an order was placed with them, they had our address ready-to-hand in their system and we were off the phone in a flash.) The class liked the crunchy crust and depth of flavor, although several others ranked equally high in this category. My lone vegan student had the best pizza of her semester from this location as they were the only delivery service to offer vegan cheese as an option with her vegetables.

We did not evaluate on this criteria, but we were also suitably impressed with their charitable ways, donating 10% consistently to various charities in the area, and offering a 10% discount to me as an affiliate of USM without my asking for a discount. Well done!

A few other pizzas were also happily consumed at various points from non-deliverable sources, including the margherita pizzetas served on a class field trip to DiMillos. All students attending gave these appetizers a perfect score for the fresh basil and other flavorful ingredient. Although we did not taste many other non-deliverable varieties, it was pretty rare to see all the students fork over a perfect score. I wish to thank Steve DiMillo for the tour of the kitchen and for the complimentary servings that evening.

We did not taste all the pizzas in the area, not does USM sanction the use of our research project as this was not a formal study. But it was a very tasty and fun project to keep us warm and full on the cold Fall and Winter evenings in the USM Science building. How fortunate we are to have so many to chose from. I’d do it again. :)

Portland’s “Merry Madness”- 8 Shops for Food Lovers

Mirth, Merriment and Maybe a Modicum of Mixology at Portland’s 12th Annual Merry Madness Celebration

Before urban sprawl and the advent of shopping malls and box stores, Portland was the Mecca of Holiday shopping in Southern Maine. Shoppers could stroll from store to store, enjoying holiday music and decorations while trying to explain to their children why there was a Santa Claus on every street corner. The whole family could complete their entire Christmas lists in one evening on Congress Street.

Although the Woolworth’s and Porteous Mitchell and Brauns no longer draw eager shoppers downtown, the tradition of family holiday shopping in Portland is alive and well on the Peninsula. To help kick off this festive time of year, the 12th annual Merry Madness Celebration is scheduled for Thursday, December 10th. Take a leisurely stroll through the Old Port enjoying the finest food and drink the city has to offer and find the perfect gift for that special someone in your life.

We suggest you stop by a few of our favorite local culinary merchants and consider the vast array of delectable products they offer for the food lovers on your list.

Vervacious — 227 Commercial Street

Portland merry madness 8 shops for food lovers

Get creative in the kitchen with gourmet ingredients from Vervacious.   photo credit: Shanna Walker

Vervacious offers creative food ingredients for inspired dining. Check out their assortment of award-winning, made-in-Maine culinary condiments, including:

  • Traditional and flavored balsamic
  • Grilling and roasting rubs
  • Finishing salts and blends, chilis, herbs and spices

And to take the chill out of these cool winter nights, try their delicious hot chocolates and cocoas with decadent flavors such as the Aztec Spiced Hot Pepper Cocoa or the Hot Chocolate Orange. We encourage you to swap out the H20 for heated milk. Yum.

K. Horton Specialty Foods — 28 Monument Way

Portland merry madness 8 shops for food lovers

Make a delicious spread with a blend of Sunset Acres Farm horseradish goat cheese, marscapone, and Maine Homestead wild blueberry jam for a tasty (local) snack.    photo credit: Shanna Walker

The finest in award-winning Maine-made cheeses as well as imported cheeses from around the world. They also offer a complete selection of gourmet foods items, condiments, gifts baskets and locally made craft beers and ales.

Ask the staff for recommendations on combining cheeses and preserves to make more complex spreads. They will pack up for you in their baskets and deliver to your friends.

Dean’s Sweets — 475 Fore Street

Treats to satisfy any sweet tooth, Dean’s offers extraordinarily delicious hand-dipped chocolates in a variety of intriguing and creative flavors, including brandied orange peel, mocha latte dipped in white chocolate, Maine potato chip in milk chocolate, and a personal favorite, Tennessee bacon in crunchy butter toffee, dipped in dark chocolate. All are beautifully wrapped for you. A signature Maine truffle,with a Dean’s Sweets spin, is the  Needham, and a treat that Santa will appreciate as a substitute for cookies Christmas Eve.

Vena’s Fizz House — 345 Fore Street

portland merry madness 8 shops for food lovers

Vena’s house-made infusion kits come in many tantalizing flavors, just add the recommended alcohol, let sit and voila!   photo credit: Nicole Bailey

Vena’s elevates the art of mixology to new levels of creativity. They offer ingeniously crafted combinations of the highest quality ingredients to fashion a diverse assortment of palate pleasing  cocktails and non-alcoholic mocktails and sodas. These ingredients, many of them local, are available along with both modern and vintage mixology accoutrements for purchase so you can create your own lively libations at home. Bitters and shrubs from Own & Whale, or Coastal Root, Finest Kind Teas and even Vena’s own infusion kits make great adult stocking stuffers.

Portland Salt Cellar — 172 Middle Street

The city’s largest provider of all-natural salts, the Salt Cellar offers a wide variety of finishing salt, cookbooks, shakers and flavorful salt sets including the Southern Comfort Salt Set, The Some Like it Hot Salt Set as well as the Garden of Eden, the Movie Popcorn and the Mama Mia Salt Sets. The salt blocks are a flavorful addition to any kitchen and come in a variety of sizes.

Old Port Wine & Cigar Merchant — 223 Commercial Street

Portland merry madness 8 shops for food lovers

Try something local, like the Pinot Noir or Blueberry wine from Rockland’s Breakwater Vineyards.   photo credit: Shanna Walker

No holiday feast is complete unless accompanied by a fine wine. Whether you’re a true connoisseur or a novice oenophile, you’ll find the perfect wine for any taste from the collection of Argentinian, French, Italian, Spanish and domestic wines found at the Old Port Wine Merchants and Cigar Shoppe.  Wine always makes a beautiful gift and why not add a medium or full-bodied cigar from their expansive humidor for the golfer in your life?

Stonewall Kitchen — 182 Middle Street

Stonewall Kitchen has been a household name in Maine for decades. Offering a spectacular selection of confections, specialty foods, table and kitchenware, totes, holiday ornaments, candles and holders, decorative accessories and jams and jellies. They make any culinary decisions easy with their wide array of samples so you can try before you buy.

Coastal Maine Popcorn — 43 Exchange Street

Portland merry madness 8 shops for foodie gifts

These snacks are too tasty for trimming  your tree!   photo credit: Ted Axelrod

Featuring a sweet and savory panoply of delicious, eye-catching popcorn. Always searching for new and mouthwatering flavors, they offer such tasty treats as Orange Cranberry, Peppermint Bark, Chocolate Candy Cane and Caramel Apple Popcorn, to name just a few.

We hope to see you at the Merry Madness Celebration this Thursday, December 10th in Portland’s Old Port. We’ll leave you with a convenient parking guide, a handy map of the area and, of course, our best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season!

BEYOND THE TOUR: Make Friends with Mold

Assembling the perfect cheese plate for summer picnics, and other life lessons from Kris Horton of K.Horton Specialty Foods

Spring has finally arrived in Portland, soon to be followed by the lingering days of summer. Those of us who live in Maine often rationalize that brutal winters are only the price to be paid for our absolutely idyllic summers. And what more is summer about than spending time outdoors with family and friends, indulging in cold beverages and a delicious cheese plate (perhaps that’s just our idea of a perfect Summer day, but we imagine we’re not the only ones)?

When we think cheese, we think K. Horton Specialty Foods. Owner Kris Horton has been curating an incredible selection of cheeses and specialty foods since she took over her father’s smoked seafood business over thirty years ago. Since then she has been an integral part of the Portland food scene and an advocate of local businesses by supporting opportunities for small food producers to sell their products. This is epitomized by her role as a founder of the Public Market House on Monument Square where her shop is located, which was created to serve as an incubator for small businesses.

MFT at Public Market House

Kris has seen the food landscape in Maine change over the years and she is thrilled about how far it has come. “The secret is what Europeans have known for thousands of years that the United States is just beginning to learn: When you go to a place you need to find what’s being made locally and eat that. You’ll learn more about the area by doing that than almost any other way.”

This point is perfectly made by looking inland where farmers allow their cows to graze on grass along riverbanks, as it is the most fertile due to flooding each spring when the mountain snow melts and rushes into the valley. As the snow melts and travels downstream it picks up minerals from the mountain bedrock. As a result, cheeses produced from this milk have distinct mineral notes representative of their region and natural landscape. Because Maine’s cheese makers use almost exclusively raw milk the flavors are heightened and diverse, impacted greatly by the land the cows have grazed.

With that in mind, Kris recommends getting to know Maine cheeses and making them the star of your summer picnic spread. Aim for at least one soft, medium and hard cheese; and always choose anGardien Cheese with Gravlax odd number (3-5 is ideal). The Sunset Acres Farm Goat Milk Gardien made by Ann Bossi, is a particularly delicious soft cheese; Kris pairs it with her house-cured gravlax (a secret family recipe) for an herbaceous and tangy treat. Though our top pick is The Lynn by Debbie Hahn of Hahn’s End Farm, a washed rind cheese dipped in Oxbow Brewing Company’s Loretta beer. It has a creamy texture with a little bit of ‘funk’ from the golden moldy rind, and it pairs perfectly with Morse’s mustard pickles, another popular local item sold in the shop.

Here’s a list of additional recommended cheeses to try on your next picnic cheese board:

Soft: Goat Roule from York Hill Farm, Medallion from Lakins Gorgeous Creamery, or Camembert from Silvery Moon Creamery.

Medium: Smoked Blue from Grindstone Neck, Eleanor Buttercup from Hahn’s End Farm or Rosemary’s Waltz from Silvery Moon Creamery.

Hard: Lakins Gorgeous Creamery Opus 42, Silvery Moon Creamery Fore River Tomme or Hahn’s End Old Shiretown

K Horton Collage

Kris urges consumers not to forget that cheese is a living thing and mold is inevitable…in fact it is a good thing! Without mold the world would be very bland, she says. The best way to keep cheese alive after purchase is to wrap it loosely in wax paper, then place in a plastic bag or container. Cheese doesn’t necessarily go ‘bad’ (even after sitting out for a while), rather it changes over time as new mold develops. Typically though, blue and green molds are delicious where as orange, yellow and red molds are not. If mold develops on your cheese, you can simply shave or cut away the moldy parts until you uncover more palatable layers.

And Kris’ biggest tip for eating cheese? Whatever you do, do not eat it straight out of the refrigerator, “It’s really a crime against yourself!” she exclaims. Kris recommends removing cheese from cold temperatures 1-2 hours before serving to allow it to come to the right texture and flavor.

In her shop you can also pick up a wide range of accompaniments for your picnic spread. Kris’ knowledgeable staff is always busy preparing fresh salads and creating delicious dips and spreads like their new kale hummus, which is hearty yet bright and citrusy. Don’t miss the cooler of “Grab N’ Go” items as well as the selection of dried fruits, olives and cured meats that will round out your cheese presentation. And stayed tuned for our upcoming blog post on wine pairings for your cheese!

For more information on K. Horton Specialty Foods, visit their Facebook page. And for a behind the scenes tasting experience at K. Horton’s and many other local purveyors, sign up for our flagship Old Port Culinary Walking Tour.

Cookin’ With Our Friend Chris Papagni

Spring has sprung in Portland! That means warm lingering days, outdoor dining and a whole new season of Maine Foodie Tours.

We’re thrilled to introduce you to a few brand new culinary experiences. This week we tagged along on a recipe shopping trip with Chris Papagni, a beloved Maine Foodie Tours guide, and Chef of our recently added “Cookin’ With Friends” classes.

Chris is one of those people that make you feel immediately comfortable. Within moments of greeting him (and his sidekick, a gregarious Maltipoo named Giorgio), we are laughing and swapping stories about our latest kitchen experiments. Our first stop is Portland’s Monument Square Farmers’ Market, open every Wednesday from 7am – 1pm. Chris and I are mesmerized by all of the beautiful produce and he reminisces about shopping for tomatoes with his father, sniffing them to test for ripeness. You can sense the deep connection Chris feels to his family when he prepares food, and it reminds you of your own childhood memories from the kitchen. He recently wrote a beautiful article about these foodie inspirations.

   Chris Sniffing Tomatoes

Greens at The Farmers' Market

Eighteen months ago Chris moved to Portland from Manhattan where he served as the Executive Vice President of The International Culinary Center (formerly The French Culinary Institute) for sixteen years. Needless to say, Chris knows good food, but his spirit and love for food is about so much more than what’s on the plate – Chris in his Kitchenhe is all about highlighting the ingredients, telling a story and making everyone feel at home. And at home you will be; cooking classes are hosted in his downtown Portland loft. A well-appointed kitchen with lots of personal touches makes you comfortable and recipes approachable.

Today we’re making a frisée salad with warm red wine vinaigrette and crispy pancetta, topped with a fried egg. This is one of several recipes you’ll learn to prepare in this season’s classes. Inspired by the abundant produce at the farmers market, Chris is also preparing a little snack for us: Radishes, pan roasted until golden brown in his father’s cast iron pan and finished with a sprinkle of Maine sea salt.

Chris’ knife skills and organization are fascinating, you can learn so much watching an experienced cook move through their mise-en-place (a French term used in kitchens to indicate putting all things and ingredients ‘in place’). He sets to work preparing the components of the dish, including a perfectly cooked egg from K.Horton Specialty Foods (the city’s best kept secret for excellent and inexpensive farm fresh eggs, says Chris). Once the pancetta lardons have rendered, Chris prepares the warm vinaigrette using red wine vinegar home made by a long-time friend and colleague. The pungent smell of vinegar and crispy pork fills the kitchen and I’m suddenly ravenous.

A few moments later we sit down to enjoy our lunch. It is a simple feast, beautiful and balanced, and easily replicated in any home kitchen. While we eat we discuss the Portland food scene and how many incredible restaurants there are, but that sometimes the best meals are the ones like these…excellent ingredients shared in good company.

Frisee Salad with Pancetta and Egg

Chris’ cooking classes are offered twice a week, and private classes are available. Click here to reserve your spot or purchase a gift certificate for someone who might enjoy it!

And, click here if you’d like to sign up for updates on our latest news and offerings.

Portland First Friday Art Walk Dining Options

Empire dumplings, photo by www.brysstephens.com

Empire dumplings, photo by www.brysstephens.com

 

First Fridays are a great tradition in Portland, and fortunately, for those of us looking to avoid cabin fever, they continue through the winter. MaineToday recommends the exhibits at the Portland Public Library, Dathan Hunter Salon, and the Portland Museum of Art. Here’s our restaurant recommendations for after you’ve scoped some art and need to nosh:

  • Sur Lie, 11 Free St. This new(ish) small-plates restaurant is quietly gaining steam as the word gets out about their delicious international cuisine. We recommend the rabbit rillette, the milk-braised cauliflower and the spring pea hummus, paired with a craft cocktail from their creative list, of course.
  • Empire Chinese Kitchen, 575 Congress St. Borrow a page from Chinese New Year traditions and enjoy some savory dumplings at Empire. The wrapped purses signal good luck in Chinese culture. We love the pork shu mai and the spinach dumplings. The pastrami egg roll starter is not to be missed either.
  • Congress St. Bar & Grill, 617 Congress St. This comfortable restaurant frequently gets overlooked, but they serve some fantastic food. We love the steak salad, the huge hummus plate with grilled veggies, and their mouth-watering specials.
  • Slab, 25 Preble St. Carbs reign supreme at this casual Italian eatery. Head baker Stephen Lanzalotta churns out delightfully pillowy pieces of pizza, which Nosh King Jason Loring doesn’t disappoint with his over-the-top creations. Start with the slaw salad to prepare you for the decadent dishes to follow.

Should you need more restaurant recommendations or wish to sample Portland’s amazing food and drink scene in just a few hours, join us on a Maine Foodie Tour! Tours continue on weekends through the winter, weather permitting.

October Maine Foodie Tours

exchange snow

Photo by Corey Templeton

 

October is the last month of 2015 in which we offer tours 7 days a week in Portland, Bar Harbor, and Kennebunkport. As Maine’s high season begins to wind down, we relish in the cooler weather and slower pace as we show you all the fabulous food and drinks our towns have to offer.

Come November, we’ll be offering our Portland tours on the weekends only. We hope you can join us for a tour on your visit or when your company comes to town!

Eat Your Way Through Fall, Maine Edition

Fall is New England is one of the most beautiful seasons. The pace of summer begins to slow as kids go back to school and the weather cools. Of course, the onset of fall means that winter is right behind, but there’s plenty to enjoy before the inevitable snow fall. Here’s Maine Foodie Tours’ list of fall favorites, whether you’re visiting Maine for some leaf peeping or are a lifelong Mainer.

1. Shop the farmers’ market
Portland Maine Farmers' MarketThe farmers’ market in the fall is the best place to find the produce of both summer and fall seasons. There’s peaches and corn! Peppers and cherry tomatoes! But there’s also early-season apples, winter squash, brussel sprouts, and honey! Make the most of two seasons of produce by preparing these 4 easy fall meals from Bon Appetit.

2. Pick apples or attend an apple tasting
Maine has a rich variety of heirloom apples that go well beyond Red Delicious and Granny Smith. Local apple orchards offer pick-your-own apples, by-the-pound specials of Cortlands, Paula Reds, Ginger Golds, Macs, and Empires. Plus: donuts. We have it on good authority that Thompson’s Orchard in New Gloucester has the best apple cider donuts. Find apple orchards near you from the Maine State Pomological Society.

3. Hike and picnic
While hiking isn’t necessarily an activity centered around eating and drinking, if you pick a moderate to easy hike with views of the Maine countryside, there’s no reason you can’t also bring along a good picnic. Stock up on smoked salmon (and a bottle of wine for later) at Browne Trading Company. Get some prepared salads and cookies at Aurora Provisions and head to Freeport to hike Bradbury Mountain. In the midcoast area, snag sandwiches like bahn mi made with local meats at Maine Street Meats in Rockport.  Then head up Mt. Battie in Camden for beautiful views of  Penobscot Bay.

Maine farm

Photo by Greta Rybus

4. Dine in a farm field
Maine farms have hit their prime now that it’s September, and many offer the chance to dine amongst the kale and flowers. Look for on-the-farm dinners at Portland Food Map’s Events Calendar, but in particular, Graze series at Pineland Farms, Winter Hill Farm, and Flanagan’s Table.

5. Attend Harvest on the Harbor
Maine’s premiere food and drink scene is held on the Portland waterfront every October. Whether you attend the grand tasting, the lobster chef of the year competition or the blues, brews, and barbecues event, you’ll be sure to sample some of Maine’s finest fare from chefs using the best ingredients they can find.

Maine Foodie Tour guides6. Take a Maine Foodie Tour
Otherwise overwhelmed by all the great options for meals and snacks in Maine? Think there’s no way you can eat at all the great places you’ve been reading about? Let a Maine Foodie Tour entertain you this fall with behind-the-scene stories of Portland’s food and drink scene while you taste your way across Portland, Kennebunk, and Bar Harbor.

New 2014 Portland, Maine Foodie Tours

Women serving cheese in PortlandNow in it’s fifth year of operations, MFT has drawn people of all ages from across North America and Europe to enjoy the culinary talents of chefs, fancy food producers, chocolatiers, bakers, cheese makers, fishmongers and more in Portland, now widely recognized as the “foodiest small town in America [Bon Appetit, 2009].”

“It’s a real pleasure to live and work in Portland where the culinary world is so alive,” said Pamela Laskey, MFT owner and recent recipient of the SCORE award for a Successful, Women-Owned Small Business  “Portland continues to earn accolades for the culinary scene, and we create new tours every year to showcase as much local talent as possible. We offer tour guests a wide variety from which to chose and ensure that they see and taste why Portland deserves all the culinary recognition!”

New for 2014 and beyond:

Lunchtime Lobster Crawls-enjoying lobster and seafood while learning about the secret life of lobsters. An Afternoon Culinary Walking Tour – showcasing all that is fresh, local and creative. Happy 2-Hour with Wine, visiting some of Portland’s newest and long-standing restaurants. What’s brewing? Bikes and Brews – In partnership with Summer Feet Bicycling – peddling to brew masters of all sorts.

For a complete listing of all tours, visit www.mainefoodietours.com or subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates!