To mark my 58th birthday, Elisa and I hit the road early and set our sights on Portland, Maine. Portland, for a city of its size, has an amazing food scene, and we like food. It seemed like a match made in heaven. When we left Rindge in the morning it was raining, but the forecast for Portland was for a dry, but overcast day. It rained for most of the two and a half hour drive, but as we got within twenty miles of the city the rain stopped and that was the last we’d see of it.
The Standard Baking Company
Some time ago, we had watched a pair of documenties on PBS, A Few Good Pie Places, and a second, A Few Great Bakeries. Each documentary featured an interesting assortment of bakeries from around the United States. The one on pies featured a Portland bakery called Two Fat Cats Bakery, and the documentary on bakeries featured The Standard Baking Company, located on Commercial Street across from the waterfront. I’m sure we’ll give Two Fat Cats a try another time, but on this trip we were looking for breakfast, and specifically some croissants from The Standard Baking Company.
We were greeted at the door by a gentleman who gave us a card listing the days specials and we got in line behind the customers that were already in front of us. At the counter there were a lot of options to choose from. We eventually walked away with a pair of of croissants, a plum tart, and a raspberry almond galette. Okay, it wasn’t really a galette. Despite its name it was a round dough pastry with a homemade raspberry jam in the middle.
Oh, and we picked up coffee and a couple of loaves of bread to bring home, and went outside where there were a few tables and benches to enjoy a late morning breakfast under an arbor that was literally sagging under a thick covering of grape vines.
The croissants were fresh and delicious, and unlike supermarket bakery croissants, actually had the distinct flavor of butter, proof that they were using actual homemade puff pastry, instead of whatever shortcuts supermarkets use. The tart was absolute heaven, but the galette was … a bad choice.
While we breakfasted, we thoroughly enjoyed the accordian music provided by a very good musician who played a tasteful selection of music from the early and mid-twentieth century. I particularly enjoyed his version of La Vie En Rose. After leaving a tip in his case and clearing our tables, we went for a drive along the waterfront and through a few of Portland’s neighborhoods, including Riverton, Parkside, Bayside, and East Deering. We popped over to South Portland, and instantly realized the folly of doing so.
Our site-seeing was fulfilling its purpose, which was essentially to pass the time between our breakfast and lunch.
Portland’s Food Truck Scene
Portland has an amazing food truck culture, and when planning our trip, we carefully looked at reviews of perhaps a dozen or more of the food truck operations that call Portland home. Ultimately, we settled on one of the newer food trucks on the scene, Taco Del Seoul, which echoed to us the early food truck career of Korean-born Roy Choi, a chef and restaurateur that was raised in Los Angeles and was a force in the early days of the food truck movement.
From their Facebook page, which is updated daily, we found Taco Del Seoul located at Bissell Brothers, a popular craft brewery in Portland. It’s so popular, in fact that Friday’s beer was sold out by early afternoon. We ordered spring rolls and three tacos each. Elisa got vegetarian, spicy pork, and chicken; I got beef, spicy pork, and chicken.
To be more specific… Seoul Taco: Beef Bulgogi, pickled asian slaw, rasted poblano pico de gallo, del Seoul sauce, toasted sesame seeds, and green onion. Spicy Seoul Taco: Spicy Daeji Pork Bulgogi, pickled Asian slaw, charred corn and scallions salsa, del Seoul sauce, toasted sesame seeds, and green onion. Sweet Seoul Taco: Korean sweet & sour Chicken, jasmine rice, pickled asian slaw, toasted sesame seeds, and green onion. Veggie Seoul Taco:
Shitake Mushroom Bulgogi, pickled asian slaw, roasted poblano pico de gallo, del Seoul sauce, toasted sesame seeds, and green onion. We chowed down in the comfort of our air-conditioned car. The tacos were great; the spring rolls were amazing.
Portland Head Light
After lunch, we drove south from Portland to Cape Elizabeth, and as we meandered along roads near the shoreline, we saw the turnoff for the Portland Head Light, the oldest lighthouse in Maine. Construction began in 1787, and the lighthouse, which began operation on January 10, 1791, was dedicated by George Washington in 1790.
The lighthouse, automated since 1989, is maintained and operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. The former lighthouse keeper’s house, built in 1891, is a museum. The land surrounding the lighthouse comprises Fort Williams Park. The lighthouse, the lighthouse keeper’s house, and the whistle house, which was rebuilt in 1975 after it was damaged by a severe storm, are simply beautiful.
This entire road trip was designed around my desire to dine at Duckfat, an eatery in Portland with a menu centered on their signature dish, Belgian fries that are fried in … wait for it … duck fat. The restaurant was opened by Nancy Pugh and Rob Evans in 2005, and in 2009, Chef Rob Evans was awarded “Best Chef Northeast” by the James Beard Foundation.
The fries are served with a choice of two dipping sauces, and we settled on truffle ketchup and Thai chili mayo, which were both excellent. Other choices were curry mayo, horseradish mayo, and garlic mayo. The fries arrived before our sandwiches, and they were as good as advertised. Unbelievable. The best fries I have ever had. Elisa ordered the overnight duck confit panino, and I picked the house smoked brisket panino.
We both were full after eating just half of our sandwiches, so we brought them home and had them later as a late-night snack. Honestly they were as good cold as they had been in the restaurant. This isn’t a restaurant review; nevertheless, if we lived in Portland I know for a fact I’d have a couple of meals a week here. Our waiter was great, the atmosphere was exactly what you’d want, and none of that matters all that much because … the fries.
Oh … to drink, Elisa has one of their craft sodas, the Wild Cherry Phosphate, and I had the one called “Roots, Bark, Sticks, and Leaves”. Elisa picked the winner in the soft drink department, but both of them were very good.
We were simply too full to order desert. So we didn’t try their donut holes … which were fried, of course, in duck fat. We may start with those as an appetizer next time. There’s always a next time.