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Feasts: Portland, ME – 24 Hours of Pixies and Pigging Out

November 4, 2011

One of the best parts about living in Boston is leaving it for a few days, or just a few hours. Easy day trips abound with Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont just a quick drive away, and this week we revisited one of my favorites: Portland, ME. The trip’s primary purpose was to see The Pixies Doolittle Tour, but I can’t say I was put off by the opportunity to eat as much of Portland’s excellent food as possible.

We started our trip with dinner at Fore Street Restaurant, near Old Port. Fore Street did an open kitchen before it was cool, and their chefs work directly on the sales floor, right next to dining tables. There was an entire station devoted to garnishing, and while the staff didn’t seem particularly jovial (can’t really take advantage of kitchen humor when you’re sauteing next to the person you’re serving), they were undeniably talented. Seared sweet breads served with cheese toast, potato salad, and cornichons were tender and musky without being gamey. Roast chicken and mashed potatoes (served in an iron crock, with a crackly crust) were homey without being too rich, and the carrot cake with cinnamon cream cheese icing looked sickly sweet, but had balanced, nuanced flavor. A perfect pre-concert meal.

The State Theater is a smaller, historic-seeming venue in downtown Portland, right across from our hotel, The Eastland Park. The Eastland, once grand – still comfortable – but now greying at the roots, makes you wonder if hotels still have detectives. Similarly, the State Theater makes you feel like you’re back in high school, excited to be out on the town without your parents – even if (especially if) the place you ended up was dirty and loud and filled with smoke and people stepping on your toes. Or maybe that was just The Pixies.

The next morning, humming Monkey Gone to Heaven, we had breakfast at the tiny (exactly 6 booths and not many more counter seats) Marcy’s Diner.  Perfectly greasy hash, omelets, and griddled English Muffins were all cooked on a tiny flat top in the corner of the restaurant. The staff – two very friendly Maine women – wished us well on our way out, and it seemed that they sincerely hoped we’d have a good day.

Duck Fat Poutine

After breakfast, we took advantage of Portland’s walking life- cobblestone alleys, eclectic boutiques, tattoo parlors, and plenty of people watching. One can  run across an impromptu farmers market, grab a coffee in Public Market House, or check out Fetch, the dog store on the waterfront – Portland is extremely dog friendly. And definitely head to DuckFat for lunch, a hole in the wall serving milkshakes, sandwiches, and potatoes fried in duck fat. Get the poutine -you haven’t lived until you’ve had poutine with house made duck gravy. If there is a wait for a table, stop by Rabelais, one of my all-time favorite bookstores, right across the street. Specializing in books on food and wine, you can find new releases, classics, and antique food book artifacts.

Or if, like us, you’ve had breakfast at Marcy’s and need something lighter to balance the hash browns, try Fuji sushi. Well-salted edamame, jalapeno tempura rolls, and picture perfect tuna tartare go down easy in an airy restaurant that plays the traditional Japanese background music of Mumford and Sons.

If you’re looking for some new furniture (and not afraid to walk past the meth clinic in Portland’s less than scenic neighborhood), check out Portland Architectural Salvage. Even the most devoted Crate and Barrel-ite could spend hours here, walking through floors of reclaimed wood tables, antique formica countertops, fabric lined footlockers, chipped toilets, bathtubs, and teacups. Everything is, or at least feels, unique, storied, and begging to come home with you, a lost puppy that needs a bath. And, as the staff will point out when you flip over a price tag, they are “flexible on most things.”

Finally, treat yourself to a little dessert at East End Cupcakes, serving plain coffee and understated sweets. Which, fortunately, are small, so you can try several flavors without feeling too guilty. We started with the Funfetti – a solid, lively cupcake, much like the bulk of the concert we’d seen the night before. Our first encore with the Salted Caramel and Chocolate was even better, but I still needed more. And much like the fourth song of The Pixies second encore (Where is My Mind) the Red Velvet was the real winner – moist, with the perfect amount of barely sweet cream cheese frosting.

End your day with a trip to the beach, just a fifteen minute drive from the city center, and walk off some of the food you’ve been throwing down your gullet. Then try not to fall asleep on the drive home, and dream about your next day trip to Portland while Here Comes Your Man plays in the background.

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