Portland, Maine is one of my favorite places in the U.S., and for the past few years I’ve been fortunate to make it up there once a year in the spring or summer. Each visit is a combination of visits to old standbys plus some new places. We headed up there for the day last week and it was a refreshing fifteen degrees cooler than Boston. We arrived a little before lunchtime and our first stop, as has become customary, was Tony’s Donuts for a little pre-lunch appetizer. Two molasses-glazed and a cinnamon-sugar donut, and some greetings from the always friendly staff and clientele, and we were off to lunch.
I came to Portland armed with a list of places to try that I’d researched. One was Schulte & Herr, which I’d discovered thanks to this blog. German restaurants, are not typically the most vegetarian-friendly. This one however, had several options. Schulte & Herr is located a few blocks outside of downtown, on a very un-commercial street. This is why it pays to research ahead of time, because I would not have ventured down this street otherwise. The restaurant’s interior is homey, it quite literally looked like the kitchen in my grandparents’ old house, complete with landscape paintings and the same wooden chairs. Our server was sweet as could be and was very helpful in adding a few more new-to-me places to my list. She brought over a basket with three different housemade rye breads served with liptauer, a German spread of cream cheese, paprika, cornichons, capers, caraway seeds, sprinkled with chopped chives. I could not get enough of this spread-tangy, creamy, and whipped til light, I loved it most on the dark, chewy sourdough rye.
Dave got the roasted bratwurst with sauerkraut and german potato salad. The only component that was lacking was the sauerkraut, which was sadly on the watery side. The unexpected standout of the plate was the grainy mustard, I could have done with an entire dish of it.
I could have made a large meal out of several items from the menu, but this was really just a quick savory interlude in between donut and ice cream stops, so I kept it small with a bowl of roasted red and golden beets. If you’re there on a weekend, Schulte & Herre also has a great looking brunch menu.
Schulte & Herr
349 Cumberland Avenue
I am SO glad I chatted with our server at Schulte & Herre, otherwise I would not have known to stop at our next destination, The Holy Donut. The Holy Donut, located a bit further away from downtown, fits more into the new wave genre of donut shops (quite the opposite of Tony’s donuts). The donuts are potato donuts (I tried potato donuts for the first time here) which itself is not new wave, but the flavors certainly are: pomegranate, maple glazed, roasted pistachio, bacon and cheddar.
I went with the dark chocolate sea salt and the sweet potato ginger. These are some GOOD donuts. The mashed potato base makes for an incredibly tender donut. I’m pretty sure they are all yeasted, but the chocolate had a very cake donut-like consistency. The donut alone was not intensely chocolate flavored, but it did have a cocoa-y base that was nicely accented by the sweet vanilla glaze and the salty finish. The sweet potato ginger, which is of course made with roasted sweet potato, had more of that distinct yeasted donut chew. This donut reeks of fresh ginger, giving it a spiciness that nicely contrasts with the sweetness from the potato and the sugar coating. Donuts, I have learned from experience, do not keep. They’ll still be okay later that evening, but good donuts will not be good the next day. If they did keep, I would have bought one of every flavor to take back. This is a donut not to be missed.
The Holy Donut
194 Park Avenue
We’d driven by Red’s Dairy Freeze several times over the past few years, noticing it but never thinking to stop. Soft serve is usually too chemical-filled for my taste (think Dairy Queen) so I rarely stop to investigate it. I ended up reading up on this place before we left and found one particular item that caught my eye. They make soft serve using fresh fruit from nearby farms. This I had to try.
With it being strawberry season, they had one variety made with strawberries from Maxwell’s Farm, right in Cape Elizabeth. The strawberries might as well be growing in Red’s own backyard, they’re so close. I know strawberry ice cream isn’t for everyone. I only like it sometimes, but I would strongly urge you to try this.
This soft serve was incredibly fresh tasting. Strawberry ice creams tend to have an overly sweetened, cooked fruit flavor. This tasted like pure strawberries blended into cream with little added sweetener. It was positively delightful. And because donuts and ice cream are simlpy the best duo, I stuck a chunk of cinnamon sugar donut (from Tony’s) on top. It was glorious. The other thing to note: their prices. I’ve been to plenty of roadside ice cream stands and never have I seen prices this low. A small cup, the size I got above, is $1.25. That is unheard of. Just imagine if we had prices like that somewhere closer to Boston.
Red’s Dairy Freeze
167 Cottage Rd
South Portland, ME
Willard Scoops is another spot that we’ve passed by on several trips (it’s directly across the street from Scratch Baking) but had yet to try. This time I made sure to stop. They post a chalkboard menu of flavors on their facebook page multiple times a week, which does a good job of keeping them on my mind all year: banana cream, honeyiluvu, key lime pie, nutella. We split a cup of salted caramel and hot damn it was good. The ice cream base is intensely buttery. The caramel flavor was both very sweet and salty. Add the butteriness in and it made for a wonderful flavor combination.
429 Preble Street
South Portland, ME
Before heading off to dinner, we went to downtown Portland for a little bit so I could visit two more bakeries. The first, Standard, I’ve been to many times and love. The second was Two Fat Cats Bakery. I’d stopped there briefly on our previous visit, but it was immediately following our lunch at Duckfat and even I had to hold off on baked goods. This time around I was sure to get a cupcake. The selection is simple, chocolate and vanilla cakes and frosting, and on that day, a lemon meringue and red velvet as well. The fellow behind the counter highly recommended anything with the chocolate frosting, so I got that on a vanilla cupcake. He was right about the frosting. Sweet, smooth, and chocolatey, but almost mousse-like in its lightness. I’m quite picky about vanilla cake and this I liked. Firm, yet tender with a nicely browned top. They had dozens more things on display: brownies, pies, scones, cookies. Someday I’ll have to go all out and really get a full sampling of all of their baked goods.
Two Fat Cats
47 India St
And so concluded this very ice cream and donut-filled visit up north. If you have the means of transportation, I highly recommend venturing outside the main downtown area, especially if you’ve explored downtown before. There’s lots to be found beyond the beaten path.