July 4th Weekend: Portland, ME

I spent Saturday of the July 4th weekend in Portland, ME, one of my favorite northeast towns. As always, I came armed with a list of places to visit and things to eat.

We arrived in Portland just after noon and were starving. Lunch was first on the agenda. Silly’s came recommended from Christine, who spoke highly of their milkshakes.

Silly’s is located just north of the downtown commercial area of Portand. In keeping with a name like Silly’s, the entire restaurant is colorful, bright and kitschy. They have a large outdoor seating area in back, which was perfect for a low 80s summer day. Silly’s has an extensive menu of mostly sandwiches, burgers, and salads. They are known for their milkshakes and have some fun and unusual flavors: Blueberry Cobbler-blueberry, krispies and cinnamon; The Victor-molasses, cookie, banana and coffee; and The Tim Curry-peanut butter, masaman curry and toasted coconut. We opted for a simple mocha milkshake.

Hunger was a pretty pertinent issue, and so the shake didn’t get photographed until it was half consumed. It was good. Not the thickest, but it had a nice strong coffee flavor. Dave ordered the the pulled pork wrap for lunch, which he enjoyed, aside from it being very messy and leaky. For my meal, I went with the falafel wrap, which our waitress recommended. It was not the best I’ve ever had. Usually, falafel fails because it is dry. This falafel was fine in terms of moisture, but it was really lacking in flavor. The lettuce and tomato were also somewhat unfortunate looking. The waitress kindly brought me more of the cucumber yogurt sauce, which helped somewhat. The wrap was not terrible, just not as good as it could have been.

Sometimes a mediocre meal really frustrates me. This one, however, did not. I think the combination of the charming ambiance, friendly waitress, and awesome milkshake made up for it. Plus, I think Silly’s might excel at the slightly greasier options. I was salivating over the golden french fries at the table next to us, in addition to a bacon cheeseburger that looked about 8 inches tall.

Aside from the less than perfect food on this particular day, I really like Silly’s because it completely exudes the Portland environmentally and socially conscious vibe. They have plenty of vegetarian/vegan options and are accommodating of many diets. They are a candidate for a grant to install solar panels on their roof for hot water and they will soon have their waste composted by a Portland-based compost company. Best of all, they support local businesses by sourcing as much as possible from Portland area suppliers. This philosophy extends beyond their food and beverage. They contract with local businesses for most of their services, including web maintenance and bookkeeping.

Photo courtesy of Christine Liu

Next stop was Standard Baking Company. I stopped at Standard on my previous trip to Portland last fall, though it was late in the day and they were pretty shopped out. This time around, we made sure to get there a lot earlier. Standard Baking is located inside an old warehouse. It’s has a fairly sizable storefront, and is set back from the sidewalk about half a block. Inside though, it’s pretty small. Guess it takes a lot of kitchen space to make all those tasty goods. When you step inside, you are overcome with the dense aroma of bread baking and buttery pastries. It has a simple down home feel, with wood paneling and lots of wicker shelving and baskets. Pretty standard (ha) offerings: cookies, loaf cakes, tarts, crumbles, croissants.

I was deciding between a chocolate chip cookie, and a chocolate chip financier, which the counter girl described as a thicker, richer chocolate chip cookie made with ground pecans. I opted for the former. It was good. It was a very buttery, soft, slightly crumbly cookie, as opposed to chewy and caramel-y. Dave got the sticky bun. I didn’t think they would be great judging from their appearance, but it turned out quite the opposite. It was fantastic. The bun was moist and lightly sweet. I was most impressed that it remained sweet and moist even without being doused in copious amounts of the sticky butter-sugar mixture. I really wanted a sticky bun for myself after tasting it, but I knew we had more bakeries and stops left to go.

We stopped at Browne Trading Company, which specializes in fresh fish and various gourmet products including caviar, smoked fish, salts, marinades, and wine. They had this very gorgeous looking homemade strawberry rhubarb pie made with local berries and rhubarb.

We took a break from the downtown area and decided to check out Fort Allen Park, located on Portland’s East End. The park commemorates veterans of WW I. We drove East on Fore Street, which takes you uphill and to the park, which is on a bluff overlooking the Casco Bay. The park offers stunning views of the bay and has a charming gazebo as well.

A set of stone steps leads down from the park to the Eastern Promenade Trail.

The trail extends along the eastern and northern perimeter of Portland, and is part of a trail system that spans most of the city.

Just beyond the path, through some bushes and a few steps down, you reach the water’s edge. We sat on the stone wall and enjoyed the views and sea breeze for over an hour. The cool temperature was a very welcome respite from the intense heat and humidity that Boston has been experiencing of late.

By late afternoon the wind started to pick up by the water, so we headed across the bridge to South Portland to another of my favorite Portland bakeries. I visited Scratch Baking Co for the first time last fall after reading about it in the now ubiquitous NY Times article about the Portland food scene. Scratch makes amazing, high quality pastries and baked goods that are surprisingly inexpensive.

Last fall, I sampled their brownies, which are quite literally the size of bricks, the Oatmeal 2-Raisin cookie, and the anadama bread.

This time around, I got an assortment of cookies, as well as the one cupcake they had that day, a root beer float cupcake. As you can see from the label, the cupcakes were only $1.50. You don’t see regular sized GOOD cupcakes for that price within Boston city limits. (In New York, however, you do).

And to tickle your taste buds some more, further examples of the treats available at Scratch.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich cookies.

A closeup of my root bear float cupcake, just before consumption. The cupcake was chocolate with a solid but not overpowering root beer flavor and a light vanilla buttercream. I loved it, but clearly would not recommend it to anyone who does like the taste of root bear. I only wish they had other flavors so I could have tried some more.

Before dinner, we took another stroll around downtown. We stopped into Old Port Wine Merchants which had several flavors of HoneyMaker mead, a Portland-made mead, that is sold in several stores around the city. I’m not very fond of mead, but I loved the color of this blueberry mead and the design of the bottle.

Our walk took us to Fore Street which has several über tourist shops. One of these said tourist shops is the Old Port Candy Co. I’m not a huge candy fan, but Dave is, and we stopped in for some gummy candies and a piece of maple walnut fudge. Fudge, on the other hand, I am fond of.

A few blocks north the city becomes less commercial and there is much historic architecture to be seen.

We stopped into Dean’s Sweets which specializes in decadent handmade chocolates,

including these beautiful salt caramels. I sampled a maple cream that was delicious.

Our last stop before dinner was Rabelais, a book store that specializes in books on food and drink. Rabelais seems to have a book one every food topic imaginable, from fermentation to canning to ice cream making to beer and so much more.

I loved this series of prints on one wall featuring bean pods in various colors.

For dinner, we went to Vignola, another restaurant featured in the NY Times article.

The space was modern with industrial accents, including metal beams and exposed brick. One primary design feature is the wine bottle lighting fixtures.

After our food-filled day, we ordered a pizza and an appetizer. We chose the Vignola pizza, with tomato sauce, mozzarella & provolone, and oregano. Shortly after we ordered, the table next to us was brought their pizza and I was skeptical. The crust looked pale and doughy. I don’t need my pizza crust to be charred, but a nicely browned thin, crispy crust is ideal. Luckily though, looks were deceiving. Though not crispy, the crust was pleasantly chewy and not doughy. The sauce, cheese and seasonings were all spot on. The two cheese combination plus the oregano made for an earthier, more sophisticated tasting pizza.

We also ordered the bruschetta with prosciutto and various local lettuces. Much of the produce at Vignola comes from nearby farms. Local lettuces that are  grown with care and just picked have an immensely superior taste and texture. These were dressed in a tangy vinaigrette. The bread was a little dry for my taste, but Dave enjoyed it and the prosciutto very much.

I don’t have many pictures of the following day, which included Crane Beach, Russell Orchard (which means berries and ice cream), and fireworks on the Charles. I did manage to take a pretty good video of the finale of the fireworks show. Enjoy!

40 Washington Ave
Portland, ME
Silly's on Urbanspoon

Standard Baking Co.
75 Commercial St
Portland, ME
Standard Baking Co on Urbanspoon

Scratch Bakery
416 Preble St
South Portland, ME
Scratch Bakery on Urbanspoon

10 Dana St
Portland, ME
Scratch Bakery on Urbanspoon

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5 Responses to July 4th Weekend: Portland, ME

  1. christine says:

    portland is such a yum-town. thanks for the heads up on the eastern promenade trail!

  2. Carole says:

    Hi Elizabeth,
    When I was in the 2nd and 3rd grades, I lived at 17 Morning Street – the first street that runs parallel to the Eastern Promanade. The two streets meet at a point and there is a great house there – as well as to all the beautiful homes all along the EP – but I was too young to appreciate them. When I was in Portland a couple of weeks ago, we drove up there – I like visiting my old neighborhood. I used to play in that gazebo!

  3. Megan says:

    Thank you for all the awesome ideas! I know we are stopping at one bakery in York Beach along the way and then I’m sure we’ll work up an appetite again by the time we get to Portland to sample some others! Then we’re going to try to get into Fore Street for dinner. I will keep Vignola in mind if we can’t get in. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Portland Bakeries | Free Food Boston

  5. Pingback: Schulte & Herr, The Holy Donut, Red’s Dairy Freeze, Willard Scoops and Two Fat Cat’s Bakery | Free Food Boston

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