Escape to Portland
It's hard to have a bad meal in Portland. From low-rent food trucks that serve up donuts cooked to order to fine-dining restaurants helmed by James Beard Award winners, this small city has something for every appetite and every budget.
Over the past decade, Portland has become a magnet for sophisticated cooks working with local ingredients, sprouting a wealth of excellent dining options, all with unique character and sense of place. A foodie could breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack their way through the city without making the same stop twice.
For breakfast, Portland has not one but two crave-worthy donut shops, one on wheels and one stationary. If you can track down Urban Sugar Mobile Café, this food truck offers eye candy as well as satisfaction for sweet urges. The husband and wife “donut duo” Valeri and Kevin Sandes crank out six-packs of bite-sized donuts, fried up and filled to order. Their little gems come in classic cinnamon sugar or stuffed with tantalizing fillings like lavender pastry cream or fresh seasonal fruit.
Bigger bites can be had at The Holy Donut, where owner Leigh Kellis has quickly gained a national reputation for her outrageously good treats made with a surprising, not-so-secret, ingredient: Maine potatoes. Kellis replaces part of the flour with mashed spuds, not uncommon in northern Maine, and eschews partially hydrogenated oils and artificial colorings in favor of pure fruit and vegetable coloring and 100 percent canola oil. The light-as-air yet intensely flavored dark chocolate with sea salt will have you continually dreaming of road trips up I-95—but better get there before noon. Treats sell out fast, especially on the weekends, and the shop closes when they run out.
Those who prefer some protein with breakfast can’t go wrong at Hot Suppa, where the Down-Easter’s take on the classic breakfast sandwich may feature a potato biscuit topped with green tomato relish, local bacon, folded egg, and smoked cheddar. Supplement with subtly sweet Maine maple lemonade or locally roasted coffee and casually friendly service.
Walk off some of those calories with a stroll down to the Old Port, where seafood shanties are side by side with high-end boutiques, many featuring Maine-made artisan crafts. Home chefs shouldn’t miss Vervacious, a minimalist shop with maximum flavor power. Travel-inspired spices and condiments line the shelves in designer glass jars, and everything is available to taste. Grab the Espresso Balsamic Drizzle to dress roasted veggies, or perhaps the Super Savory Cinnamon Salt as a gift for someone back home.
After working up an appetite with retail therapy, try one of chef Masa Miyake’s two Japanese restaurants for lunch. Sushi lovers will not want to miss his name-sake spot, Miyake, where freshness is at the heart of each delectable dish. The quiet spartan space puts the spotlight on glistening sushi rolls and sashimi, just as lovely to regard as they are to eat. Pai Men Miyake is the chef ’s more casual eatery. Meaning “100 noodles” in Japanese, Pai Men’s informal vibe belies serious culinary intentions. Hearty ramen involves toothsome noodles served in a variety of flavorful broths. Rich, complex pork buns are stuffed with unctuous pork belly and topped with Japanese mayo and pepper relish for a small treat.
Dining room at Restaurant Five Fifty-Five / Photo courtesy of Restaurant Five Fifty-Five
Still hungry? Snack at Duck Fat, where the slender fries are cooked in, yes, duck fat. Dip them in the house made truffle ketchup. From there, waddle over to nearby Shipyard Brewing Company, where about a dozen different selections from the craft brewer are available to sample for free.
The embarrassment of riches at dinner-time makes it hard to choose. Book early or plan on a wait at Fore Street, arguably one of the top restaurants in the country. A third of the tables are available for walk-ins, or enjoy creative light bites in the tiny shabby-chic lounge—but arrive before six o’clock if you don’t want to wait. Down the street at Restaurant Five Fifty-Five, diners don’t have to choose between dishes like Hudson Valley foie gras, diver scallops, and truffle mac ’n’ cheese—guests can create their own five-course tasting menu from à la carte items or put themselves in the capable hands of award-winning chefs Steve Corry and Matt Ginn. For a lighter meal, visit Eventide, where the cocktail list entices with a celery gimlet or a “Bubbly Mary” and every wine on the list is chosen for its ability to pair well with raw oysters.
No one lives by bread alone, and Portland packs a lot of culture into a city of 66,000 people. The Arts District, a short stroll from the Old Port, is home to the Maine College of Art and the Portland Museum of Art, a stunning contemporary I. M. Pei-designed space that thoughtfully showcases cutting-edge exhibitions while also displaying a permanent collection of masters of realism, impressionism, and surrealism.
Towering over the Arts District is the Westin Portland Harborview hotel, opened last winter after a $50 million renovation that transformed the historic hotel, where Charles Lindburgh stayed after his solo transAtlantic flight, with modern ameni- ties and a rooftop lounge with 360-degree views of the city. The bustling Old Port is a pleasant walk downhill from the hotel. If guests don’t feel like walking, the property operates a complimentary shuttle.
A 20-minute drive outside the city is one of the region’s true gems: the Winslow Homer Studio on Prouts Neck in Scarborough. Climb the stairs to the second-floor porch, cast your eyes onto the rocky Maine coastline, and you will understand from where Homer drew his inspiration. The artist painted some of his best-known landscapes here, including Weatherbeaten and The Fog Warning. Purchased from Homer’s descendants by the Portland Museum of Art in 2006 and extensively restored, the cottage charms observant visitors with Homer’s signature etched into the window glass and his graffiti on the rustic beadboard walls. Tours are by appointment only, spring and fall, with limited availability during the summer.
While visits to the Homer Studio can be scheduled through the Portland Museum of Art, one of the best ways to visit the cottage is with a package from the Black Point Inn, the only hotel still standing on Prouts Neck, a vacation hot spot since well before Homer’s time. The classic seaside property, which sits at the start of an oceanfront walking trail passing right in front of Homer’s studio, has partnered with the museum to offer a package (starting at $995 for two) featuring a private tour of the studio along with two nights’ accommodations with breakfast and dinner, for select dates in October and starting again in the spring, when the seasonal property reopens.
The grand old inn is an ideal spot for whiling away dwindling fall days. Feel the snap of winter coming on? Attentive staff provide cozy blankets so guests can soak up as much sun as possible while savor- ing fresh local oysters on the porch with a glass of wine.
WESTIN PORTLAND HARBORVIEW
157 High St., 207-775-5411 westinportlandharborview.com
555 Congress St., 207-761-0555 fivefifty-five.com
468 Fore St., 207-871-9170 miyakerestaurants.com
PAI MEN MIYAKE
188 State St., 207-541-9204 miyakerestaurants.com
PORTLAND MUSEUM OF ART
7 Congress St., 207-775-6148 portlandmuseum.org
227 Commercial St., 207-221-3590 vervacious.com
BLACK POINT INN
510 Black Point Rd., Prouts Neck Scarborough, 207-883-2500 blackpointinn.com
THE HOLY DONUT
7 Exchange St., 207-775-7776 theholydonut.com