A Portland Foodie Tour Reveals a City’s Savory Side

Time for scones at Stonewall Kitchen, in the Old Port.
Time for scones at Stonewall Kitchen, in the Old Port.

What kinds of things do you learn on a Portland Maine Foodie tour?   Here are some of the things our guide Dave told us as we strolled the streets of Portland, Maine, looking for things that foodies enjoy.

Prisoners in the 1840s revolted against guards who insisted on feeding them lobster every day. NO more! they demanded.  A mayor in Portland banned drinking, after children were seen imbibing in the rum that sat in barrels outside of the taverns. Something had to be done.  Dave led us through the city’s Old Port district to some prime foodie destinations. We began the morning at Harbor Fish Market, which has been sitting unglamorously on the very working waterfront here for more than 40 years.

Here, we got up close and personal with l’homard, the bug that makes this state famous.  With lobster prices well below $4 a pound, Dave told us that it’s been a bumper crop…but for bad reasons. The abundance of lobsters is due to the lack of lobster-eating predators….the halibut, flounder and other fish who have been wiped out by overfishing. “Don’t boil the lobster,” Dave told us, “steam it in two inches of water for about 15 minutes!”   The soft shell variety that is in season now, in summer, is the sweetest and best, we learned, since molting lobsters

Gritty's tankards for regular customers.
Tankards await the regulars at Gritty's.

who lose their shells have a more tender meat.

We had many more stops to go. “San Francisco is the only city with more restaurants per capita than us,” said Dave. Indeed, the  Old Port is is chock-a-block with chef-owned restaurants.  We were headed for the city’s Public Market House, an incubator that helps bring food businesses and nascent restaurants to life, in small stalls with cheap rent and good exposure.

There we met Kris Horton, a cheese dealer who offers more than 200 varieties in her case on the market’s first floor. “There is high quality milk in Maine, and many cheesemakers in France have said our cheeses are among the world’s best,” she told us. We sampled some of her cows milk cheeses as we looked around the market’s second floor. Here a stall offered breakfast cereal and other comfort foods; another called Kamasouptra offered five kinds of homemade soup. “Vegetarian chili and clam chowder are the most popular,” I found out from the soup mistress.

Ahead lay sweets. Dean’s Sweets makes a truffle that’s famous in this city…the Needham. They flavor their chocolates with maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Another one had a vodka flavor.  Kristin Bingham said they’ve been here on Middle Street for a year and a half, and for five years they made these delicate chocolates at home.  Her husband Dean Bingham is head chocolatier.

I passed by a storefront in the Old Port that was called Soakology, specializing in foot soaks, foot massage and mud treatments

Kristin Bingham serves up truffles at Dean's Sweets.
Kristin Bingham serves up truffles at Dean's Sweets.

for the feet. Maybe next time, I thought.  It was still time for food.  At Stonewall Kitchen, we sampled their Maine blueberry jam with miniature scones just out of the oven. Again Dave had some good advice: “Turn the scone over and put the jam on, it stays on that way!”

We strolled down Middle Street heading for a bakery called Two Fat Cats. Here the specialty of the house was the Whoopie Pie, which many would call a moonpie. Black sandwich cakes  on the outside and pillowy whiteness in between.

We finished our tour with some samples of Maine brews from Gritty’s, where upstairs I gawked at their 468 tankards, hanging from hooks on the ceiling. “Have you ever dropped those when you fetched them for customers?” I asked. The answer was yes, but there’s also been some great saves.

At the end of the tour I caught up with a few of my fellow foodies at Duckfat, where the Poutine awaited. This is a bowl of french fries cooked in duckfat slathered with duck gravy  and cheese. Yes, it was that good!

Maine Foodie Tours, 207-233-7485