A weekend trip to the heart of lobster country—Portland, Maine—sounds amazing… that is, unless you’ve got a deadly allergy to all manner of shellfish and crustaceans. Contributor Natalie Hoch takes off her lobster bib for the less-expected culinary gems of the Pine Tree State.
I love Portland, Maine. A few years ago our close friends Josh and Kate moved there from NYC, and my husband Robby and I relish any chance we get to visit them. Every time I tell people I’m going to Portland, their eyes grow wide and they talk about the art of the lobster roll, the butter-vs-mayo debate, and the splendor of the beloved port city’s selection of fresh shellfish. But I tune it all out. Not because I’m a masochist, but because I am (sigh) allergic. Such is my doomed fate in life.
Well, not really…
I realize I’m missing out on plenty, but these days, Portland is an established food mecca, and overstuffing yourself within the picturesque confines of this wonderful town can easily be crustacean-free. Having just returned from another great trip to Maine, suitcases still not yet unpacked, I’ve gotta share some of the non-mollusk delicacies I gorged upon along the way.
First order of business was to hit up Nosh Kitchen Bar (551 Congress St., 207-553-2227) for a Saturday afternoon snack. The menu mostly features things that are butchered, brined, and baked—the only shellfish available are oysters on the half shell after 4:00 pm—so ordering for me was a breeze. Our party split a basket of the brilliantly inspired bacon-dusted nosh fries (with horseradish mayo and cheese sauce) and a corned beef Reuben with homemade sauerkraut and pork belly. Yes, pork belly. Superb.
From there we decided to settle our pig-filled bellies with an artisan beer at Novare Res Bier Café (4 Canal Plaza, 207-761-BIER). We ordered two Belgian Tripels, a Belgian blonde, and a German pilsner, and perused the inviting menu of charcuterie and sandwiches. But we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it—that nosh at Nosh was just too big. The sudsy brew and warm wooded tavern was all the respite we needed from the chilly and damp May day.
Sunday morning’s rain promised all-day drear, but that didn’t stop the food train from chugging right along. After a home-cooked breakfast of fluffy pancakes and bourbon-and-butter-poached bananas with local maple syrup (thanks, Kate and Josh!), we settled on bowling for an afternoon activity. Much to our delight, Bayside Bowl (58 Alder St., 207-791-BOWL) had killer snack offerings, and we pulled strikes and spares with PBR tall boys, veggies and hummus, and a double order of salty, rustic, homemade tater tots. And might I mention I bowled a 130?
After an early evening interlude of Playstation, we capped off the weekend with a fantastic feast. South Portland’s lovely “neighborhood nook,” David’s 388 (388 Cottage Farm Rd., 207-247-7388), was cozy and delicious and offered no need to summon the epinephrine. The four of us enjoyed our final rainy meal sampling breadcrumb-sprinkled mac and cheese, an elegantly grilled romaine Caesar, crispy pot stickers, and pepper-dusted tuna. The chef even accommodated my pesky little allergy by substituting shellfish fumet with a white wine reduction over my beautifully poached haddock.
Following our blowout at David’s, we drove down to Preble Street for an after-dinner treat at Willard Scoops (429 Preble St., 207-232-3618), an unassuming, beachy ice cream shop. I have to say, nothing quite prepared me for the revelation that is their salt (not salted) caramel ice cream. Intensely rich with the perfect balance of sweet and savory, it was the perfect final note to a weekend that satisfied all my cravings.
No Epi-Pen necessary.