Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


Leave a comment

A Taste of the South: Salvage BBQ

I have fond memories of my introduction to pulled pork barbecue – at a friend’s home just months after beginning college.  Before making the trek south to go to Clemson, the word barbecue was a fairly ambiguous part of my vocabulary – we applied it to virtually any party where the cooking took place outdoors.  The meal itself had little to do with the label.

It didn’t take long to learn that “barbecue” means something different – something specific – in the Southland.  It is a term applied to varieties of smoked meat, and often specifically pulled (or chopped) pork.  If you invite someone from the South to a “barbecue” and serve hamburgers and hot dogs, you should be prepared for dismay (and disappointment).

Having lived down South for a decade now, I’ve had the opportunity and the pleasure to try some pretty outstanding barbecue, home cooked and in restaurants.  As anyone who’s had really great barbecue can attest, the memory of that flavor stays with you – it’s sinfully good with flashes of heat and sweetness, and not too bad for you (until you add the bread, hush puppies, and mac ‘n’ cheese – but what would good ‘cue be without these sides?).  Specific culinary experiences come to mind when I think of barbecue.  For example, truly outstanding ribs served in the Blues City Cafe in Memphis, Tennessee.  A juicy, flavorful pulled pork sandwich at Lexington Barbecue in North Carolina.  And one very memorable beef brisket – at Salvage BBQ in Portland, Maine.

The anticipation!

The anticipation!

Maine, you ask?  Yes, indeed. When Salvage BBQ burst onto the Portland dining scene about a year and a half ago, the buzz was big.  From my perspective, they drove an effective social media campaign that leveraged the existing foodie culture and awareness in Portland, and most importantly of all – they were differentiated.  Salvage BBQ was offering something to the area that was new – no white tablecloths and perfectly seared scallops – but scarred wooden tables and meat you can (mostly) eat with your fingers.

The atmosphere is reflective of barbecue places down South  – perhaps unsurprising as the owners journeyed through North Carolina and Texas in search of inspiration before returning home to bring the goodness of barbecue to Maine (http://www.salvagebbq.com/). They are a self-service style restaurant, very common down South, where you order at the counter and the food is brought to you at your table (or you can sit and order at the bar).  This is a place where families can come to relax with minimal worry about their children breaking anything or bothering anyone, given that it’s typically already quite noisy and very casual; or where friends can gather to grab a beer, share a meal, and listen to regular live music acts.

Eat, drink, listen!

Eat, drink, listen!

And then there’s the food.  When we went, I wanted to try a little bit of everything, so we ordered the “Meat Coma” (yes, that’s really what it’s called), which includes a 1/4 rack of pork ribs, 1/3 lb. brisket and chopped pork, and a cup of chili.  Don’t worry, big eaters – there is also the “Meat Fatality” if that’s not enough for you.  They offer multiple barbecue sauces on each table – a more traditional barbecue sauce and a thinner, vinegar-based barbecue sauce that’s very popular in the Carolinas.

I have nothing but good things to say about the food.  I’ve already mentioned the brisket, which I could frankly wax poetic about.  It is head and shoulders above any other brisket I’ve eaten at a restaurant, and Nick and I enjoy smoking brisket at home, too.  We now have new aspirations for our next smoking venture!  Moving on to the other meats: while I prefer beef ribs to pork, the ribs were exceptional in flavor and texture, and the chopped pork rivaled any you’d find in the Carolinas (the vinegar-based sauce is a must-try, everyone).  Candidly, I don’t believe we had a single green veggie on our plate, as our sides were potato wedges, mac and cheese, and hush puppies.  My mom really loves those hush puppies, and for my weakness, the potato wedges were deliciously, fabulously salty.  What could be better?

If you haven’t visited already (and you’re not a vegetarian), what are you waiting for?  The barbecue is really something special at Salvage, and once you’ve factored in the appealing, rustic design and the low-key (but high quality) atmosphere, this is a dining win.

And in the end, our meal lived up to its name – we were all in a coma – and in bed, very early that night!

Salvage BBQ
919 Congress Street
Portland, ME
207-553-2100

 

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Maine and Loire: Shop Wine the Natural Way

It is a nearly universally accepted truth that wine is intimidating.  Even now, as someone who knows a fair amount about wine and someone who certainly knows what she likes in a wine, I am apprehensive about engaging in conversations with another person who “appears” to be quite well-versed in the language of wine.  It’s human nature to want to be right and to be perceived as knowledgeable – and let’s face it, wine is just hard to know.  There are so many varietals, and the same varietal may be called one name when grown in one region, and another when grown somewhere else.  Add in labels in French, Italian, German, and heck, even English – and you’ve got an awful lot of ways that people can feel, well, ignorant.

The label says it all.

The label says it all.

But here’s one thing you can know: when you shop at Portland’s newest wine shop, Maine & Loire, no matter what bottle you buy, you’re getting a low intervention wine.  So what does that mean, and why does it matter?  Fundamentally, this approach is based in the belief that the entire process of making wine must be rooted in respect for the land (terroir) and the natural development of quality grapes into quality wine.  In layman’s terms, it means chemicals aren’t applied in the vineyard (or very minimally), it means the grapes are cared for and harvested by hand, natural fermentation is allowed to take place (no manually added yeast), and it means the aging and preserving process is impacted as minimally as possible by additions like sulfites, which occur naturally in wine and are often added as a preserving measure.

It was this last item that excited my husband, Nick, the most.  The morning after he and my dad consumed an entire bottle of Pinot Noir, purchased during our visit to Maine & Loire, he enthused, “And I don’t even have a headache!”  What a proud moment.

While the emphasis on terroir driven, low-intervention, and natural and organic wines sets Maine & Loire apart as a shop, there is no question that it is the welcoming, knowledgeable owners who make it come to life.  As they say on their website, they celebrate wines that are “alive and soulful,” and believe firmly in only selling those wines they also love.  Their recommendations come from the heart in addition to a wealth of research.  As Peter said, “what you see in the store represents more than a year of research.”  For impact’s sake, I have chosen to interpret this to mean an entire year’s worth of hours – 8,760 (but perhaps I’m being too literal).  Regardless, a great deal of time, energy, and care has gone into the selection they present in their bright, industrial space.

 

Labeled shelves and plenty of open space make for easy browsing.

Labeled shelves and plenty of open space make for easy browsing.

If you’re on the fence about visiting, you shouldn’t be.  Check them out (and scoot next door to Maine Mead Works while you’re at it) at 63 Washington Ave, Portland, Maine.  In fact, they have their first tasting coming up next Saturday, January 31st from 2pm – 5pm.  My number one recommendation when you visit: talk to Peter and Orenda, the owners.  Get their guidance and recommendations – and don’t be intimidated by the labels and languages.  Wine is meant to be enjoyed first – only discuss it if you want to.

As Maine & Loire’s site says, drink more wine!

 


1 Comment

Honey I’m…. Drinking Mead?

With some regularity, my husband arrives home to find me enjoying a glass of wine.  Chalk it up to work stress if you like (some days I do), or it could just be because people everywhere have enjoyed fermented beverages for a long, long time – and I’m no exception.  While the atmosphere, decor, and dress may have changed over the centuries, people like to gather together and enjoy food, drink, and entertainment.  Today we indulge in a variety of settings – a casual beer with friends at the local watering hole, or a wine tasting party at someone’s home, or checking out the hot new martini bar (although in the interest of transparency, that won’t be me – not a martini gal, I’ve discovered).  I’d encourage you all to add a mead tasting to your list of must-try alcoholic experiences.

In fact, mead is considered the ancestor of all modern fermented drinks.  Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, to see the popularity of modern day mead growing, with meaderies following rapidly in the footsteps of wineries and breweries to take advantage of the rising interest in their product and the art and science behind it.

Last year, I wrote about Far Friar’s Meadery, located in Newcastle, Maine, and this year during my visit to Maine, I had the opportunity to visit Maine Mead Works for the first time.  Located on Washington Ave in Portland, it’s easily accessible for both tourists and locals.  Founded in 2007 by owners Ben Alexander and Carly Cope, Maine Mead Works uses Maine ingredients (as much as possible) and also leverages good ol’ Mainah wisdom – that handcrafted is better than mass-produced, and quality is better than quantity (hence their small batch approach).

Maine Mead Works

We had the opportunity to try a large number of traditional and flavored meads during our visit, as well as a few sparkling versions.  Maine Mead Works emphasizes crafting a modern mead that is dry, crisp, and has a balanced finish.  Like Fat Friar’s mead, the more traditional dry and semi-sweet meads carried strong honey notes on the nose.  As I’ve become more familiar with mead, I find I can also appreciate it more.  I enjoyed the dry mead, but I liked the flavored varieties best of all.  From my perspective, honey mead creates an ideal base from which to add flavors like lavender, strawberry, and cranberry, as Maine Mead does.  I could easily envision a summer afternoon on the deck, enjoying a chilled glass of the strawberry or lavender mead, while cranberry was clearly a holiday season indulgence.

In conclusion, a visit to Maine Mead Works is highly recommended.  While we weren’t able to stay for the facility tour, I’m sure that would be well-worth experiencing as well.  You can also check out their cocktail recipes page for fun ways to mix with mead.

Happy holidays, all!


1 Comment

Friday = Pizza Day

I have a good friend in Charlotte who once reacted with shock, when, on a Friday, I told her I had gone for a run that morning.  “Fridays are not for working out,” she informed me, a horrified expression on her face.  In her mind, Fridays are for sliding into the weekend, relaxing with a post-work drink at 1900 Mexican Grill, rewarding yourself for a long week of hard work and good habits by shirking those good habits just a bit.  She is also one of the healthiest people I know, and I mean that in every sense of the word – she exercises, yes, and eats healthfully – but she’s also very balanced and self-aware.  She’s not afraid of a little indulgence at the end of the work week.  And so I think she’d approve of my next assertion: Fridays are for pizza.

My running buddy.  She doesn't like to miss a day, so we still run on Fridays (shhh)

My running buddy. She doesn’t like to miss a day, so we still run on Fridays (shhh)

There are many, many reasons I believe Fridays are for pizza.  First, how many of us really get jazzed to go home and cook dinner after five days of work?  I know I don’t.  In fact, I rarely cook on Fridays.  That’s not to say we have takeout or restaurant pizza every Friday, but I typically meal plan the week so whatever I make on Thursday, there are delicious leftovers for Friday (lasagna, soup, casserole, etc.).  However, in the event that my meal planning has not been executed as intended, pizza is my number one back-up plan (and sometimes it is the only plan).  In Charlotte, that typically meant Riccio’s – a good little Italian place right in our neighborhood (Touchstone).  In Macon, that means Ingleside Village Pizza.  Sadly, they don’t deliver – but it’s a testament to how outstanding the pizza is that we a) spend much more money than Papa John’s or Domino’s to have it and b) we hold off on the beer or wine consumption in order to go pick it up.

Wine consumption exhibit A at Otto Pizza

Wine consumption exhibit A at OTTO Pizza

If you have the good fortune to live in the Portland, Maine area (and in certain parts of NH and MA), you have two great, local choices – OTTO Pizza and Portland Pie Company. Let’s handle these one at a time – besides both being local joints and offering really good pizza, I feel they’re pretty different.

During my recent trip home, I visited the Portland Pie location on York Street (I had previously been to Portland Pie in Westbrook).  It was a Friday (naturally), and my mom, my sister, and I met my cousin and her family there for dinner.  Despite our early arrival time of 5pm, they were already very full and pretty noisy, but pleasantly so – the type of noisy that tells you families are enjoying themselves, young professionals are kicking back at the end of the week, and that you’re in a bustling place of business.  Portland Pie’s major differentiator is that it’s all about the dough – and they say so on their website.  Their signature flavored pizza doughs stand out from the crowd – Basil, Wheat, Garlic, and Beer.  I ordered a Shipyard Delight (vegetarian pizza with spinach, broccoli, and more) on a garlic crust and enjoyed every bite.  While I’m a sauce girl (the more red sauce, the better), the flavored crust only elevated that experience, and the fresh veggies enabled me to pretend I wasn’t indulging.  My sister got the ‘Roni, which was also great (she let me steal a piece – it’s amazing they didn’t have to roll me out of there).  To sum it up, if you like traditional pizza with a twist, and lots of options, Portland Pie is the place for you.

Switching gears, I found the experience at OTTO to be a strong contrast.  OTTO Pizza was recently voted the best pizza in the state, and I don’t disagree.  We visited the 225 Congress Street location on a Saturday night, and what struck me upon first walking in was that I could have been walking into another type of restaurant – perhaps a gastro pub – or something slightly upscale with a foodies-would-go-wild-for-this feel.  The OTTO Pizza menu is shorter than Portland Pie, but certainly not less appealing.  It’s actually a good thing it isn’t longer – it was hard enough to choose as is.  Their menu is inventive, creative, and completely unique.  In its way, it hardly feels like pizza.  This is a pizza place a guy could take a date to before she’s officially his girlfriend.  My mom and I decided to split two pies – we ordered the Mashed Potato, Bacon, and Scallion (who can say no to that, after all?) and the Eggplant, Ricotta, and Basil (’cause I had to have my red sauce).

We were so eager to start that I didn't get my picture while both pies were whole!

We were so eager to start that I didn’t get my picture while both pies were whole!

The OTTO crust is thin – almost acting as a mere vessel for the spectacular combination of ingredients atop it.  Both pizzas were delicious – I still can’t choose a favorite even in reflection, which is saying something.  The dining experience at OTTO was rounded out by good service and an enjoyable, adult atmosphere.  And judging by the constant takeout parade of people and pizza boxes, they’re doing a brisk business, too.

Happy Friday to all… I hope yours includes pizza and beer.  I know mine will.


Leave a comment

Don’t Miss Out: Eat Drink Lucky

Today’s post is simply a brief recommendation to check out (and sign up) for Eat Drink Lucky, the Portland, Maine edition.  A few months ago, I discovered them on Twitter and signed up for their free, daily e-newsletter.  Given Portland’s status as a foodie city, it seemed like a wise way to stay in touch with Portland’s exciting culinary ventures when I’m far away.

(Unfortunately for me, reading about all of the great edible things happening 1,000+ miles away has only made me incredibly jealous of all of you lucky people who live in close proximity.)

Jealousy aside, I’ve enjoyed every edition.  The newsletter is cleverly written, brief, and regularly introduces me to, or reminds me of, fun cultural events and dining (or drinking) opportunities.

For example, I was inspired to post about them today specifically by their “Drink” section, which clued me into Rosemont Market’s three wine tastings this week (and next) that will be geared toward helping you select the perfect Thanksgiving pairing.

Happy wining and dining!


Leave a comment

Buy Local: Maine Farmers’ Markets

As mentioned at the tail end of my most recent post, over the last several years, I’ve become increasingly interested in where the food I buy comes from.  There are multiple and varying reasons for this, although the most influential one for me is the health factor, followed closely by supporting the local economy and small business farmers, who have struggled in recent decades.  Although I think it’s positive to buy locally sourced food because it travels a shorter distance, that opinion is related to the quality of the produce and the long term viability of sourcing food that way, and not to other potential implications.

Living in Macon, Georgia, I typically go to the downtown farmers’ market, called the Mulberry Street Market, held every Wednesday afternoon  / evening.  I enjoy living in a state with such respect for its agricultural heritage, although its farmers face the same struggle as other states – competition with massive distributors that drive down prices and increase competition for store awareness and shelf space.

Maine also has a strong agricultural heritage and awareness of local farms is on the rise.  Below, I’ve highlighted a few farmers’ markets and other considerations for buying food locally.  The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets website is a great resource for shoppers and farmers alike.  From this site, I learned that Maine has more than 130 farmers’ markets and 25 of these are year-round (click here to see the winter’s farmers’ markets).

If you live in the greater Portland area, check out the Portland Farmers’ Market at one of its alternating locations.  The great thing about this market, given the cold winter climate, is that it is year round.  In mid-November, they move to an indoor location.  From April – November, they are in Deering Oaks Park on Saturdays (7am – 1pm) and Monument Square on Wednesdays (7am – 1pm).

Just outside Portland, you can visit the Greater Gorham Farmers’ Market, held on Saturdays from 8:30am – 12:30pm between May and October.  The market is located on Route 114 between Baxter Memorial Library (where I spent a lot of time as a young adult) and the Gorham Times.

If you’re based in Bangor, the Bangor Farmers’ Market has a lot to offer, running on Sundays from 11am – 2pm during the summer months.

The Cumberland and Falmouth Markets sound pretty intriguing.  In addition to your anticipated farmers’ market booths of fruits, veggies, and meats, they also offer arts and crafts.  The Cumberland Market is on Saturdays from 9am – 12pm at the Town Hall on Tuttle Road, while the Falmouth Market is Wednesdays from noon -4pm at Legion Field on Depot Road.

Going further north, you can find the Houlton Community Market (open Memorial Day – October on Saturdays from 9am – 1pm) and the Presque Isle Farmers’ Market, also running May – October on Saturdays from 9am – 1pm.

There are many, many markets I didn’t mention here.  Please do check out the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets site for more information if you live in another area.

Lastly, just the other day, I began following Casco Bay Organics on Twitter (@CascoBayOrganic).  Finding this organization seemed serendipitous as this post was already slowly forming in my mind, and in its way, it is even better (easier) than a farmers’ market.  You sign up for a small, medium, or large box, which will be delivered to you on Thursdays filled with local, organic produce.  Sounds like a great service!  Their website offers much more specific information and insight about the farms they source from.

IMG_20130902_122820_132

Here’s to happy, healthy eating!


Leave a comment

Brew Maine: In’finiti Fermentation and Distillation

Like many states, Maine is enjoying a surge in the popularity of specialty beer and microbreweries – and I would certainly argue that Maine has been a leader in this movement.  I highly recommend that you follow @beerbabe if you’re interested in Maine beer in particular, but also microbrews in general.  If you’re into a bit of health and fitness in addition to a good brew review, check out www.lovesweatbeers.com, a blog written by my good friend, Tiffany.

This post on In’finiti Fermentation & Distillation, located on Commercial Street in the Old Port, is long long long overdue.  My apologies.  If you follow me regularly, you know we’ve (my husband and I) been in the process of moving, getting settled, and adjusting to career advancement / more demanding travel schedules, and while that has all been exciting and we’re very thankful for the opportunities we’ve been given – it also takes a lot of time!

We visited In’finiti during our trip home to Maine over the Thanksgiving holiday last year.  My best friend, E, joined Nick and me for the fun.  The In’finiti restaurant space is large, and split level – we were seated in the upper area, overlooking the bar below.  It would be hard for a space like this one not to be beautiful – with its rustic, dark wood and striking views of fermentation and distillation equipment.  The vibrant metallics contrast nicely with the ironwork and other rustic elements, creating an atmosphere of both relaxation and excitement.

Gleaming equipment... it really is pretty!

Gleaming equipment… it really is pretty!

Bar area (please excuse the poor quality phone photos)

Bar area (please excuse the poor quality phone photos)

I can imagine that during a summer day, the outdoor seating would offer a pretty spectacular view as well!

We tried several beers each before settling on final choices – and enjoyed them all.

Cheers!

Cheers!

For a meal, I ordered the lobster mac n’ cheese.  It was very good (although honestly, if you can screw up mac n’ cheese, you probably shouldn’t be running a restaurant – worse, if you could mess it up with the addition of succulent Maine lobster).  I’m happy to report that I enjoyed every bite!

Both Nick and E affirmed my observations on the atmosphere, beverages, and food.  Overall, In’finiti was a great experience for us.  It’s the sort of place where you can easily kick back with friends, or enjoy a casual date… and its location is ideal for dinner before a night on Fore Street.

Cheers!