Monday: Whoopie Pie in the Sky

My first whoopie pie. An Isamax Snacks “original”-style Wicked Whoopie Pie, which means two chocolate cake discs stuffed with enough cream filling to set off a classroom of children like firecrackers, let alone one bleary-eyed girl, 28,000 feet high in the sky, at 7 o’clock in the morning. (Is that what makes it “wicked”?)

photo-11Mine is slightly smooshed from the transport, which means I’ve lost some of the cream filling to the crevices of its crinkled plastic wrapper forever. I’m not worried, just patient. I cat-nap until the beverage service comes around, because nothing cuts through that cloying-ly sweet frosting — you know, the kind that sends sharp, little tingles up into your bones — like stoic, acidic, citrus juice. Think about it: Why else does lemonade go down so well at birthday parties?

The verdict: It was so messy. It was processed cake-y, registering only slightly more homemade than a Hostess Ding-Dong or a Hoho. And on frosting steriods — an instant sugar high, tingly bone sensations and all.

… Although I’m fairly certain I caught the man reviewing his Powerpoint presentation next to me sneaking a glance. This is not normal Monday morning flight behavior. Was his look one of jealousy, or disgust? I was too absorbed in my own Wicked Whoopie world to tell.


The Portland, ME Edition: Eating, Drinking and Eating Some More (aka the “Ohh Duck Fat” Post)

There are hundreds of ways to eat and drink your way through photo-10Portland, ME, some probably better than others but few that are really terrible. This combination turned out pretty well:

No. 1: A beguiling “Sandwich of Sunshine” from Rosemont Market & Bakery, coupled with a large iced coffee and the excellent tattoo voyeurism at the coffee shop next door, makes for a quick and delicious breakfast … and only increases the urge to get a tattoo.

My two favorites that morning were the moon-cycle tattoo (was it from waxing to waning, or vice versus?) on the coffee shop clerk’s forearm, and the small flock of origami crane tattoos on a woman’s — what would you call that? Lower bicep? Really lovely and really unique.

No. 2. Keep an eye on the clock so as to time it to get to the Shipyard Brewery photo-6just before the top of the hour.

Put up with the screening of an energetic (and very short) “video tour,” and a much more interesting Q&A session inside the bottling plant after, to get to the sweet spot: Free beer.

Shipyard’s tap room has six beers on tap, including some unusual ones (a barley wine and their just-out fall seasonal brew, a pumpkin ale, were among the samples we tried). Six tastes at about 2 ounces per taste ads up to about a full beer, one that you downed in a few short minutes, so you’ll leave happy.

photo-1… And  in the perfect state of mind for no. 3, lunch at Duck Fat,  sandwich and fry shop from the husband and wife team that also owns Hugo’s, the 2009 Beard Award Winner for food in the Northeast. Given the hype, I wondered if Duck Fat might be more about the gimmick than substance.

I am happy to report that this is entirely not the case. In fact, in my opinion, Duck Fat has nailed it: delicious, affordable food; using really quality components that are often locally-sourced; a menu that’s both accessible and generally appealing, yet marked with little signals of the couple’s serious culinary credentials; all of the above not without a bit of humor, a bit of play.

We shared:


Belgian fries, large ($5.75, fried in duck fat). The classic. For our dipping sauce, chose the truffle ketchup,, which is just decadent. The garlic aioli, the second sauce that I ordered just for fun, couldn’t even compare.

— Corned beef tongue reuben ($8), marinated cabbage, Swiss cheese and homemade 1,000 island dressing on bread from Standard Baking Co. Now this is one of the most unusual items on the menu, stuck up right up top on the list of paninis, underneath the roasted turkey breast and above the grilled him & cheese. My eyes kind of glazed over the word “tongue” and just read “corned beef … reuben” the first few times.

It has huge flavor, between the sweet-sour-ness of the cabbage, the dressing, the bread and the offal earthiness of the tongue, and the sweet-sour-ness of the cabbage, the dressing, the bread, yeah. I’d do it all over again.

TIP: I had to try the classic fries this time, but next time I’m in town I’ll be back for the Duckfat Poutine ($9) — “layers of our Belgian fries topped with Moon Creamery cheese curds and homemade duck gravy” — a meal unto itself.

There’s magnetic poetry after the jump: Continue reading “The Portland, ME Edition: Eating, Drinking and Eating Some More (aka the “Ohh Duck Fat” Post)”

The Portland, ME Edition: Rosemont Market & Bakery, Can I Please Take You Home Now?

It’s probably fair, Rosemont Market & Bakery, to say that you had me at hello.

photo-3photo-1First (chance) encounter: You were pointed out to me by my friend and host, who is also an infinitely knowledgeable all-things-Portland guide, as we walked past on our way to brunch up the street at The Front Room. We stopped; I had to go inside. I made a quick circle, noting the cheese case, the crates of local blueberries and the New England beer selection. I knew I would be back.

photo-4Second (intentional) encounter: Sure enough, I found my way back, all by myself, later that day. I came with the intention (guise?) of picking up a few some things to make a light crab salad with my prized Harbor Fish Market purchase — that sweet, sweet crabmeat from Wood’s Seafood (Bucksport, ME) — while my friend/host/infinitely knowledgeable guide went training for her triathlon. Instead, I fell head-over-heels for the price point and the boutique-ness of the wine nook, fawned some more over the fresh, locally-grown (and so cheap!) produce, and end up accidentally buying dinner:

photo-5$6, qt. of homemade gazpacho
$2 French baguette, baked in house
$1.49 head of locally-grown bibb lettuce
$0.99 bunch of fresh chives

$12.99 giant bottle of La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Luberon Blanc (nothing fancy, a blend of Rhône varietals, but I’ve seen a 750 ml costs this much in New York, so on principle I had to buy the magnum)

It’s not really cooking, but my friend/guide /host’s exuberant roommate asked me what I did, so here’s the recipe: Doctor up the gazpacho with chopped green onion, fresh crab, a healthy drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and pepper. Ditto for the salad, except that I substituted a little Goddess Dressing (Kraft) for the olive oil. Serve with sliced, buttered and oven-toasted baguette points that make the kitchen smell oh-so-good. Pour wine heavily.

photo-7Third (spontaneous) encounter: Sure, I was thinking about you. But little did I know that I’d be back so soon. And then the roommate said, “Let’s walk up and get pastries from Rosemont!”It was said exuberantly.

Um, twist my arm. And this is how I discovered the Sandwich of Sunshine. Yes, literally, that’s what it’s called. The description on the (hand-written) index card goes on to read: “Local sun dried tomato goat cheese, Black Kettle Farm romaine, orange melon and a fruit salad of white peaches, watermelon, mango, basil and lemon yogurt” ($5.50). What? (Befuddlement.) No way. (Denial.) Wait a second … (Illumination breaking). Yes, yes, yes! (Discovery.)

photo-2Fourth (missed) encounter: I intended to stop by one last time on Sunday afternoon to pick up a souvenir, one of the large, plastic Rosemont-labeled spices (which are actually from some spice place in New Hampshire — the pickled fiddleheads would have meant having to check a bag).

I had been vacillating between the mulling spices, the pickling spices and the multi-colored rainbow sprinkles, because how long would it take me to get through 6 oz. of dried dill? (Which begs the question, why would it take me any less time to get through that giant container of sprinkles?)

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it back before Rosemont shuttered for the night. Sigh. This is not the first or the last time that I’ve wished I could pack something large and immoveable into my carry-on.

The Portland, ME Edition: So Cheap, So Good (aka the “First Impressions” Post)

This is Portland: Home to just more than 60,000 residents, Maine’s photo-10largest city is the same size as the coastal San Diego County town where I grew up when I left it 10 years ago. And we called that a suburb.

Salty and seafaring, and at the same time off-hand-ish bohemian, Portland is an amiable mix of “Mainers” who are in agreement about a few things: Tattoos (everyone’s got one). Excellent beer, at ridiculously low PPP (price per pint). Food that is impressively sustainable and local, without really trying (Earth happy and recession-friendly).

What a great food culture. When I left Portland I cried, just a little bit. Here’s just a few reasons why:

photo-2Gnocchi for breakfast? Yes, please! The lightly-browned, pillow-y potato packets are a brilliant alternative to the usual, often oily, previously-frozen-then-fried breakfast potatoes (e.g. hash browns or home fries).

At the Front Room, Chef Harding Smith’s neighborhood spot in the East End, my order of breakfast gnocchi shared the plate with sautéed spinach, thick-cut strips of the house’s “amazing bacon”* and two poached eggs — all of which was a little too generously doused in a citrus-y hollandaise sauce. Next time I’d probably order the sauce on the side, so as to moderate the application. Still, total decadence for a mere $8.

photo-7photo-15Working fish market! Uneven, wet and slippery floors! I know I’m giving myself away here, but I thoroughly enjoyed the sights and smells inside the Harbor Fish Market in the Old Port, just one example of a seafood vendor that does brisk wholesale business and is also open to the public.

Maine oysters ($1.19 ea.), steamer clams ($2.69/lb), live lobsters starting at $3.99/lb., and on, and on: I was heartened to discover that seafood isn’t just a New England export, it’s a way of life. On a whim I picked up an 8 oz. container of fresh crabmeat ($10), packaged by Wood’s Seafood of Bucksport, ME. So sweet and succulent, the crabmeat ended up the centerpiece of dinner for three a little later…

photo-13photo-12Really good, cheap beer: The cost of a pint of pretty much tops out at $4 at (the somewhat misleadingly-named) $3 Dewey’s, which has 36 beers on draft, mostly regional microbrews, including 7-10 seasonally-rotating taps. I was more than pleased with my choice of: Geary’s Summer Ale, Shipyard Export and an Allagash White (a classic). The free popcorn’s not a bad gig, either — buttery, salty and fresh-popped (I saw it), I polished off a couple of baskets’ worth all by myself. (Just don’t look too closely at the flavor-crusted exterior of the popping pan.)

*Being editor-types, my friend and I picked up on the fact that the B.L.T. sandwich description lists “amazing bacon” an ingredient. We were dubious of this so-called “amazing” bacon, that is, until a side of bacon arrived. Four beautifully-cured, thick-cut, not-too-fatty strips of bacon … price? $2. It’s amazing, I’ll vouch for it.

Dinner: Serious Goodness Overload (aka the OMG Flex Mussels Post)

Note: I missed lunch, due to interviews and general hectic-ness, which is how I wound up eating dinner at 6 p.m. As you’ll see, it worked out in the end …

photoNow this is is a concept restaurant that works. To quote the header on Flex Mussels‘ mussels menu: “mussels, mussels, mussels.” By the pound, served 23 different ways.

Doesn’t matter if you order the classic (white wine, herbs, garlic), the exotic (Gisha Girl: sake, green onions, pickled ginger, garlic, bird’s eye peppers) or the decadent (bisque: lobster, brandy, tomato, garlic, cream) — none of them will set you back more than a $20 spot.

I had the Maine (lobster, smoked bacon, corn, white chowder, parsley), and it took me a while, but by the time I got down to the broth (stage 3), I just wanted to tip the pot to my lips and slurp the rest down. I didn’t.

photo-1I was here really early (6 o’clock) — which worked out really well as this place gets just slammed after about 7p-7:30p nightly — and also sort of last moment, which is only minorly unfortunate because, while this pot of mussels could have fed two of us (slurping mandated), what ended up happening was that I overate (just a tad), and, alas, I had to let the bulk of the broth be whisked away back into the kitchen.

photo-2photo-5What else? There is a number of other seafood options, including a raw bar, “snacky seafood” items such as crab cakes, a lobster roll and fish & chips, as well as a few other fish options. But clearly, if you’re going to believe the staff, who are all wearing bad mussel-pun t-shirts like “Flexual Healing” and “Mussel Top” (and I do), Flex Mussels is all about the mussels.

NOTE: Also to try, the half-dozen beers by Unibroue brewery out of Quebec are really excellent. I paired the ‘Maudite’ with the Maine-style mussels, and it was perfect. As are (allegedly) the doughnuts.