Last year I wrote a long post about our annual summer visit to southern Maine. And I mentioned then that Maine has been a long-time special state to both my husband and me. Getting to share our mutual love of Maine with our girls now is a real treat. While we didn’t veer far off the course this time, next summer we’ve vowed to take on new and more northern parts of Maine.
For now, here’s a quick little supplement to last year’s post to shout out some of the spots we visited for the first time this year in the Portland and Ogunquit areas.
Ogunquit Is Easy Peasy
I’ve been coming to Ogunquit FOREVER and it’s truly an adorable, family friendly seaside town. Plus it’s just a quick 3.5-5 hour drive from the tri-state area. Like last year, we stayed just outside the town limits at the Cliff House in Cape Neddick. It’s still a beautiful property, but I was less enchanted with it this year, given the lackluster service and even higher prices.
As for OG eats, we again enjoyed a tasty al fresco meal at Brix and Brine right on Shore Road in Ogunquit proper, and no matter where you land in Maine, you MUST stop at the iconic Barnacle Billy’s in Perkins Cove for lobster on the water front patio on your way.
In Cape Neddick, Walker’s opened late last summer with the former Chef de Cuisine at Arrows Restaurant and Executive Chef at Earth at Hidden Pond, Justin Walker, at the helm. Our meal here was excellent, the space is charming but still comfortable and, despite it being on the upscale side of things, the wait staff was incredibly welcoming to our girls (the restaurant has a printed kids menu, too). Everything we ordered was outstanding, but their signature buttermilk biscuits with foie butter will haunt my dreams for awhile.
An Overnight in Portland
Just about another 40 minutes north of Ogunquit lies a small town with a ton of character and on the cutting edge of cuisine, craft beer and general “hipness.” I HEART Portland, Maine and I long for the day that I can really explore and enjoy it completely without small children whining in my ear that they’re bored. This summer we did an overnight in Portland. We stayed at the Portland Harbor Hotel, which had a wonderful location, nice facilities and a friendly staff.
During our quick overnight visit, we ate and drank well in the short time that we had, and we did it all with two kiddies in tow. Here are a few Portland spots that we tried for the first time on this visit and came back as HUGE fans:
Rose Foods: A counter service Jewish deli in New England? HELL YES when that deli is by the same people who own and operate the incredible Palace Diner in Biddeford, Maine (see last year’s post for my gushing words about that spot).
We stopped by Rose Foods at breakfast time and each one of us thought our respective bagel (made in house) was incredible. I opted for the Classic Nova - cream cheese, nova, cucumbers, onion, capers, dill - on an everything bagel and it was a perfect blend of salty herbaceous goodness. My husband concocted his own order with whitefish salad on an everything bagel. Rose closes every day by 2pm but it does serve some tasty sounding lunch sandwiches, too. If we lived locally, I’d be at Rose Foods at least weekly.
Bissel Brothers Brewing: If you are at all into the New England craft beer scene then you are probably already familiar with Bissel Brothers. Their flagship IPA, “The Substance” can sometimes be found down here in the tri-state area; and when I see it, I snag it. In Portland, Bissel is hugely popular and visiting their swanky brewery in town was a must this visit.
When you walk into their headquarters at 4 Thompson Point, you’re immediately taken aback by the beautiful, airy, welcoming bi-level space. There is an arcade game and some board games in one corner for the little ones, and plenty of high top barrel seating and larger patio tables for the adults to relax at. A 6% IPA called “Assume Positive Intent” kept me very happy, while roaming around the large space and noshing on a tasty grilled cheese from in-house eatery, Locally Sourced, kept my girls happy.
Mr. Tuna: I have heard so much about this roving sushi (specializing in hand rolls) truck over the past few years that I was fairly devastated when we couldn’t make it happen last summer. This year my hopes would have been similarly dashed (the event I was planning to catch the truck at got cancelled), but for the fact that late last year, Mr. Tuna opened a permanent booth at the Portland Public Market. We hit the Market right after Bissel and just an hour or two before dinner so I tried hard not to go overboard. Alas, I still managed to eat 2 tuna hand rolls, a hamachi hand roll and the remnants of my kids’ veggie hand roll. All were delicious and much like Rose Foods, I would eat here AT LEAST weekly if I were local.
Baharat: Baharat is a super hip Middle Eastern restaurant that opened on Anderson Street (just a block down from Austin Street Brewery) in 2017 after finding success in town as a food truck since 2013. It was mentioned briefly in last year’s Bon Appetit article naming Portland its Food City of the Year, and I noted that its Yelp review implied it was kid friendly and that no reservations were taken. All of those factors led us to a fairly late night (with kids) and fairly impromptu dinner at Baharat.
Suffice to say the entire meal was outstanding. The service was friendly, the vibe was crazy cool but relaxed and each dish was exploding with flavor. The menu offers single kebabs and platters that include a double kebab portion plus rice, house salad and Iraqi flatbread. Our chicken and lamb kebabs were excellent. But in my opinion, the real stars at Baharat are its mezze. We devoured a plate of pickled veggies, crispy chickpeas and an incredible special that involved pickled shrimp salad served in an avocado. Also, we stuck to wine and beer but the cocktails coming from the restaurant’s bar looked insane and I regret not trying one or two.
Portland For the Kids
On a final note, we ALWAYS make sure to incorporate kid friendly activities in any day that involves walking around a city and/or some adult eating and drinking. On this trip to Portland, our girls had a few quick playground visits and we spent about an hour with them at the splash pad at Deering Oaks Park. They loved that! And what little shopping around town we got in was mostly in toy and gift stores for the kids. Treehouse Toys in the Old Port is a fabulous toy store. Plus there is always ice cream!!!
We love you, Maine! Thanks for being such a wonderful part of our summers!!