Clockwise from top left: Portland Hunt and Alpine Club; Eventide Oyster Co.; Hugo’s; Eventide Oyster Co. Photo credits: Meredith Perdue (Portland hunt and alpine club). Douglass Merriam (eventide). Zack Bowen/Knack Factory (hugo’s). Zack Bowen/Knack Factory (eventide)
For much of Portland, Maine’s long history, it was all about the docks, and you’ll still find plenty of cool gruff spots overlooking its harbors. Recently, though, the town has become a destination for a new breed of visitor: the foodie. “In the last year we’ve had a lot of people moving up from Boston and New York, chefs from great restaurants with great backgrounds,” says Andrew Taylor, chef and owner of the recently opened Eventide Oyster Co. Savvy guests come for what’s fresh but stick around for the institutions (or vice versa). “We love the old stalwarts more than anyone,” Taylor adds. “The waterfront is still a working waterfront; history is on display everywhere.”
First, the Lobster Rolls
Fact: In Maine, the dish is served cold, with butter and minimal mayo (there’s no reason to dress the meat, because it’s so fresh).
The Classic: Hit up J’s Oyster (5 Portland Pier), a dingy dockside shack where the rolls are delivered by a weathered waitstaff.
The Newbie: The no-reservations Eventide Oyster Co. (86 Middle St.; EventideOysterCo.com) feels more Brooklyn than Maine and presents three takes on the lobster roll that have had more to do with the town’s edible evolution than any other dish. Do yourself a favor and go for the brown butter option, which will light up your tastebuds.
The Classic: Fore Street (288 Fore St.; ForeStreet.biz) has served wood-fired specialties for almost 20 years in the heart of the Old Port District. Try the lamb, raised on local islands, and the shellfish, pulled from the surrounding waters.
The Newbie: With more chefs than customers, redesigned restaurant Hugo’s (88 Middle St.; Hugos.net) offers produce-forward fare served on five-and two-course tasting menus with platings as pretty as the views of Casco Bay.
Hooch and Stiff Ones
The Classic: Slip down an alleyway on the piers and score cheap beers at The Porthole (20 Custom House Wharf; PortholeMaine.com). And be sure to check out Styxx (3 Spring St.; StyxxPortland.com), a come-one-come-all gay bar where you can dance off that lobster mayo into the wee hours.
The Newbie: The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club (75 Market St.; HuntandAlpineClub.com) caters to its bartender crowd with drinks like the Industry Sour, a sassy mix of Fernet, Chartreuse, and lime. It’s chic but still feels at home alongside the townie bars.