Portland is full of small, locally operated food stores and restaurants. They may not all have much in the way of aesthetics, but behind modest decoration lies culinary excellence. As a practice when looking for “the real deal”, we always ask the staff what the best items are, and that is usually what we order. Here are some of my favorites that may not show up in a typical tourist guide:
- Coastal Maine Popcorn– one of my favorites and a great gift for popcorn lovers! They have over 20 flavors per day ranging from marshmallow, to buffalo, to chocolate s’more. My savory combination of choice is olive oil mixed with rosemary, and sweet is the lemon chiffon. Creativity and sampling are encouraged!
- Fit To Eat- You may need to look twice before finding this delicious destination on Market Street. Fit To Eat offers homemade sandwiches and salads that are made with high quality ingredients. The meats are organic, the bread is made in house, and the sandwich options unusual. Try the “Old Port”- lean roast beef with cheddar and wasabi mayo or the “Grecian” with sliced chicken, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, and hummus. Save room for dessert! Another locally owned ice cream company, Catbird Creamery, is sold in house. The “Furious George” -banana ice cream with walnuts, chocolate chunks, and cayenne pepper is worth sampling!
- Free Range Fish and Lobster- a seafood retail store with local fresh fish, scallops, mussels, and of course lobsters. Asa resident it’s the best place to buy fish like haddock and salmon, but for tourists it’s a great spot for a lobster right off the road. With prices as low at $5.99 per pound, you can pick your lobster and have it steamed right in store. Grab some side dishes from a local food market and you have the perfect picnic.
- The Great Lost Bear- cast aside judgements, The Great Lost Bear was ranked in the Forbes list of top 50 Great American Beer Bars. If you are looking to sample a variety of local beers this is the place to go for a sample paddle and great nachos.
- J’s Oyster Bar– J’s sits right on the harbor on Commercial Street and is the place that locals eat. Theseafood comes straight in through the backdoor and could not taste fresher. The dishes are simple, prices incredibly reasonable, and Portland at it’s best. Buckets of clams, oysters (at .50 cents each!), and mussels are great for sharing and the seafood bouillabaisse is to die for. They don’t take reservations so get in line early… it’s worth the wait.
- The Public Market- The Public Market houses as many as ten small restaurants that would never generate enough business to operate on their own. It’s the perfect place to sample many dishes from local vendors. Karmasouptra (a soup shop), Big Sky Baking Company, and Pie in the Sky Pizza are a short list of little treasures. The soup at Kamasouptra is fantastic and they always offer something unusual, like the Mexican Goat Stew, which I highly recommend.
- When Pigs Fly Breads– this store is a twenty minute drive north of Portlandinto Freeport and worth every minute! The bakery makes dozens of artisan breads and samples all of them in the front of the store. Tasting is highly encouraged and you can eat yourself silly upon entering. Apple Cinnamon bread, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, Chocolate Brownie, and Pumpkin Cranberry is just a glimpse of what awaits in the tiny storefront.