This Is What Portland, Maine Tastes Like (in Case You Can’t Go)

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

When you think of the food of Maine, your mind might land on lobster. But Portland, Maine’s largest city, has so much more to offer than mayo-dressed lobster meat piled into a hot dog bun. The city’s close proximity to the ocean and local farms means the inventive chefs who call Portland home have a wealth of fresh ingredients at their fingertips. If you look past the stereotypes and avoid the tourist traps, the food of Portland is creative, sophisticated, and downright delicious.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Perhaps one of the most emblematic restaurants of the Portland food scene is Central Provisions, located in the Old Port neighborhood. Chef/Owner Christopher Gould put Portland on the map with his creative, ever-changing menu of small plates.

One dish that’s held steady over the years is the fried cauliflower salad. It’s a seemingly simple dish, but one bite and you’ll realize it’s packed with layers of flavor. With crunchy chickpeas, creamy feta, and a zippy ras el hanout vinaigrette, it’s a crowd favorite for a reason.

(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

Another example of Portland’s food ethos is Drifters Wife. Owners Peter and Orenda Hale opened this small restaurant, which is attached to their natural wine shop, Maine & Loire, in 2016. Chef Ben Jackson draws up the menu based on what’s fresh, but you can always expect expertly crafted dishes that sing of the season.

My favorite? The bread and butter, which pairs locally made sourdough with dulse butter. Dulse, a type of seaweed harvested in Maine, is dried, ground, and then mixed into butter for a salty, umami-packed twist on a classic ingredient.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

You haven’t had a blueberry until you’ve had a Maine blueberry. Blueberries grow wild in Maine, and they’re typically smaller and more flavorful than the large blue orbs you find in the grocery store. When these wild berries are in season, you can expect to find them in everything from ice cream to salads to scones.

Duckfat, a tiny restaurant with long wait times, is known for its french fries (fried in duck fat, of course), panini, and milkshakes. The wild Maine blueberry milkshake, in particular, is not to be missed. It starts with a base of vanilla gelato instead of the standard ice cream, which results in an irresistibly creamy shake that tastes like summer in a glass.

(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

Of course, we did have to sneak one lobster roll in here — but this is no ordinary lobster roll. Inspired by the roll at Eventide Oyster Co., a seafood-centric hotspot known for its raw oyster selection, this lobster roll is dressed with brown butter instead of the requisite mayonnaise and served on a brioche bun. With only brown butter and a bit of lemon and fresh chive, the sweet lobster meat is really the centerpiece here. It’s a lesson in both simplicity and decadence.