Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

It's Portland, Maine ... Let's eat!

Portland, Maine is one of those cities we keep coming back to time and time again.  It seems every time we are here we keep extending our stay longer and longer.  Portland appeals to us for lots of reasons and with a population of around 67K people it is a perfect size “big city” for us.  There is always lots to do with summer festivals and events, the food scene is amazing, there is a picturesque waterfront, and plenty of historical beauty and quaint New England charm. 



Portland sits on a peninsula jutting out into Casco Bay and features a true working waterfront with fishing vessels and wharfs a buzz with Maine’s aquatic bounty.  Venture uphill from the water and you find cobblestone streets tucked at the base of beautiful historic buildings now occupied by a myriad of eclectic shops mixed with amazing restaurants, galleries, antique shops, and bars.  Another beautiful place to go is the Western Promenade which is a public park atop a bluff offering endless water views dotted with distant islands to one side and mountain views on the other.

When it comes to food, Portland excels and that is why Bon Appetite Magazine named Portland “The Best Food City in America” in 2018.  And with five nominated Chefs, restaurants, and a brewery up for James Beard Awards in 2019, how could you not be impressed?  Restaurants run the gamut from places with elegant tweezer food restaurants, perfectly executed ethnic foods, BBQ joints, and don’t forget seafood restaurants serving up Maine’s most recognizable crustacean and all other aquatic bounty. Portland has it all. 

If you are looking for a great way to delve into the Portland food scene and get the backstory on chefs, farmers, and Maine’s farm/sea to table movements, check out a tour with Maine Food for Thought.  We signed up for the Land, Sea, to Fork tour which is a fascinating three hours of eating and learning about where Maine food comes from, challenges farmers and fishermen are facing, and how restaurants are staying true to sustainable practices.  Our super knowledgeable guide led us around town so we could sample foods at five of Portland’s great restaurants that locally source sustainable foods.  If you are a foodie in Portland, this tour is a must.  In fact, even if you are not, it is a great tour.  We loved it and quickly realized why it is Trip Advisors #1 rated Tour, the #1 Food and Drink Attraction in Portland and gets five stars. 

Some other notable restaurants we have visited in the past are Duckfat (which serves amazing hand-cut fries cooked in, you guessed it – duckfat), Eventide (known for their amazing selection of oysters), Nosh Kitchen Bar (an amazing sandwich joint with creative creations like a hamburger patty stuffed between two fried mac and cheese patties as the buns, and Noble Barbecue (which piles wood and smoked meat high and serves it up juicy).  We recommend all these restaurants!

Our 2019 spring road trip from Florida to Maine involved eating at a lot of James Beard Foundation winners and nominees and the Portland area was the culmination of the trip.  On this trip we ate at a few new places – Fore Street, Drifter’s Wife, and Palace Diner.  Fore Street, the highly-touted, long-running downtown restaurant has been around for 23 years and is considered by many to be the originator of today's food obsession in Portland.  The list of accolades for Fore Street is well-deserved and extensive so I won’t bore you with all the details.  You can goggle it.  The space is as appealing and good looking as the food with exposed brick walls, enormous windows, and an open kitchen.  A wood burning oven plays front and center stage turning out amazing food like delicate roasted seafood and tender meats.  Their modern American menu changes daily and revolves around what is fresh and in season from their providers that encompasses farmers, shellfish gatherers, woodland foragers, day-boat fishermen, and more. 

Drifter’s Wife is a restaurant that came on the scene in 2015 as a wine shop.  In order to get people in, the owners decided to pop open the bottles and pair them with some snacks.  The space is small which makes it warm and welcoming with a chic style of wood tables and bold black furnishings.  We sat at the bar to enjoy some happy hour libations and quickly decided to abandon our reserved table when we realized the fun of sitting at the bar with a charismatic bartender and interesting fellow bar stoolers.  The food is kept simple and local.  I opted for their chicken and turnips which is a dish that can’t seem to leave the menu because it always gets requested and put back on.  If a restaurant can be known for its chicken, then they are doing something right.  Betsy went with the lightly fried softshell crab with wilted greens.  Their menu is simple and elegant accompanied by excellent service.

The Palace Diner is a Biddeford, Maine institution with great comfort food that earned them a 2019 James Beard Foundation Award nomination for “Best Chef – Northeast.” The dining car was built in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1927 by the Pollard Company and has been in Biddeford, Maine for its entire life and is one of two Pollard cars remaining in America.  The Palace Diner came to fruition in the days when dining cars were placed next to mills so hungry workers could get hearty meals when breakfast and lunch rolled around.  And this diner still serves up those comforting and hearty meals.  Not a lot has changed from the fifteen-seat counter to the stainless steel back splash to the menu choices.  The waft of coffee, cooking bacon and sweet maple syrup greet you as you walk in where a friendly voice welcomes you to the establishment and guides you into a seat (because this place will be busy and crowd control can be important in this tiny, efficient space).  The menu is what you want and expect from a diner.  Think tuna melt, cheese burger and fries, pillowy buttermilk flapjacks, and savory corned beef hash.  We opted for the whole breast fried chicken sandwich, which we shared, with cabbage slaw and jalapenos served with a side of wedge salad.  Oh my, was it good!

When you are tired of eating, head over to one of Maine’s most famous attractions – the Portland Head Light.  This iconic 80 – foot cylindrical tower has graced the rocky shore since 1791 and garners the title of Maine’s oldest lighthouse and the first in the country built by the federal government.  Seafaring stories of shipwrecks and lifesaving decorate this lighthouses’ past but one of the most colorful stories is of the keeper, Captain Joshua Freeman, who supplemented his government income by selling rum to visitors for three cents a glass. Pretty clever guy. 




Every time we come to the Portland area we stay at Bayley’sCamping Resort in Scarborough.  The campground is in a great location being about nine or so miles from downtown Portland yet close enough to other towns fun to explore like Old Orchard Beach, Saco, and Kennebunkport.  The campground is super huge with over 700 sites and has lots of amenities as in three swimming pools, five hot tubs, a cafĂ©, rental golf carts, fishing ponds, putt putt golf, baseball diamond, canoe/kayak launch (with rentals) and lots more

A short drive south is Ferry Beach State Park which served as a great place to take Spirit for a walk and enjoy the outdoors.  The park has a few trails that wind through the woods and lead you to a sandy beach area that would be nice to enjoy on a warm summer day.  



For us, cold weather early in the season meant we would appreciate the view but not dip our toes in the frigid Atlantic.  Another place we enjoyed walking spirit is on a trail that bisects the Scarborough Marsh – a 3,100 acre estuarine environment that is Maine’s largest saltwater marsh ecosystem and a phenomenal place to bird watch.  There is also a nature center operated by Maine Audubon Society that offers naturalist-guided and self-guided tours, has interpretive exhibits, canoe/kayak rentals, and a small gift shop.

Portland and the surrounding area hold lots to do.  This blog focused a lot on food but here are some links to other blog posts written in 20162014, and 2011 that describe previous visits to the area.  There is no shortage of things to do in and around Maine’s largest city. 

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for all this great info as I want to get back to Portland someday - Only spent one day there and of course we ate seafood.

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    1. You welcome. We keep spending more and more time there and find so much to do...and eat!

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  2. Thanks so much for all the great info you provide. I've followed you guys for years and continue to do so even though I've unfollowed most other RV bloggers. Now that we are full-time ourselves we are living the life and I don't have time to spend hours reading what everyone else did. But yours are different, you save up info and post every once in a while with GREAT info, compact, easy to read and so full of great information. I always find a lot of "to do" stuff to pin to my map when I read your blogs. Thank you so very much and safe travels to you!

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    1. Thanks for your kind words. This blog started nine years ago and sometimes it is hard to find motivation for writing new posts. Encouragement from readers like you keeps me going.

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