Being in the restaurant industry, I had repeatedly heard about the magical land of Portland, a place filled with culinary and cocktail gems. But I had yet to experience it for myself until last spring, when my girlfriend and I decided it was time see with our own eyes if this mythical place really did exist, and could it really live up to its reputation?
We started early, ensuring that we could maximize the experience and hit as many restaurants as possible.
Our first stop: Duckfat. The wait averages about an hour and a half for lunch and doesn’t get any better for dinner. Truth be told, it’s worth at least three times the wait, and luckily there’s no lack for places to kill time while waiting for a table…
We stumbled on The Honey Paw, a noodle bar just up the street. Grabbing two seats at the bar we embarked on our day by turning to the bartender for recommendations. Turns out we had found the right guy, John Myers, Bar Manager for three restaurants on the block and a guy who really knows his stuff. We were in great hands. He recommended a Kolsch classic German Ale that was well-suited to my taste for crisper style beer. For my girlfriend, he made the Strong Paw—a perfectly balanced mezcal-based cocktail, both smokey and refreshing. With two perfect drinks in hand and great service, we almost forgot we were waiting for a table down the street.
And then it was time for lunch…
True to it’s name, Duckfat specializes in duck-featured dishes such as duck breast salads, duck confit paninis, and the epically delicious duck fat fries, best served in poutine form topped with duck fat gravy and perfectly half-melted cheese curds. And just when you think it can’t get any better, you taste the signature sea salted duck fat caramel milkshake, the best milkshake I’ve had to date.
Too early for a sweet tooth? There’s also a great selection of local beer on draught, and it’s never too early for that.
The adventure continued, and after many a colorful yarn store, Kombucha-filled markets, and handmade pottery galleries, we were ready for our next meal.
We decided on Central Provisions for dinner for its seasonal menu focused on small plates and local produce. The menu covers all bases of seafood, meat, produce, raw, hot and everything in between. And the beverage program is no different with a solid wine selection, local beer, and innovative craft cocktails.
I opted for a cool spin on a classic with the Peaks Island Punch, a perfect combination of cognac, pineapple, and black tea. The food highlight was the roasted bone marrow, subtly browned to perfection with a spicy touch of horseradish.
Fighting off our fullness and not quite ready to head home, we made one final stop at Hunt and Alpine Club for a couple cocktails. The Bonecrusher is a smoky, spicy variation on a margarita, sure to give you a second wind. As a big fan of fizz cocktails myself, the Green Eyes hit the spot with its herbaceous and floral spin on a gin fizz, both creamy and refreshing.
Hard to believe we had room for a few more bites, but we couldn’t resist a couple snacks like the delicious green chili and butter popcorn and the brown bread with mushroom butter.
It only took a day to gain a full understanding of why Portland has the reputation it does; I was hooked. A small town on the water that takes just a bit of wandering around (and a little help from Yelp) to find so many culinary gems. I have no doubt that there are many more to be found, and I have every intention of doing just that in my future visits to Portland.