If you’re a craft beer lover and foodie then there is no better time to be alive in New England then now. Seemingly overnight we went from a couple of known craft brewers to HUNDREDS, this makes me happy. The Boston area is known for new up and comers like Night Shift and Trillium, but Portland, ME is where the action really is. Home to Shipyard, Allagash, Definitive, Foundation, Sea Dog and Rising Tide to name a few. All, seriously all, are within stumbling distance of one another. Oh let us not mention the amazing restaurants just meandering about once those drunken munchies kick in. Find anything from the corner hot dog stand to straight fine dining with an upscale feel, it’s all here.
I highly suggest everyone do some sort of day trip on the weekends if you work a hectic schedule like I do. It’ll keep you sane, your bellies full and your sense of adventure won’t wane in the lulls of the in-between. A day trip has been on tall order so I gathered all the boys and made headway to the land of craft brew magic. On this return trip, there were the old familiars we wanted to hit up (Shipyard and Duckfat) but coupled with a few new places I haven’t had the chance to try (Allagash and Definitive).
First things first: line those bellies with some delicious greasy food at Duckfat! If you’re not already in line fighting for a table before they open at 11AM then the wait can be long and excruciating, but well worth it. The main pull here is the classic Belgian fries made with local potatoes fried in duck fat, yes duck fat. You can get them with a sauce flight and throw caution to the waistline. They also have an array of paninis, soups, salads, and charcuterie on the menu. A table outside was welcomed on such a beautiful Sunday morning. Grab a couple of sandwiches to split among everyone and enjoy a local beer while you get the day started. They don’t take reservations or have a table that can seat more than 8 so be forewarned. If you cant get a table to dine on they do have a frite shack nearby that specializes in to-go ordering with a smaller menu.
With food in the stomach, we stumbled towards Shipyard Brewing Company conveniently located a few blocks away. They used to have a small informational tour of their brewery but is now home to a rather large tasting room. It was nice to get away from the early onset of summer’s heat by relishing in their ac’ed accommodations. Grab a chalk plaque, write down some numbers (just not 15-20!) and bring it to the great people behind the bar and enjoy their delicious beer rotations. Not one to fancy a quality handcrafted Shipyard then maybe the Capt’n Eli’s soda is more your speed. Whatever the case may be their brews are always one I look forward to the most.
Another well established Maine brewery has got to be Allagash Brewing. This is a little bit out of the center of downtown Portland so it’s best to take a drive there. The great thing about the location of Allagash is again within stumbling distance there are about 5 other breweries, the former being the big draw. You can find plenty of outside seating as well as a large mobile home converted into a stationary food truck, oh did we mention there is a corn hole on the premise? Allagash runs a tour of their facility but space is limited and they fill up rather quickly so check the website! A few rotation samplers and a couple of rounds of corn hole in the bag we were off.
We perused one or two more brewers before deciding to head back into town for a late lunch/early dinner. By now you can imagine how hungry a few gentlemen can be with copious amounts of alcohol in their system. Switching it up we decided it was time for cocktails so we made our way to Petite Jacqueline. A quaint little establishment that reminded much of the cafes in Paris during my last adventure. The bartenders here know their stuff and are great with suggesting you something to try if you’re not cocktail savvy. Petite is probably one of the few places I’ve gone to that makes an Aperol Spritz that leaves my mouth wanting more. An old fashioned less the fruit and a round of tequila for everyone later it was REALLY time for that early dinner we’ve been going on about.
To feel fancy in Portland a stop at Blyth & Burrows NEEDS to be on your list. This upscale cocktail bar is the place to see and be seen. Located near downtown in an unassuming building with a beautiful mural laced on its brick surface you can easily walk right past it. They serve masterfully crafted cocktails and well thought out small plates all done in nautical themes. The exposed brick painted in blue, vintage tall mirrors, leather bounded chairs and a plethora of nautical ship paintings really set the high-end feel of the joint.
We placed an order for their bone marrow, meat and cheese board, Korean charbroiled oysters along with two dozens of their best raw just for size. Our waitress, god bless her soul for having to put up with the seven of us, brought over a small teaser courtesy of the chef manning the kitchen. I can’t remember what it was called but it brought with it the memories of childhood BBQs. Corn laced in a white sauce that I can only deduce is of the Mexican variety was a welcomed taste in my mouth. I’m a sucker for bone marrow if done especially right and this place hit that nail right on the head. Soft and almost falling out of the crevice I couldn’t scoop it fast enough onto my bread. Umami level was had with that offering. The Korean style broiled oysters were another delight. The look of pure unadulterated joy on my face when it graced my lips was worthy of ‘must be 18 and over to view.’ We kept the food light, the conversations flowing and libations coming all the while enjoying the company that was our misfit group of friends.
There is another section to this place, the hidden bar. The secret door was a faux bookcase situated right next to my head. They open a little later than the dining area but unfortunately we weren’t able to dip our toes inside. A good excuse for a follow-up visit.
Working off all of what we just ate and drank is pretty easy considering how diverse downtown Portland is. The vibe of the locals here is pretty laid back, very much like the PNW from past my experience. They had stored for everyone ranging from your classic salt bath boutique shops to the venerable all cheese everything corner store, heck they even had a cannabis one here. Don’t worry you’ll find something for someone if grabbing a souvenir is the name of your game.
We finished off our drinking through Portland escapade with one final stop: J’s Oysters. On deck, you guessed it, was more and more oysters, a bucket of steamers and of course a grilled cheese for yours truly. The joint is a very old school, nothing fancy, loud patrons, and equally loud servers, all about the food, the type of place I indulge in. A table with a view leading to the ocean, a cold one in hand and friends around, I couldn’t really complain at all. Fresh has been the theme all day when binge eating and I for one was not sick of shoving raw oysters down my throat followed by a fresh sip of a cold lager. Their steamers were plump and gritty, not too much but enough to remind you of the ocean in which it probably was dwelling in 24 hours ago. A meal with great friends, talking shop, adventures past and future, yea life couldn’t be better at that moment. Before long the day was winding down, the fellas tired, the bellies on the brink of bursting but it was time to go home.
I have said it once before and I will say it again: Weekend Day Trips Are A Must! Everyone needs to take a break from the week’s mundane activity of work and responsibility. Have a little fun, a little gluttony, and a few libations if for only a couple of hours in cities a little way’s away. Explore alleyways with painted murals, walkthrough little shops specializing in the weird or outlandish or plant yourself on a corner with ice cream and people watch. Whatever it is you’re doing in whatever nearby city immerse yourself in something new.