I love visiting a city that has nice markets and Portland, Maine which is an hour away from our summer cottage on the lake, makes a great destination for searching out food sources. It was once named America’s foodiest small town for its great restaurants, fresh lobster, seafood and hand crafted beers. It is also well know for its markets, whether they are big stores, little shops or artisanal bakeries where you can find wonderful baked goods, unusual and hard to find items, gorgeous produce and specialty foods. These gems sometimes have me wishing I lived closer so that I could go all the time.
When planning a day trip to Portland, I pack a cooler in the back of my car that will hold the perishable items that I collect from a day of foraging. So I’m off “to market, to market, to buy at fat pig”…no not really. But I’ll be searching for black pepper dry salami that I enjoyed at lunch at The Blue Spoon on their meze plate. I’ll also be looking for fresh produce, cheese, bread and dessert. I think a pie be will coming home with me as well.
For the pie, my destination is Two Fat Cats. You may have heard of this traditional American style bakery as it has been written up in magazines such as Travel and Leisure, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, and the Boston Globe and the New York Times newspapers. The bakery is housed in a bright yellow building on India Street. Walk down a small wooden staircase, and the sweet smell of freshly baked pies, cakes, cupcakes and their famous whoopie pies fills the air of this tiny bakery. Everything is made the old-fashioned way…from scratch with butter and local fresh eggs, homemade frosting and pie crusts rolled by hand.
It is always a hard decision trying to decide what to buy but this time a bourbon pecan pie won out. Next time it will be cherry or mixed berry pie.
Down the street is my next destination, Micucci Grocery. It is a traditional Italian market filled with smells that will transport you to a small market on a back street in Italy.
The deli has a nice selection of the finest imported meats, cheeses and olives from Italy and the Mediterranean. Baskets filled with fresh produce are lined up in front of the cases. Yes, they had the black pepper dry salami that I was searching for.
They have an entire aisle of imported pasta in every shape and size imaginable. This is where I purchased the Sicilian pasta called fregula. I always buy a new shape I haven’t tried every time I am in the store.
Down another aisle there is shelf after shelf filled with jars of Italian condiments, bottles of extra virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar and dried herbs and spices.
Head past their large selection of Italian wines in the back, go up the stairs and past rows filled commercial size jars and cans of imported ingredients that supply many of the area restaurants and you will find what locals in the know go to Micucci’s for…”the slab”.
You will know you are in the right spot from the aroma of freshly baked Sicilian Pizza and artisan breads. A line forms in front of a rolling rack that holds “the Sicilian Slabs” that sell for $4.50 each. While standing in line, assemble a flattened pizza box which seems to be part of the experience. There is only the one kind of pizza and when it is sold out stay in line to wait for a fresh batch to be baked and cut. When you reach the front, grab one of the slabs on a paper plate and take it back down to the cashier at the front of the store. Locals rave about “the slab” with its thick, soft and yeasty crust topped only with sweet tomatoes and cheese. Too bad I had just finished lunch as the line wasn’t long.
Next stop on my foraging adventure is The Standard Baking Company. Located under the famed Fore Street Restaurant and with the same owners, this is probably the best bakery in Portland for rustic breads and French pastries.
If you are a bread lover, you will think you are in heaven when you enter the front door. If not heaven, then at least in a small bakery in France. The baguettes are crispy on the outside, chewy inside as are the rustic organic boules. The delicious croissants are crispy, flaky and buttery. Pain au chocolat and morning buns are wonderful and can’t be resisted.
The last stop of the day is not a small market but is a chain grocery store, Whole Foods.
At the present time, there is not one in New Hampshire and the Portland store is the only one in Maine. The store is large and has the best assortment of organic foods I have seen in the area.
Everything is first class from their huge choice of local and imported cheese and their large meat department to their produce selection that had a wonderful assortment of exotic mushrooms. Expensive but wonderful!
I had no trouble filling my cooler with great ingredients for several future meals. Back home, I prepared tasty bruschetta from ingredients that I discovered today. They were enjoyed with a nice glass of wine after a long day of foraging in Portland.