Ello Cheese Heads, today we have another very spesh guest post for ya! Our dear friend Melissa Leiter, author of The Leiter Side of Life, is here to divulge a few hidden gems of Portland she recently discovered since moving there post-college. Enjoy!
Hello Just Add Cheese! I’m Melissa, full time bar tender/writer and an old roommate of Jacki’s. I moved away from Boston a little over a year ago and made Portland, Maine my home. Portland is quite the foodie town, obviously not on the scale as say San Fran or NYC, but we’ve got tons of great stuff going on, including a few James Beard Foundation nominations.
I moved to Portland from Boston a little over a year ago. I now reside in the West End, as do almost all my other besties in the area. I have a car, but most days it sits in my driveway. I find most everything I need several blocks away in Longfellow Square. Work, play and, of course, good food. When people come to Portland from say Boston, most are advised to head downtown to the Old Port where numerous GREAT restaurants and bars are. However, if you’re looking for some real local gems not yet on the tourist destination map, your best bet is to head to the square that corners the West End.
Longfellow Square, named for the statue of Portland’s famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is home to TWO James Beard nominated restaurants, Petite Jacqueline, for Best New Restaurant in the Country, and Boda, nominated for Best Chef Northeast.
At Petite Jacqueline, or “Lil’ Jackie’s” as we jokingly refer to it, yours truly currently resides as the (amazingly talented) bartender. We’re a small French Bistro serving up traditional French comfort food, with a few changes given what’s fresh and available for local produce. The fish and raw bar seafood is delivered fresh from the markets downtown every day. Best. Oysters. Ever.
There’s a unique selection of cocktails and an astoundingly well priced and expansive, predominantly French, wine list. Ask the bartender to make you her Monet’s Muse martini, you’ll love it!
Best go-to-dish: the Fluke Meunière or the Boeuf Bourguignon. The best nightly blue plate specials are probably either Sunday’s classic Steak Au Poivre (black pepper encrusted skirt steak served with a cognac cream sauce and horseradish, chive whipped potatoes) or Saturday’s Magret de Canard (seared duck breast atop a lentils de puy French stew, complete with, hello, BACON.)
If you’re not looking to get a full meal, there’s a great selection of traditional soups, salads and starters. The charcuterie, fromage plate and seared foie gras accompany the house made baguettes served with a side of lemon, parsley butter exquisitely. But whatever you do, just don’t leave without ordering dessert. I’d recommend the french fries, done in duck and pig fat, or the crème brûlée, which is best eaten with a scoop of homemade ice cream and a shot of espresso – duh.
Across the street from the Bistro you will find Boda, my personal favorite spot for a casual dinner. Not only is their late night tapas menu super convenient given my work hours, they always have a fun crowd and great drink list. Oh yeah and the Thai-inspired food is INCREDIBLY delicious.
The most difficult decision is usually deciding which bacon wrapped skewer I want to start, dates or asparagus? Eight times out of ten it’s the Bacon Wrapped Dates. SO GOOD. My other favorite starter is definitely the Crispy Fried Squid in a mildly spicy, sweet chili sauce.
The next most difficult decision? Deciding what level of spice to get on my Tofu Pad Thai, served in an omelet. 4 or 911? You have to ask specially for 911, if you’re brave enough to try it I recommend a full beer for when your food comes.
Another famous starter at Boda is their mussels and sticky rice. It is the perfect combination of sweet, salt and butter. The broth is a creamy, sweet red sauce that you dump the sticky rice into once finished with the decadent mussels. Yum!
Longfellow Square is also home to one of the, if not, the, trendiest bars in Portland, Local 188. Local 188 is known for their mismatch, vintage decor, their intricate and lengthy drink list that could compete with top mixology bars in Boston and their brunch scene.
Whether “hipster,” local business man or just a unique creature of the night who enjoys a melting pot scene, Local 188 is the go-to spot. Hold the drunken college kids and top of the charts playlist please and THANK YOU! I’ve gotten down to Mo Town classics, Aaliyah, old school Dr. Dre, live Jazz and Wax Tailor in this establishment.
If your looking for Saturday night’s after party say Sunday morning around 11 am, it’s at Local. You may have to wait 30 to 60 minutes for a table, but the brunch cocktails are so delicious it makes the wait fly by!
The classic scramble with your choice of fresh veggies, meat and of course CHEESE comes with an incredibly fluffy english muffin and some greasy pepper and onion infused potatoes that gear you up for a Sunday fun-day best enjoyed walking the Western Promenade, climbing trees enjoying the view of the Atlantic Ocean and the airport or reading in the sunshine with the other local West End folk.
The best part about all three of these places? They have patios!
See you this summer in the square,