Sunset fell at 6:50 PM.  The fog was rolling in as thick as a crypt, and by the time we pulled up to the front door of the imposing visage of the Black Point Inn looking like Manderley on the mount, it was already dark at 7:05.

The setting earlier this summer

But when we decided to go to the inn for dinner on a recent Friday night it wasn’t close to dusk yet, disregarding the logistics of dining by the sea at the tail end of summer.  If our fantasy was to dine by the sea on a perfect summer’s eve to gaze at the undulating sea, we miscalculated. Views of the ocean don’t exist at night.

Arriving earlier thnis summer

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I have new respect for Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster in South Freeport.  The change in heart is that  we enjoyed some terrific fried clams and a very good and well-priced ($15.95 including fries) lobster roll at our lunch over Labor Day.  I stopped going there for the usual meal of fried clams or steamed lobster because the clams just weren’t up to snuff.  This otherwise popular lobster pound served only strips rather than full belly whole clams.

The menu at the ordering window and on their online menu lists jumbo clam strips.  What are those exactly?  In the past, they’ve never offered whole clams in their fried clam offering.

Pretty working waterfront setting; the covered dining porch

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That it has remained the haven for the gold-bug class to the beat of inner city ennui, time will tell what  effect the Amazon purchase of Whole Foods  will have on us shoppers as it opts to change its whole paycheck image to a cut-rate store.  Will quality suffer?  And will we lose the cachet of shopping at Whole Foods where Vuitton bags on the arms of women shoppers are the norm in an otherwise diffident city?

The Portland Whole Foods Market

I visited the store on the day that the changeover occurred and was shocked to see a sign that read: “Air-chilled chickens, $1.79 per pound.”  Wow, this was big news in our community where farm chickens  run $5 to $6 per pound.  WF’s cut-rate bird is not a locally raised farm bird but respectfully natural with decent taste and texture.

As I toured the store that day and later in the week most products were priced without discount.  Take butter, both local and national brands. Kate’s is over $6 per pound at Whole Foods compared to around $4 at Hannaford (it’s since been raised to $5.25 there).

Notable price drops at WF

Hannaford, for example, was running a special on Casco Bay Butter at $3.99 per pound, compared to $7+ at Whole Foods.  I overheard the dairy guy at Hannaford say to a co-worker that they had to get rid of the CB Butter because the warehouse was overstocked. At the Forest Avenue store, it’s off the shelf.

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The world of cobblers has many variations: biscuit, pastry or crumble toppings.  Then there’s the batter- dipped cobbler in which a simple batter is prepared and the fruit of choice is added on top.

The batter is put into a baking pan where a good amount of butter has been melted in the oven until both the dish and butter is hot so that when you add the batter it swells up; then you add the fruit and bake.

Peach cobbler

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I wonder who really misses Joe’s Boathouse, the rough and tumble waterfront restaurant that was so popular for years at South Portland’s Spring Point Drive, at Port Harbor Marine.  Maybe at one time, when Greater Portland’s dining public was not so discerning, it passed for a decent meal out.  But now  North 43 Bistro is in its place—a remake so remarkable that you wonder if are you still in South Portland.  Housed in a 2-story boxy building, the contemporary space is right out of an Elle Décor spread of  modern cool.  Its grays and browns only seem to accentuate the water views through the large plate glass windows on the water.

While under construction in early June, North 43 was taking shape (photo courtesy of The Forecaster).

In fact, the entire dining experience is so pleasing that you wonder why there aren’t more restaurants like this dotting Maine’s 3,000 miles of coastline.

The chef and co-owner is Stephanie Brown with restaurateur Laura Argitis (Old Port Sea Grill).  Brown came on the dining scene many years ago with her restaurant Sea Grass, which operated in Yarmouth for 8 years.  Then she moved on to become the executive chef of the Woodland’s dining room for some years until this opportunity came along.

First floor dining room

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With our farmers’ markets going full force rippling with tomatoes, corn, berries, fruits and every kind of harvested vegetable able to grow well enough in our climate, I look specifically at what I can use to make this–the quintessential summer cobbler with fruit, berries or a mixture.

Defining what a cobbler is can be tricky business.  In strict culinary parlance, it’s basically stewed fruit topped with a kind of drop-biscuit dough and baked.

Two types of peach cobbler: crunchy (left) and classic

 

But what also doubles in cobbler-speak are preparations like pandowdy, grunt, slump and sonker, which is a deep-dish pie unique to North Carolina country cooking.

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It’s a long time coming for the Roma Café to be resurrected  to full glory since its glorious past and ignominious decline (circa 1920s to 1980s).  Its latest iteration (and one hopes it lasts for generations) is led by chef Anders Tallberg (formerly chef and co-owner, Roustabout), Mike Fraser (Bramhall Pub below the restaurant) and Guy Streitburger (also of Bramhall).  The latter has had a long, steady rise from bus-boy/waiter at the original Cinque Terre where he often left you with the refrain “excellent.”  I think he still  expresses that lilting phrase, but, in any case, he’s a delightful young man whose restaurant visions have brought him here flawlessly.

The building, 767 Congress, is owned by Burt’s Bee’s founder and woman of consequence, Roxanne Quimby who might also be the wealthiest woman in Maine from her savvy maneuverings of making lip balm into a mega industry.  When she bought the building, she gave it her gold-plated touch.  She turned the old Roma kitchen into a masterpiece that could easily have served the fabled kitchens of wordly-wise gloire.

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This is a brief note on one of most intriguing, finely tuned food establishments that’s just begun its orbit around Portland’s daring-do dining circles.  Rose Foods at the site of the former BreaLu Café space on Forest Avenue strives to be both a bagel shop and Jewish deli, a surprising creation from the white- bread hands of noted chef Chad Conley who’s cooked in some of the top restaurants in New York and Portland and has created the inimitable Palace Diner where his tuna melts and flapjacks are legendary.

The ordering line at Rose Foods

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To many Portlanders, the Saturday summer Farmer’s Market held at Deering Oaks is sacrosanct.  That’s why I can’t understand why the market gets upstaged—at the same time and place–by the yearly Festival of Nations.  Couldn’t that event be held on a Sunday and not interrupt the coveted farmer’s market?

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A friend suggested that I go to Sonny’s because, she said, “The new menu is terrific.” My first reaction was how different could it be if the restaurant has remained a basic haunt for Latin-inspired cooking?  Was there an invigoration of Cal- España -Latin fusion fresh off the plains?

So we went there for dinner earlier this week—the first time in at least a year.  I used to go  for lunch often, but the restaurant stopped serving during the day.

Sonny’s is prominenly figured along the Old Port’s restaurant row

The room is basically the same: darkened nooks and crannies with banquettes and tables in this historic space, which 150 years ago was the ornately designed Portland Savings Bank that was built after the fire of  1866.  The rear dining room is more spacious and brighter. And the bar, as always, was packed–a popular watering hole for the after-5 office crowd. Millennial Central?  To a degree.

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