fried chicken

New England style fried chicken?  Anyone who’s traveled in the deep south knows that chicken shacks, BBQ joints, home-style diners and cafeterias are renowned for their fried chicken, barbecue and other down-home southern staples.  Then there’s true southern biscuits made with soft-wheat flour.  These accompany this legendary grub as thickly as macaroni and cheese.  But pluck it all out of its home turf to the far reaches of New England mightn’t it get lost in translation?

That didn’t stop the indefatigable Jason Loring (Nosh, Rhum, Slab) from opening Big J’s Chicken Shack, the little storefront that’s located at Thompson’s Point squeezed into a retail space between all the distillers who’ve opened shop there. And let me tell you the chicken is slap yo mama good.

The promenade of shops at Thompson's Point

The promenade of shops at Thompson’s Point

Thompson’s Point is still a dusty enclave on the scrappy banks of the Fore River.  But the main building that holds the thriving distilleries and wine rooms are drawing big crowds.  At my visit, daytime mid-week, they were cramming into BJ’s.

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The classic summer cottage look of the Black Point Inn

Of Maine’s vaunted summer colonies, Prouts Neck has this distinction: The Black Point Inn lauds over this oceanfront peninsula of sober respectability and privilege as though inhabited by the goldbugs of Manderley on the mount.  Years ago this nearly 150-year-old lodging institution did not draw crowds to enjoy culinary pleasures in its dining rooms but rather was the focal point for a summer of leisure by the sea as though feasting on  tickets to birth and background instead.

The classic summer cottage look of the Black Point Inn

The classic summer cottage look of the Black Point Inn

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corn yellow NH odyssey corn on cob

This has been a good season for corn, though the drought had initially stumped their growth. But as the season matures, the size of those cobs are bigger. Beyond eating it plain–boiled or grilled–slathered with butter, you can create the essence of corn flavor by putting it into the soup pot.

Corn at the Portland Farmer's Market

Corn at the Portland Farmer’s Market

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The dining room and communal dining bar

Rossobianco opened recently without the usual frenzy or shrugs of a must-go-to new and novel place to dine in a city getting overwrought with sure-fire James Beard Award nominees.  And believe it or not, Bon Appétit Magazine–which I still remember as a third-class citizen when Gourmet and Food and Wine reigned in the food magazine world–has yet to pounce on this newcomer. (I’ve heard that BA staffers keep an apartment in Portland so that they can be first in the door and first to publish news about our vibrant dining scene.)

The food-magazine oracles should visit because Rossobianco is very good.  I’ve been there twice—well almost three times—in the last several weeks.  It’s located at the inauspicious corner known as Bramhall Square. Ask one of out of three Portlanders where this is and you’d probably induce a few scratched heads.

Rossobianco at Bramhall Square, 3 Deering Ave.

Rossobianco at Bramhall Square, 3 Deering Ave.

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Blackberry cobbler fresh out of the oven

“Tis the season indeed for all the great foods of summer, farm-fresh and abundant at farmers’ markets now.  And while I’m thrilled to have farm-fresh corn and tomatoes all the time; new potatoes, fresh dug carrots and more, my penchant is for sweets and that’s when I make a beeline for local fruits and berries at the markets.  Last week I found local peaches at the Winslow Farm stand at the Cumberland Farmer’s Market. When I saw they had peaches I scooped up several pounds of this year’s most elusive fruit, made so because of the drought.

Reports have been that this season will not be kind to peach growers, though the farmers at Winslow Farm along Route 100 in West Falmouth said they have an abundant supply.

Peach cobbler

Peach cobbler

Putting them in a pie shell or in ice cream is the usual destination for peaches, but I actually prefer  cobblers.

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bernies front

New York has its coffee shops and Maine has its diners, casual dining joints distinguished by epically  good, bad, or better fare. Where that puts a place like Bernie’s Foreside, tumbling onto the Route 1 strip mall of shops in Falmouth, is somewhere in the middling rank.  When I’m in the area, though, I often stop in for breakfast or lunch.

Sausage and cheese scramble

Sausage and cheese scramble

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Perfect veal Parm

Caiola’s regulars–especially those who live in the neighborhood and have made this for over a decade their long-time local haunt–are still packing the place nightly enjoying a menu that has some similarities to the old Caiola’s referring to chef and owner Abby Harmon’s cooking before the sale to Damian Sansonetti and his wife and partner, the pastry chef Illma Lopez who bought the restaurant early this summer.

caiola's front

One suspects that eventually there might be major changes to the restaurant: the menu, the décor and perhaps a name change.  After all, its new owners, two very accomplished chefs and restaurateurs, will want to put their own imprint on this vital West End establishment.

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Classic Blackberry Pie

Wild Maine Blueberries might be getting all the attention now, especially with an early, abundant crop, but I’ve also been seeking the prized summer stash of blackberries. Their tart-sweet winey flavor is perfect for classic pies, cobblers, jams and sauces.

Blackberries at the market now

Blackberries at the market now

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marcy's brunch plain pancakes

There’s no kvelling over picture-perfect golden-yolked eggs with better provenance than your nearest relation.  Nor is savoring the artisanal loaves of buttered toast likely,  because there are none.  And no need to fret whether the bacon is nitrate free because it most assuredly isn’t. Instead, breakfast at Marcy’s Diner on a weekend or weekday morning (the earlier the better because you don’t want to wait) is a no-frills culinary epic where hash is slung with style and the crispiest hash browns around come from a Sysco container of pre-grated potatoes. (Oh but what she does to  make them regal is the queen’s magic touch.)

Darla Neugebauer, the Free Street entrance and outside signpost

Darla Neugebauer, the Free Street entrance and outside signpost

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lol inside

Neighborhood restaurants have that innate appeal.

They don’t even have to be special, though it helps if they are. Though any restaurant along any street in Portland could be considered a neighborhood place, I define one as this: within the density of a residential neighborhood is the anomalous eatery nestled into the streetscape of row houses, apartment buildings and single family homes.  A perfect example of the genre is Lolita, a dining focal point of Munjoy Hill’s continuing gentrification.

A convivial crowd convenes nightly at Lolita

A convivial crowd convenes nightly at Lolita

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