Travel

Enterprising bagel mavens in Maine should flock to flagels, a flattened version of a bagel that some connoisseurs consider the best in class. In fact, the New York Daily News proclaimed in an article last year that these were the best and tastiest of the bagel world.  I wonder why they’re not more popular here?  The name doesn’t roll off tongue and could be mistaken for a social faux pas that invariably happens in a packed room.

Montague Street (Brooklyn) flagels

The point is there’s a bit of bagel mania across the nation with major cities trying to earn top honors in comparison to the standard bearer of the greatness of New York bagels.  I’m from New York and indeed I miss those specimens , which are as easily available as a pack of chewing gum. What’ makes them so good?  The common conception is that it’s because of New York’s pure water (not so pure anymore) and boiled in so-called artesian pools.  I think they’re good because they’re made with chutzpah, the kind dredged from the old  Red Hook.

Excellent bagels sandwich at Cafe 158

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The Harvest on the Harbor festival began anew this year, with its two new principles in charge, Stefanie Manning, the marketing and circulation manager at the Portland Press Herald (and whose husband is Tom Manning, owner of The Miss Portland Diner) and Gabrielle Garofalo, a New York City media consultant who owns Gabrielle Garofalo Inc. Consulting & Creative Energy.  These two have changed it all around.  For better or worse?  Were the crowds as robust as before when the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau ran the show all these years?  In fact, it was run very well.

Sustainable Seafood Dinner at O'Maine Studios

Sustainable Seafood Dinner at O’Maine Studios

What was notably different were several events that bit the dust.  The fabulous Buñuel-esque style feast that had played in prior years on the stage of Merrill Auditorium was replaced by a barn-style dinner in the cavernous space of O’ Maine Studios where a dinner of sustainable seafood was the centerpiece.

Crowds piling in, Lobster Tasting at 58 Fore St.

Crowds piling in, Lobster Tasting at 58 Fore St.

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I spent 24 solid hours in Rockland earlier this week for three reasons: to stay at the uniquely stylish 250 Main Hotel; to visit the very compelling Center for Maine Contemporary Art and to dine at the town’s newest restaurant, Sammy’s Deluxe.

Scenes from Rockland, clockwise: the Plaza at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art; dining room at Sammy's Deluxe and the lobby at 250 Main Hotel

Scenes from Rockland, clockwise: the Plaza at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art; dining room at Sammy’s Deluxe and the lobby at 250 Main Hotel

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At last Saturday’s farmer’s market on North Haven, there was a wealth of produce, meats and cheese to stock up on.  There was also a table filled with home-baked pies and cakes; but since I was extensively doing my own baking, I didn’t choose any of those luscious looking desserts even though they were all very tempting, especially the chocolate cream pie (center).

Standout vendors at the market included a selection of pies; Sheep Meadow's wonderful honey and lamb and display of yogurt and flowers from Turner Farm

Standout goodies at the market included a selection of pies, Sheep Meadow’s wonderful honey and lamb and display of yogurt and flowers from Turner Farm  

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During the frenetic few days that I spent in New York last week I splurged, as always, on enjoying the city’s dining diversity.  Compared to home, it’s a gastronome’s playground far from Maine’s more preciously focused seas and fields. It’s like stepping out of an exiguous puddle into the vast ocean, from food trucks to haute fare.

On West 46th Street the food trucks are an international lineup

On West 46th Street the food trucks are an international lineup

This led me to enjoy Chomp Chomp, Obica and Marta, which respectively took in Singaporean hawker fare in Greenwich Village; a midtown mozzarella bar on Madison Avenue and in NoMad the thinnest crust wood-oven pizza imaginable—that in addition to a divinely urbane menu of Roman style cooking in the pop-culture panache of restaurant guru Danny Meyer and chef Nick Anderer.

What’s immediately apparent is how New York restaurants fixate less on local fare than we obsessively (and gladly)  feed on eating local.  That’s not to say that their greenmarkets aren’t cherished both by residents and restaurant chefs.

The dining room at Chomp Chomp on Cornelia Street

The dining room at Chomp Chomp on Cornelia Street

I read about Chomp Chomp in a New York Times review from 2015 and filed it away. I made a beeline for it on my first night in New York joined by a trendy downtown friend who frequents these places.  Hawker fare, he said, is popping up in a lot of places. And fancy chefs are recreating street food in various guises.  (Hairy crab en papillote?)

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At this time of year, the Portland Farmers’ Market display at both Deering Oaks and Monument Square resembles a flower show rather than the source for locally grown vegetables and foods.  Yes, there’s some local food to buy:  canned food leftover from last year; meats (mostly frozen); cheese; some dairy and the great boon in hoop house greens–an essential for the off season. The rest is the leftover storage crops, many of which are getting long in the tooth: woody carrots, potatoes stubbed with ears and blemishes, pretty dull looking cabbages and old beets that take forever to cook.

Crystal Springs in Brunswick is one of the best markets in Maine

Crystal Springs in Brunswick is one of the best markets in Maine

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Theory has it not to shop for food at the supermarket or other food venues when we’re hungry because we’ll just buy items that we don’t really need.  A bag of chips in your cart or some other easy eatable?  But when I go to a farmers market I like to nibble on local food as I visit various vendors.  The thing is you need to have hand food at farmers’ markets to accomplish this–in au natural fashion, of course.

Baklava at Mulberry Delicacies and cheese at Spring Day Creamery, Brunswick Winter Market

Baklava at Mulberry Delicacies and cheese at Spring Day Creamery, Brunswick Winter Market

At the Portland Winter Farmers’ Market, there’s scant opportunity to nibble while shopping, though maintaining your locavore status is essentially a given. For a snack-and-shop experience, the one exception is at Swallowtail Farm where farmer Lauren Pignatello  features her baked goods at her stand.  This past Sunday she brought giant scones studded with local berries.  But elsewhere that’s about it unless you like eating raw eggs, chickens, potatoes, beets, and more at the market.

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Indeed it was a chilly 40 degrees with brisk winds making it feel even colder at Saturday’s Deering Oaks Portland Farmers Market-or as one farmer put it, “I’m freezing my gahoonies off.”

Still the frosty weather is part of the market shopping scene at this time of year—at least for the outdoorsy hipster crowd resplendent in winter garb ambling along the leafless byways of Deering Oaks.  After all, what’s a week without getting fully sourced up on local Maine food?

Saturday morning at the Deering Oaks farmers market

Saturday morning at the Deering Oaks farmers market

Most farmers markets around Maine—which number over 30–have moved to their indoor locations by now.  But Portland follows its own set of peripatetic rules.  The tradition is to stay outdoors until after Thanksgiving, and the move inside occurs on the first Saturday in December.  However, the winter market location is not set in stone yet.  One thing is for sure, it won’t be at the Urban Farm Fermentory where it’s been for several years.  Unofficially the new space is slated to open in a complex at 84 Cove St., just down from the Fermentory.    I rode by there over the weekend to check it out.  I didn’t see anything remotely being readied for a market space among the disparate tenants in the buildings there now.

Brunswick's Ft. Andross

Brunswick’s Ft. Andross

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Sometimes you just have to get out of Dodge as though counting violets was sheer drudgery.  That doesn’t mean to shun the Ten Commandments to covet an egg roll instead, but rather to take a winter walk on the beach followed by a great Sunday brunch.

And along the beach-front roads of Cape Elizabeth, Rudy’s is front and center.  Since opening earlier this year, it’s become the ultimate roadhouse serving family friendly fare as well as sophisticated dishes, making this new restaurant a coveted addition for Cape residents.

The beach at Kettle Cove, a few streets away from Rudy's; the dining room and bar; chalk board featuring what's on tap (beer and wine)

The beach at Kettle Cove, a few streets away from Rudy’s; the dining room and bar; chalk board featuring what’s on tap (beer and wine)

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When Maine Street Meats, Bleecker and Flamm (the names of the co-owners) made some news recently on a local food site–their desultory mention was buried in a story about sandwiches.  Maine Street Meats has an exemplary one, a Vietnamese bahn mi offered on Tuesdays.  But this exquisite delicacy shop also has steamed pork buns on Thursdays as well as thin-crust pizzas daily and stuffed savory breads and double chocolate chip cookies that are popular with the lunch crowd every day.

Maine Street Meats offers gourmet packaged goods, local meats, cheese, breads and  house-made charcuterie

Maine Street Meats offers gourmet packaged goods, local meats, cheese, house-baked breads and house-made charcuterie

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