Portland’s Comfort Food Essentials
Winter in Maine sometimes makes me question why cold weather is acceptable. Like my hometown of Chicago, Maine is freezing during the winter. I’m never warm, multiple layers are a necessity, and it sometimes feels like I’d rather just hibernate til spring. But whether we like it or not, winter is just part of what Maine is all about. And the one upside to freezing: warming up feels so good! Especially when I’ve visiting these fine establishments. It’s all about comfort food that sticks to your bones in Maine, and these places make winter almost bearable!
Kung Pao Dumplings at Bao Bao
When I’m really cold, one of the first things I start thinking about is how I can warm up, of course. And dumplings are a pretty delicious way to thaw myself out. For us West Enders, Bao Bao is an obvious choice, because it’s close.
Bao Bao not only has the dumplings, but they also have the bar menu with cocktails that are guaranteed to get your blood flowing again, like their delectable beet cocktail. Not here for the cocktails? Go for the Kung Pao dumplings. Like most of the dumplings you’ll find at Bao Bao, they aren’t traditional, but they pack a ton of flavor, and heat that will warm you back up.
Spicy Pan Fried Ramen at Bubble Mainea
Ramen in ALL ways is fantastic to me. But sometimes, I’m not looking for a broth based ramen. It’s a rare occasion, but I’m pretty attached to the spicy pan fried ramen that’s on the menu at Bubble Mainea. I know you’re thinking, but that’s a bubble tea place! Yes it is.
And they also sell a pretty cool version of the shaved ice, but they also have a food menu. Though I’m convinced that they should stay open later so I could have the pan fried ramen as some after drinking fare, it’s usually my go to if I’m seeing a movie at the Nickelodeon, and want dinner first.
As the name implies, this ramen is spicy, and probably not on the spectrum of being good for you. The ramen noodles are hot and crispy, with an egg scrambled on top of them, and then covered in a cabbage slaw. Sounds a little out there, but out of everything I’ve tried on their menu, it’s my favorite. The spicy flavor is great if you’re freezing, because you’ll feel warm, inside and out after finishing it.
Chicken and Waffles at Hot Suppa
When it’s really cold outside, the quest for chicken and waffles seems to start all over again. Yes, even a few years later, I’m still crazy for chicken and waffles. Portland Pie Company has added a Chicken and Waffles pizza to their winter menu, and you better believe I’m trying that. But in the meantime, I can just walk a few blocks down to Hot Suppa for their classic take on Chicken and Waffles. When chicken and waffles is done right, there’s a great amount of contrast. Crispy chicken, soft waffles. Slightly spicy, but complemented perfectly by the sweet flavor of the maple syrup. Hot Suppa has their chicken and waffles on lock down. It follows all the things I love about chicken and waffles, and is always welcome whether I’m walking through a snowstorm or just looking for a place to warm up.
Salvage for BBQ
In my opinion, it doesn’t get more comforting than BBQ. And we’re not just talking about any BBQ, we’re talking about Salvage. Many imitate, but none can replicate just what Salvage is doing. For the meat lovers, a nice platter of brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and chicken is just what the doctor ordered on a freezing cold day in Portland. If you live in Portland, you can walk it, or you can do what I would probably do and Uber over.
Order up the comfort food sides like their mac n cheese, cornbread, pie, and hush puppies, along with some beer. With that much food, you might as well stay for a while and order a beer. Or two or three. Unless you’re an eating champ, you’ll probably have to take some home to enjoy later. My pick: the Meat Coma platter. It’s too big for one person (at least me) but between two people, you get just the right amount of food, and you get to try a little bit of everything. Good luck picking just one favorite after you order that bad boy.
If you haven’t been to The Treehouse, it’s a truly magical experience. On a cold and snowy night, walking up the stairs to this restaurant is the best thing that you can do. There’s a little bit of magic hanging around Portland, and it’s at The Treehouse.
One step inside and you’re already enchanted by the lights, and the warm atmosphere. The magic doesn’t stop at the front door. A first glance at their menu may look scant, but servers have specials, making the choice almost impossible. Start with a good cocktail, like their Nor’Easter, aptly named for its warming capabilities in the coldest of weather. Specials change daily and depend on what’s in season, but I highly recommend their saffron seafood stew if you can order it.
Fried Chicken at Big J’s Chicken Shack
2016 really seemed to be the year of Thompson’s Point, and a big part of that is thanks to the unbelievable fried chicken being served at Big J’s Chicken Shack. It’s honestly some of the best fried chicken you can find in Portland, no matter what form it takes.
The chicken and waffles, served with Nashville sauce, are spicy, sweet and the perfect thing to wash down with a Bissell Brother’s Substance beer. If you’re looking for a more traditional take like a chicken sandwich, try the Mugsy, named after owner Jason Loring’s rescue dog. It’s filled with heat and crunch and most importantly, does a great job of warming you up!
Totine at Blue Rooster
If you’re going to warm up in Portland, then you need to at least have a few poutine-esque options to choose from. The first is totine, which is essentially tater tot poutine. This is one of my favorite things to eat when I’ve been out drinking, but it’s also fantastic at warming you up. Gravy, cheese and tots..you can’t go wrong. And if you want to take it one step further, The Three Little Pigs is basically totine, but with sausage, pork belly and bacon. If that doesn’t warm you up, I don’t know what will.
Poutine at Duckfat
Now if you’re looking for a classic take on poutine, Duckfat does it best. Poutine is a cold weather food, and is meant to stick to your bones. If you’re with a big group, make sure to get the large, and top it with a farm fresh egg. This is not only picture perfect poutine, but it’s also extremely filling and delicious. On a below zero day, I find it completely acceptable to order poutine at Duckfat as a meal. You’ll be full for hours!
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