When it comes to food in Portland, every restaurant has a story to tell. But when you go on a Maine Food For Thought tour, the big picture comes together. I was privileged enough to experience the Land, Sea to Fork Tour last month. Each restaurant is chosen deliberately because of their dedication to Maine’s local food economy and sustainability. Each step, and stop on the tour, is a chapter. The Maine Food For Thought Tours are looking to create change, one forkful at a time.
Union- Josh Berry, Executive Chef
The first stop on the tour is Union, showcasing a local Maine seafood chowder with the best. Chowder is a perfect example because it has the best locally sourced food that can be served. Union’s seafood chowder changes daily. This chowder has bacon and potatoes, which typical Maine chowder ingredients, but it is not a typical seafood chowder by any means. Instead, the chowder has a Thai influence because of the lemongrass and kefir lime flavors. Executive chef Josh Berry calls what Union does “enhanced local”.
Evo Kitchen and Bar- Matt Ginn, Executive Chef
Evo is combining urban and rural Maine together through community connections. The dish at Evo is a potato harra consisting of local potatoes and herbs with Evo’s signature Mediterranean flavors. In the summer, 90% of dishes at Evo are made from Maine local ingredients. The menu consists of lots of local foods with traditional Mediterranean ingredients that marry rural and urban Maine together. Potatoes at Evo come from Aroostook County, where the majority of Maine’s potatoes come from. The flavor of the potato harra is rich and nuanced, and perfect on a hot summer day.
Solo Italiano- Paolo Laboa, Executive Chef
At Solo Italiano, all components of the menu are made in house daily, including their legendary pasta. The Land, Sea to Fork Tour dish at Solo Italiano is the heavenly handkerchief pasta that features the Genovese basil pasta that chef Paolo Laboa is so famous for. The basil in Solo Italiano’s pesto is grown at Olivia’s Garden, and is completely pesticide free. What this means is there are no fake preservatives in any of Solo Italiano’s pesto, and the flavor can shine through. Solo Italiano further commits to their dedication to using all local ingredients by holding an annual farmers appreciation dinner, featuring local farmers products for the full meal. Not to mention, the meal is held in honor of the local farmers and all they do for our local economy here in Maine.
Scales-Fred Eliot, Executive Chef
The Gulf of Maine is the perfect environment for local seafood to flourish. Conveniently, Portland’s Scales is located right next to it. You could not possibly get any closer to the Gulf of Maine, and fresh seafood. Maine has the 6th most amount of coastline in the country. The commercial seafood industry in Maine is challenged most by pollution and invasive species. Although the United States has hundreds of miles of coastline, over 90% of all seafood consumed here is still imported. The solution to pollution and invasive species is sustainable catching and agriculture.
Bangs Island Mussels are grown as environmentally sustainable as possible, and that is a key part of their core focus as a company. Growing mussels and kelp/seaweed together helps both the mussels and the seaweed and makes them better. Bangs Island Mussels grew 200,000 pounds of mussels last year! 90% of their mussels are distributed to restaurants, including those locally and around the country. At Scales, the quintessential Bangs Island Mussels are prepared with Ray’s Mustard (produced locally, of course), cream, dill, local cider, compound butter, chives, thyme and local herbs. Scales goes through thirty pounds of seafood every day. What this really means is the seafood that’s ordered is fresh every day, because there are no leftovers from the day before. This is just one way that Scales exemplifies sustainable catching and aquaculture practices.
East Ender-Owners, Karl Deuben and Bill Leavy
At East Ender, the Land, Sea to Fork dish that we tried was a lobster melt, featuring local bread, Gulf of Maine lobster, and a lobster mayo stock. Talk about heaven on earth! The Gulf of Maine is warming 90% faster than the rest of the oceans. Lobster has become more and more popular every year. As a result, there are waitlists of 10-15 years in some areas of Maine to become an apprentice lobsterman.
Unfortunately, as the ocean becomes more acidic, mollusks like mussels and clams have a harder time growing from a larvae stage into their shell. This makes it harder for mollusks to grow mature. Out of ten thousand lobster larvae, only one of them will actually make it to an adult lobster. After that, it takes 5-10 years for a lobster to be considered harvestable. Although lobster is an incredibly popular dish in Maine, and all over the world, East Ender is making sure that people know just how at risk this tasty crustacean really is.
Piccolo-Chef/Owner, Ilma Lopez
Maine has the 7th highest amount of food insecurity in the country and the highest amount in New England. Piccolo realizes that there’s more to Portland than the thriving food scene it’s now known for. Piccolo is generating revenue that helps to fight food insecurity. The dish that ended our tour was dessert, of course! It was an unlikely riff on strawberry shortcake, featuring local strawberries, vanilla mousse, croutons, sea salt, and greens. Our food is a product of our time, and constantly evolving. Today’s plate may look very different from tomorrow’s plate. That’s why it’s important what we put on our plate. It makes a real difference.
If you’re interested in checking out a Maine Food For Thought tour for yourself, you can buy your tickets here!