Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Linda Bean's Lobster Cafe - Restaurant Review

I must admit it was curiosity that drove me to try Linda Bean's Lobster Cafe at the Portland International Jetport in South Portland, Maine. My husband and I had often passed her former location on Exchange Street in the Old Port, peering in through the windows, marveling at the sheer lack of customers. Never did see an actual diner in there.



Lo and behold, the Exchange Street location closed sometime last spring, and the LBLC reopened in the brand-spanking-new section of the PWM airport. Truly, as one of the Hungrygals, I felt it a moral imperative - not to mention a drive to satisfy my aforementioned curiosity - to give the LBLC a shot.

The menu is, as you can imagine, crustacean-heavy: lobster quesadillas, lobster roll, lobster salad and chilled lobster tail on a bed of greens, to name a few. Linda's also offers other fare, like burgers, sandwiches and soups, but hey, you can get that stuff anywhere! If you're gonna eat at the LBLC, you must have the lobster.

I ordered the lobster sliders, three mini-lobster rolls served on grilled, buttered rolls with a side of "kelpislaw" ($17.99). Now, cynic that I am, I expected the lobster to be dry or stringy, something that happens when lobster is frozen, even if only for a day or two; however, this was not the case. The LBLC must either use really, really fresh lobster, or they've perfected a way to freeze it without toughening the meat (since they sell live lobster right there on the premises, I presume it is the former). Each roll was stuffed with a generous portion of Maine's other-white-meat, juicy and tender, with just a tiny bit of mayo and a pickle on each sandwich. Deeeelicious!

The "kelpislaw" - which I noticed on the menu was a trademarked term - is a very light, sweet, vinegar-based cole slaw made with cabbage and yes, real Atlantic ocean kelp cut into thin strips. Although I'm a Mainer, I've only had dried kelp before, a salty, crunchy snack product that I didn't care for in the least. But this fresh kelp accented the cole slaw beautifully, lending a crisp and savory flavor to the sweet slaw. Outstanding. When I asked, the waitress told me the trademark was necessary because Linda Bean had plans to market and sell "kelpislaw" up in Freeport (perhaps she already is). If so, I'm buying!

Overall, the meal was excellent and I wolfed down every last speck of lobster and "kelpislaw" on the plate (although I did leave the last bun so as not to overstuff). Total bill, which included a diet soda on the side, came to $22.02. The waitress was prompt and very friendly.

Not sure what was going wrong at the Exchange Street location, but I'd be surprised if Linda Bean's Lobster Cafe doesn't become a huge hit at the jetport. Absolutely, unequivicably, two thumbs up for the LBLC!

Sorry, no doggie bag this time. Perhaps if I weren't leaving on a jet plane, I would've brought the furry 'gals some lobster (yeah, right).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Saltwater Grille

Been slacking a bit in food reviews. November's been a busy month, but the gals are back, chomping and chowing around town. We'll start back up with a review of the sumptuous buffet offered by The Saltwater Grille on Thanksgiving Day. 
Reservations were required, as the SWG gets very busy for its holiday meals. We were seated immediately upon arrival - something I really appreciate because nothing annoys me more than having to wait for a table when you have reservations already. Just something wrong with that in my book! Anyway, a very friendly young waiter poured our water and offered to bring us drinks right away, another aspect of service I really appreciate. Then we proceeded to the buffet and dug in.

The food, for the most part, was spectacular. To begin, a starter table included steaming fish chowder, a ginormous bowl of peel & eat shrimp, complete with cocktail sauce and lemon, cheeses, lox & capers and rolls. Another table held salad fixings - ceasar and garden - and included sides such as marinated mushrooms, pickled beets and a curried carrot & cranberry salad that was to die for! Tried not to fill up too much on the appetizers, but it definitely required significant restraint. 

The turkey and prime rib at the carving station were each succulent and cooked perfectly, still warm and juices flowing. Both were served with gravy. For sides, there was plenty to choose from: scalloped potatoes, pasta, carrots and beans and of course, stuffing - two kinds - the typical bread & giblet kind and then a cornbread & walnut offering. Both were delicious, although I was surprised the SWG didn't warn people ahead of time that walnuts were part of the dish, considering the prevalence of food allergies these days. Salmon was also available, tastily cooked in a light lemon and butter sauce.

Now, I'm typically leery about buffets, primarily because so often the food tends to get soggy and lukewarm, languishing in chafing dishes; however, this is not the case at the SWG. The busy and friendly staff kept the steamers full and rotated, which meant the food stayed hot and fresh.

Just two disappointments: the pasta, which appeared to be cream-based, was virtually tasteless, and noticeably missing were the mussels and tomatoes dish they served up last year (this is our second year at the SWG for Thanksgiving). But everything else on the buffet more than surpassed our expectations.

Since restaurants typically frown on doggie bags at buffets, we had some great fun in attempting to sneak out some turkey our furry Hungrygals, but we managed it. After all, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the whole family at the table!

The cost of the buffet per person was about $37, and the SWG adds an 18 percent tip on to the bill (a bit high, I think, since we primarily served ourselves, but we didn't mind. The servers need to be compensated for missing Thanksgiving with their families, after all). Two thumbs and two paws up for the SWG Thanksgiving buffet!

The Saltwater Grille
231 Front St
South Portland, Maine
(207) 799-5400

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pom's Thai

Had a bonus day off today so the Hungrygals decided to avoid the madness of Black Friday and do some pre-Thanksgiving shopping and dining.  Swim against the tide, that's what I like to say!
Craving Asian cuisine, we made our way over the bridge to Pom's Thai in South Portland.
We began with an order of Kra -tong-thong, tiny bite-sized (ok, two bites) pastries filled with chicken, corn and peas. Crunchy on the outside and warm and tasty on the inside! The curry-flavored treat came served with a slightly spicey cucumber chutney. Excellent!
For the entrees, we ordered the Fancy Chicken and the Sesame Noodle. Sadly,  even though we requested no spice on the Fancy Chicken (and was properly noted on the order slip by the waitress), the dish came out with flecks of bright red chili, resulting in a truly too- spicey experience. The flavor of the dish sparkled,  however,  as did that of the Sesame Noodle. 
Fancy Chicken, a sweetish dish composed of chicken, pineapple and veggies,  is served with your choice of white or fried rice.  Sesame Noodle is served atop a pile of sauteed noodles (surprise) with pieces of tender chicken, exactly two shrimp and plenty of veggies.
A cup of pork won ton soup started our meal. The won tons were tender and delicious,  the broth bursting with flavor. This soup is absolutely fabulous, one of the best won tons around.
The service was quick, attentive and friendly.
Our total bill for this feast was just under $31, a total steal.
Despite the misstep with "overspicing" of the Fancy Chicken,  we'll definitely be back. One and a half thumbs up and two paws up. The four-legged gals didn't seem to mind the spice at all in their sample of Fancy Chicken!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sebago Brewing - Portland, Maine

Where to take your out-of-towners when family comes to visit? I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for those casual types of places that offer a bit of something for everyone, especially when some members of the party don't like seafood. Sebago Brewing is just such a place.

Sebago has a few locations, but is not a national chain: Gorham, South Portland, Scarborough, Kennebunk and Portland. As the name implies, they are brew pub, specializing in their own line of beers. The HungryGals and our guests dined at the Portland location on India Street on a recent Friday night.

We started with drinks - beers: Sebago Red, Sebago Brown and cocktails: a Double-Dirty martini and a Strawberry Mudslide. The microbrews were cold and delicious, the DD strong and tasty (with feta-stuffed olives as garnish) and the Mudslide chillingly sweet, more like a dessert than a drink. The Cajun-dusted haddock bites were a great accompaniment. Crunchy and pleasantly spicey on the outside, the nuggets were flaky and tender on the inside. Even our seafood-hater ate one!

Service was a bit slow, but in all fairness, the place was really busy, and our waitress seemed swamped, and was having trouble keeping up with all of her tables.  Regardless, our meals finally did arrive and for the most part we were satisfied.

Our out-of-towner enjoyed the Buffalo Chicken Salad - plenty of fresh greens tossed with plump, boneless buffalo chicken fingers. Likewise, the Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo was spectacular, rich with creamy sauce and loaded with chicken and broccoli. Yep, even though it was a heart-attack-on-a-plate, the dish was outstanding. The portion was huge, enough for two meals. Our other two diners chose from the specials menu: Pork Loin with Apple Gravy & Sweet Potato Hash and Sirloin Tips served over Risotto. Both were well received, although the pork itself was a bit dry. Fortunately, the extra side of mashed potatoes and the apple gravy made up for the dryness of the meat.

No one had room for dessert. The total meal, with drinks, appetizer and entrees came to a total of $125 for four people (without tip). And although the four legged 'Gals couldn't join us, there was plenty of alfredo and pork loin in the doggie bag for them to sample at home.

Two thumbs and two paws up!

Sebago Brewing Company
211 Fore St (in the new Hampton Inn)
Portland, Maine
(207) 775-2337

Monday, October 24, 2011

Novare Res - A Libation Review

Ahhh, Novare Res, how I adore your shameless propensity to indulge my love of drink! Particularly drink of the beer persuasion...

The name of this brew joint nestled behind Key Bank just off Exchange Street means "Start a Revolution" in Latin. If you're a brew lover, this is the place for you: Novare boasts over 400 beers (and I use that term very loosely - most of the drinks here are ales, lambics, pilsners - not necessarily beer) from all over the world, bottle and draft. A limited food menu is offered as well, including a mix & match meat and cheese section for a mere $3 a piece.

We are partial to drafts and on this visit indulged in a delicious libation that comes around just once a year: Smuttynose Gravitation - described on the draft menu as "a big belgian style quad made with raisins". Yes, RAISINS! $6 for a 12 oz. glass and you're in malt heaven. But be careful - it's got a kick with 12.5% alcohol.

The other brews sampled that evening included Monchshof Kellerbrau - a very sweet and malty draft; .4 liters for $6.50. On the hoppier side, we quenched our remaining thirst with a 60 minute IPA by Dogfish Head brewery. A happy, hoppy brewski: $6 for 16 oz. 

The food at Novare is eclectic: everything from the aforementioned meat/cheese menu to sandwiches, soups, pasta and even shrimp tacos at reasonable prices, all around 6-9 bucks. And while the HungryGals usually write about food, not drink, Novare Res' impressive brews were just so good we couldn't resist. The laid back atmosphere and knowledgeable staff (very well versed in all of the brews - they can help you with any questions you may have) ensure Novare Res is a place not to be missed. Maybe next time we'll try the food.

Two thumbs up for Novare. No paws this time - the furry HungryGals ain't allowed to drink.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Thirsty Pig

Really? The Thirsty Pig? Curious about the funky name, we stopped in to this Exchange Street eatery on a recent trip to the Old Port. Formerly Linda Bean's Perfect Maine, the bartender told us they opened in late spring, and from the looks of it, they've already earned themselves plenty of regulars.

The Thirsty Pig specializes in sausage sandwiches, served with a decent choice of craft brews (from Shipyard to Belfast IPA to Peaks Organic). There are a few seafood items on the menu, an homage to Linda Bean's former occupancy in the space, but primarily, the Pig does sausage. Delicious, fabulous sausage!

What a fantastic niche, and just what Portland needed. The Pig offers a variety of sausage sandwiches: hot italian, sweet italian, kielbasa and apple-chicken to name a few. All are served on a grilled, pressed bun with your choice of chips or cole slaw for the meager price of @ $6.75 each. The sausages are meaty, juicy and just one will fill you up. Now typically, I don't get to indulge in sausage sandwiches until the Old Port Festival comes around once a year, so The Thirsty Pig is an unexpected,
lip-smackingly welcome treat. The HungryGals and I can eat sausage until the cows come home (sorry, couldn't resist the bovine reference - had to switch it up)!

How can you go wrong with menu fare like the "BBQ Banger"?

Friendly staff and casual atmosphere, including an outdoor deck. A great value for the buck. The 'Gals scarfed their sausages down in no time. Two thumbs and two paws up.

The Thirsty Pig
37 Exchange St
Portland ME
(207) 773-2469

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Miss Portland Diner

Hungrygals rides again. Yes, after a two year hiatus, Hungrygals has decided that we have been reneging on our duty to report out on what continues to be our favorite pastime: dining out in Portland, Maine! Hey, since the "gals" are still doing their part in sampling the many doggie bags that come their way - without complaint, I might add - the least we can do is share our experiences on the many culinary delights this little Northern corner of the world has to offer. So with that, we're off to review Miss Portland Diner!
Miss Portland Diner was an icon back in the day - nestled on Marginal Way on the edge of Bayside, the diner served hungry residents of Portland from all walks of life: early morning construction workers, commercial fisherman, hungry yuppies (ha! remember that term from the 80's!) looking for a cheap and hearty lunch. Sometime in the 90's, Miss Portland was up for sale, then offered up for auction and then finally disappeared from the foodie scene. Fortunately, a Mainer with a vision decided to resurrect Miss Portland, refurbished the structure, then delivered the iconic diner back to Marginal Way, not far from its original location.
On the day we visited, friendly waitress greeted us with a big smile and menus right away, a promising start to our late lunch. We ordered the open-faced Reuben sandwich and a pastrami on rye from the specials board. Since we both opted for the cole slaw (sandwiches come with a choice of chips or slaw; french fries, sweet potato fries, eggplant fries or onion rings can be added for an add'l charge), I was hankering for something different so I requested a side of sauteed mushrooms and onions.

After a reasonable wait, the sandwiches were delivered by a different waitress. The mushrooms and onions were nowhere to be seen. I inquired about them and was assured they'd be "right up".  The open-faced Reuben was gorgeous in its presentation: a heaping serving of corned beef and saurkraut nestled under a substantial blanket of melted cheese. Delicious! The pastrami, while not as plentiful with meat, was also yummy. This sandwich came on toasted dark rye;  the lean pastrami and swiss warm and tasty between thick slices of bread. The cole slaw was creamy, and not overloaded with mayo. Unfortunately, despite our first waitress also stopping by and assuring me the side dish of mushrooms and onions were almost ready, they didn't arrive until we were almost done with our lunch. Most of them ended up in the doggie bag along with the leftover pastrami and corned beef for the gals.

Bottom line: friendly service, good comfort food at very economical prices (total bill minus tip was $22) and a bustling diner atmosphere. Even though the side dish was a miss from a timing perspective, we give the Miss Portland Diner an overall two thumbs up for food and service. The gals, who enjoyed their pastrami and corned beef later that day, didn't mind waiting for their portion. Two paws up!