Sunday, December 2, 2012

Red Robin

I don't typically gush over chain restaurants. Sure, I like Longhorn and I've been known to scarf down a few dishes of Carmelita's Chicken over at Romano's Macaroni Grill, but for the most part I love the thrill of discovering the creative fare of our local restaurants here in Portland. There's nothing like the heart and soul found in a hometown eatery, especially when local produce and meats dominate the menu. Yet, every once in a while, a chain comes along that blows me away.

The Red Robin, recently opened by the super Wal Mart and the Texas Roadhouse in Scarborough is just such a place. My introduction to Red Robin first occurred in Arizona on a trip to see the family. I'd heard of Red Robin before but only knew it as yet another in the endless multitudes of chain burger joints that dot the country (Krystal, White Castle, Burger King, MacDonald's, Wendy's, need I say more?). Frankly, I wasn't expecting much.

Boy, was I wrong! I ordererd the Chophouse burger, sans the onion straws (not a big fan of french fried onion rings on top of any sandwich), cole slaw and mac 'n' cheese on the side. The burger came with horseradish-sauteed mushrooms, melted swiss cheese and Red Robin's signature steak sauce on a soft onion and herb bulky roll.

WOW!! I couldn't believe my mouth (eyes, whatever)! The Chophouse burger truly did blow me away. The tangy steak sauce intermingled with the savory mushrooms and oozing swiss, complementing the perfectly-cooked medium-rare burger. The mac 'n' cheese, rich and creamy and cheesy, was made with spiral pasta. The cole slaw tasted fresh and crunchy and sparkled with flavor.

Reasonable, too - the total bill for a family of seven was about $75 bucks.

I instantly became a Red Robin fan. And I lamented the sad fact that we had no Red Robin's in Maine. Imagine my surprise when, upon my return, I discovered that a Red Robin had just opened in Scarborough! First I danced with glee, then decided I had to give it the acid test: would this Red Robin be as good as the Arizona Red Robin? Would there be consistency? Would I again be blown away?

The answer was a resounding yes.

I even signed up for Red Robin rewards.

Red Robin serves more than just burgers: there are salads, ribs, chicken sandwiches and a kiddie menu. The RR in Scarborough boasts a full bar serving local beers (a total plus!) and has an entire menu devoted to both adult and kid beverages alike.

Go. Eat. Enjoy. Do not be ashamed.

Red Robin
800 Gallery Boulevard, Scarborough, ME 04074
(207) 885-0288

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Back Bay Grill - Portland Maine

Once a year, my significant other and I journey to Portland's very own Back Bay Grill to indulge in an extraordinary culinary experience. We've been doing this for the last six years and have yet to be disappointed. Interestingly, whenever I mention BBG and how wonderful it is, most people respond with something like "Oh yeah, I know where that is but I've never been." So - what better course of action to take than to extol the Back Bay Grill's many sumptuous offerings through the Hungrygals blog?
The menu at the BBG changes frequently, and there are often seasonal specials offered. No matter what you choose, however, you won't be disappointed.

The night we visited, we were treated to a fantastic bottle of Albarino wine called Deusa Nai from Spain. Fabulous - fruity yet dry and light. We are not normally wine drinkers but when we indulge it is usually with an Albarino.

For an appetizer, we ordered the freshly-made house pasta - al dente fettucine noodles dressed in a basil, black-truffle cream sauce. Out. Of. This. World.

My entree was the Duck Two Ways - sliced breast and confit, served with a side of farro (a barley-like grain). The duck, both the breast and the little square of confit, was moist and tender, without a trace of that gamey, fatty taste you get at other establishments. Delicious. The farro, a grain I'd never tried before, was chewy, slightly crunchy with a nutty flavor. Very good, and a nice change from the usual rice and potato.

My companion chose the filet mignon, which came with a savory butter sauce and mushroom reduction and gnocchi for a starch. The chef came through by cooking the filet a perfect medium rare. The butter sauce added a rich extravagance to the meat and the mushroom-wine gravy was light and delectable. The gnocchi were tasty bites of potatoey-pasta, soft and chewy and yet not gummy.

The total bill, including wine, appetizer, entrees, taxes and tip came to $140.00. A little pricey, yes, but definitely worth the trip. Especially if you treat yourself to BBG just once per year.

Back Bay Grill
65 Portland Street
Portland, ME
(207) 772-8833 Dinner only.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ruski's Tavern

As a West End resident of over twenty years, I've certainly enjoyed the food and drink served up at Ruski's neighborhood pub more than once. Okay, maybe several hundreds of times, ahem. Located at the intersection of Clark and Danforth Streets, Ruski's boasts a long history of providing sustenance and entertainment to Portland's West End. The pub is well-known for low prices, generous portions and signature burgers and calzones.

While serving up a broad array of pub fare, including pizza, wings, sandwiches and salads (and the best thing ever - breakfast ALL DAY!), Ruski's also offers daily specials.

On a recent visit, I found myself inexplicably drawn to one of the specials - Lobster Eggs Benedict (go figure, two of my fave foods) - served with grilled home fries for a paltry $11.95. Other specials included Haddock and Lobster chowder, Jalapeno Poppers and a Lobster Roll. The owner must have gotten a good run on lobster that week. My less adventurous companion ordered off the regular menu and got the Fried Chicken dinner ($9.99).

The Lobster Eggs Benny was out of this world. Two perfectly poached eggs, draped in a buttery hollandaise sauce, lay nestled atop an English muffin (two halves, to be exact). A generous portion of knuckle and claw meat was sandwiched in between the eggs and the muffin. Typically not a fan of hollandaise - I usually find it too rich and heavy - Ruski's took care not to drown the dish in the sauce. This allowed the freshness of the lobster to shine through, its flavor intermingling beautifully with the creamy egg and crispy muffin. An eleven on a scale of one to ten! The home fries were standard - piping hot, bite-sized chunks of potato served on the side.

The Fried (deep fried) Chicken dinner was accompanied by mashed potatoes and gravy and a side of cole slaw. As a side note - Ruski's makes some of the finest cole slaw around. Simple, sweet and fresh, without being overdressed. The chicken pieces (breast, thigh, drum and wing) were moist and tender on the inside and satisfyingly crunchy on the outside. The mashed potatoes, which my dining buddy drenched in gravy, were toothsome and hearty. Ah, comfort food.

Ruski's, with its full bar and homey atmosphere, is a neighborhood hangout that has something for everyone, even the kiddos (hot dogs, chicken fingers and grilled cheese served here). While the four-legged Hungrygals aren't allowed inside the bar, they've been always been content in knowing Ruski's is worth the wait. Lobster doggie-bag, anyone??

Ruski's Tavern
(207) 774-7604
212 Danforth Street, Portland, ME

Friday, May 11, 2012

Yosaku Restaurant

While I love Japanese food, I just can't stomach sushi. There. I said it. You will never see a review for raw fish in this blog. Now, don't get me wrong; I have nothing against sushi or sashimi at all. It's just that I grew up watching my grandmother elbow-deep in fish guts and slimy scales from cleaning my grandfather's catch, and those memories somehow invade my brain whenever the implausible thought of trying sushi crosses my mind.

Got that off my chest.

Yosaku, a Japanese restuarant and sushi bar located at the corner of Fore and Pleasant in Portland, offers a varied menu for all palates: bento lunch boxes, teppan grill, soups, tempura and of course the aforementioned sushi.

The day Hungrygals visited, we began with an order of the shrimp shumai - little round shrimp dumplings, steamed and served in a bamboo basket (see photo). Served with a side of ginger-soy dipping sauce, the shumai are little pieces of heaven. Shrimpy and softly firm, they melt in your mouth. A steal at $5.50.

For an entree, I ordered the Niku soup, a huge bowl of udon noodles and shredded beef served in a savory broth with a shaker of spice mix on the side. WOW! The noodles were cooked perfectly, al dente, and the meaty, tangy broth was robust with flavor. Perfect.

The other Hungrygal dined on the Scallops Teppan Grill. Over half a dozen seared scallops were served with rice, pickles and an abundance of grilled veggies. The scallops hinted of a light
teriyaki-ish sauce, and the vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, onion, mushroom) were crisp and tasty.

Yosaku's service is attentive, quick, friendly and accommodating. We felt welcome there. Sadly, that's not the case with all restaurants.

The soup could have served two people easily, so the canine Hungrygals made out like bandits. They even scored a couple of scallops and some rice. Yeah. Definitely two paws up.

Total bill for drinks (diet Pepsi), appetizer and two entrees: $28 before tip. Best Japanese deal in town! Definitely check out Yosaku for fresh, tasty food that won't leave you hungry.

Yosaku Japanese Restaurant
1 Danforth Street.
Portland, ME
(207) 780-0880

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Norm's Bar & Grill

On the day of this review, we were in the mood for comfort food, but since it was sunny and springlike, we didn't necessary want anything heavy like beef stew or mounds of pasta. Had to find someplace that would offered a decent variety to choose from to help make up our minds, so we settled on Norm's Bar & Grill.

Norm's is located on Congress Street, almost directly across from the Post Office, so at times parking can be a challenge. We lucked out, though, and got a spot almost right in front of the restaurant.


Since we were early, we had our pick of tables and chose a booth near the window for people-watching. The waitress came over and got our drink order right away (always a plus). We also asked her for something that wasn't on the menu: a portabello mushroom appetizer, grilled and dressed in balsamic vinegar. It's a treat that Norm's used to serve years ago but is no longer available...unless you ask, because the kitchen was more than happy to accommodate us (see photo). A yummy start.

My hungrygals companion ordered the meat pie (lamb and beef combo) and I got the grilled Rachel, which is basically a Reuben made with turkey instead of corned beef.

The meat pie looked more like a calzone than a pie. Guess we were expecting something more like a chicken pot pie or something, but despite being a bit hard to eat - it looks like something you can eat with your hands but really a knife and fork worked best - the ground beef and lamb mixture was very good. Warm, juicy and seasoned well, it was served atop a salad with a side of rice.

The Rachel was delicious. Norm's uses REAL sliced turkey, the kind you get at Thanksgiving, not the uber-processed, sodium-bomb type from the deli. The sandwhich, served on rye, was stacked high with saurkraut and moist, tender turkey. A sucker for cabbage of all kinds, I asked for a side of cole slaw too, which was crispy and sweet.

The meat pie took a bit long to cook, but the waitress warned us of that up front. Our bill came to $34 without tip. The four-legged hungrygals missed out on the portabello (mushrooms are on the do-not-feed-your-dog list) but they did enjoy the leftover beef/lamb from the pie and turkey from the Rachel.
Two thumbs and two paws up for Norm's!

Norm's Bar and Grill
(207) 828-9944
617 Congress St, Portland, ME 04101

Friday, April 6, 2012

Becky's Diner

As I've said before in this blog, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Therefore, I'm always on the lookout for a great diner or cafe, preferably the kind that serves breakfast all day loooooong.

Recently, my dining companions (one two-legged and two four-legged) and I made our way to Commercial Street to eat at Becky's Diner. I've been to Becky's several times over the past ten, fifteen years or so and the food's always been good, so why not dine there as my Hungrygal-alter-ego and give 'em a proper review? It was a cool, overcast day, perfect for overindulging in comfort food.

The diner was hopping that morning and we had a short wait at the door while the hostess wiped down a table. Once settled, an unsmiling waitress brought over two big, steaming cups of coffee in a couple of hefty mugs - the kind with the rim so thick you have to wrap your lips around it just to make sure you don't dribble. The coffee, good and strong, warmed our bones.

The waitress disappeared for a while and we were actually ready for a coffee warm-up by the time she returned. No matter - the diner was really busy, after all - so we weren't overly concerned about the wait. We ordered a repast fit for a king: two omelets, homefries with peppers and onions, a side of bacon, a side of ham, toast and a blueberry muffin.

After about fifteen minutes, the blueberry muffin and the side of ham appeared at the table, but nothing else. Our waitress plopped the plates down wordlessly and disappeared again without refilling our coffee cups. We figured the rest of the meal would follow shortly and decided to wait for the rest of it before digging in, even though serving a third of our breakfast first seemed rather odd.

We were wrong. We waited another ten minutes as the ham cooled on its plate, then finally I asked another server if she could find our waitress for us. We watched as she searched in vain, even asking another worker of our waitress' whereabouts. The second server actually caught my eye and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "sorry, she's vanished"! Hungry and confused, we decided to nibble on the muffin and the ham while we waited. Another server refilled our coffee.

Finally, after another five minutes or so, our waitress appeared and brought the rest of the food to the table. She mumbled an apology but again without a smile. She must have been having a really bad day.

Needless to say, the ham was cold, and yet delicious - juicy and sweet and not cooked to death like they do at some restaurants - and not overly salty, either. The muffin was basic, a standard cakey muffin, nothing special. However, the egg-white omelet, stuffed with onions and mushrooms and cheese, was outstanding, as were the accompanying home fries, served with a sumptuous amount of green pepper and carmelized onion. The bacon was tasty and cooked just right - savory and crisp, grilled to a golden brown. And the special that day - a three-egg hash-and-cheese omelet - made us drool like Homer Simpson when he's dreaming of donuts.

For some reason, I got white toast instead of the rye toast I'd ordered, but by that point, I was too hungry to wait any longer and didn't bother to mention it.

After stuffing ourselves, we waited yet again for the check and a doggie bag (can't forget the four-legged diners waiting in the car, after all). The bill, when it finally arrived, came to $34.57 before tip.

I don't think we ever did see the waitress smile. Not once.

Bottom line: food - two thumbs and two paws up; service (for this day anyway) - two thumbs down. Becky's serves up awesome fare and I'm hopeful that we just hit it on an off day. Do give Becky's a try - it's worth the wait!

Becky's Diner
390 Commercial Street
Portland, ME
(207) 773-7070

Monday, February 20, 2012

Uncle Andy's Redux - 2012

Breakfast is, by far, my favorite meal of the day. I'd eat breakfast for lunch and dinner and snacks in between if I could. In fact, I pretty much consider eggs to be the perfect food.

There are tons of places in the greater Portland area to snag a satisfying breakfast at a decent price: Brea Lu Cafe, Bintliff's, Ruski's, Becky's, Miss Portland Diner, to name just a few. Although we'd reviewed Uncle Andy's diner back in 2009, we felt the old-time South Portland diner deserved an updated take on its inexpensive yet sumptuous fare.

The staff at Uncle Andy's is friendly and efficient. The atmosphere is diner-casual, with the same 1950's counter and stools that have been in place since the original Uncle Andy's opened decades ago. The atmosphere is cozy and casual and the food is what I call down-home cookin' without pretense. No lobster benedict here. Dennis, the owner and cook, does run specials daily, such as the double-ham and cheese omelet for $7.99 or the mini-omelet on a bagel for $3.99, and he personally specializes in monkey-shaped pancakes (or other animal shapes as desired) for the kids. You can even request cage-free eggs for an additional .25 each.

On our recent visit, we dined on a feast of fried eggs, scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, veggie sausage, home fries and a lemon-filled muffin. A breakfast-lover's dream! The fried eggs were cooked perfectly (over-hard) and the scrambled were stuffed with onions and tomatoes (Uncle Andy's accommodates special requests). The ham slice was juicy and just the right thickness - not cooked to death like some I've had at other establishments. The bacon came out crispy, just as we'd requested and the muffin oozed a deliciously sweet-tart lemon-filling. The repast was more than enough for two people.

The total bill before tip came to $20.01. We even left with a doggie bag (for you-know-who).

Bottom line: Uncle Andy's serves it up right - great food without poking a hole in your wallet. With prices like $3.25 for two eggs with home fries and toast, you really could eat breakfast at every meal!

Two thumbs and two paws up.

Uncle Andy's Diner
(207) 799-7199
171 Ocean St
South Portland, ME

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Full Belly Deli

The Full Belly Deli's been on the Portland food scene for over fifteen years, serving up kosher offerings, soups, salads, wraps and of course, deli sandwiches. On the day I stopped in, the special was a fried haddock sandwich with fries, cole slaw and pickle for $8.49. Tempting, but when I go to the Full Belly Deli, probably the only place in the greater Portland area that serves up beef tongue, I want something a bit more exciting than fish.

The small restaurant in the Pine Tree Plaza features such classic items as pastrami, corned beef, roast beef, grilled chicken, just to name a few.  Passing on the tongue (call me a wimp, I just can't get past the thought of chewing on something else's taste buds), I opted for the "World's Wurst" - a liverwurst sandwich on pumpernickel bread (my choice of bread; there are several offered).

And man oh man, what a sandwich it is! Warning: you must possess a healthy love of liverwurst to order this sandwich. The total materpiece, bread-to-bread, stands over three inches high, boasting a full one-and-a-half-to-two inches of meat - slab upon beautiful slab of liverwurst (yes, I actually measured it. What can I say, I am a geek). Thin slices of tomato and purple onion add sweetness and crunch while a topping of hard boiled egg accentuates the creamy richness of the 'wurst. A crisp half-sour pickle is served on the side.

Clearly, this delicious sandwich is to be shared. Despite a burning desire to wolf down every last bite, I simply couldn't eat more than half of it! Humongous and mouth-watering, the World's Wurst is a sandwich fit for kings and queens. Leftovers, of course, are always good news for the four-legged Hungrygals, who greatly enjoyed their very own individual slab of liverwurst.

The Full Belly Deli certainly lives up to its name. Open for breakfast and lunch, the FBD also sells  assorted deli meats and cheeses for take out. Go. Feast. Two thumbs and two paws up.

The Full Belly Deli
(207) 772-1227
1060 Brighton Ave
Portland, ME

Yes, there is a bite already taken out of the sandwich. A moment of weakness.