When Bon Appetit recently named Portland, Maine as its 2018 Restaurant City of the Year, those of us who have spent time there were hardly surprised. That came on top of GQ naming the city's Little Giant as one of the best bars in America.
Obviously, if you haven't already booked a trip to Maine's mecca for fine food and drink there is no time to waste. And to help you with your itinerary we asked Briana Volk, co-owner of Little Giant and the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club (see below) as well as the author of the cool new book Northern Hospitality, for some highlights:
"Bunker is one of my favorite breweries," Volk says. "It was created by Jay Villani, and as with anything he’s involved in (he also owns Salvage BBQ and Local 188) not only are the food and drink stellar, but the spaces are always so well done too. It’s big, bright and feels so welcoming. Hanging out at Bunker with a beer, listening to a band, or just relaxing is peak good-times. And the head brewer Chresten’s beer is rad. My go-to has always been his Machine Czech Pilsner."
"UNION is inside one of the best hotels in the city," Volk notes, "and even better, it’s located right in the center of town so it is perfect for meeting friends who are visiting or pre-/post-date drinks. Chef Josh Berry’s menu is incredibly seasonal and full of great things from local farmers and fishermen. All that is to say that no matter what time of year you go you’re going to find the best Maine has to offer."
"My death row meal would be a cheeseburger and fries," Volk says. "And it would probably be the cheeseburger and fries made at Black Cow. It’s a soda shop reimagined complete with a bar, and the kitchen makes everything on their menu from scratch, buns and all, without being in your face about it. It’s priced fairly well with all the work they put in. If I’m being honest, Black Cow is one of my most frequent stops in town."
"There are a ton of great breweries in town and a small, but burgeoning scene of distilleries too," Volks tells us. "One of my favorites, just 10 minutes from downtown, is New England Distilling. They are making a small but stellar lineup of gin, rum, bourbon and a Maryland-style rye. It is absolutely worth the detour to see how they painstakingly craft each spirit and of course taste their products. Then buy a bottle or two of your favorite for your home bar."
"At Little Giant, we wanted to create a space that was modern and comfortable where you could cozy up to the bar with a date, sit in our dining room with your family or feel like you’re in a hidden New Orleans courtyard," Volk says. "It was inspired partly because we were looking for a place that we could go to that embodied all of these things but couldn’t find it in our town. Our chef Neil Ross makes food to match that vibe; influenced by Continental European cuisine, he pulls in what is fresh and seasonal, hitting up our local farmers on a daily basis for the best produce they can provide."
"Five years ago, my husband Andrew and I opened Hunt + Alpine looking to create a bar that focused on great drinks in a place where you just wanted to hang out. We took a lot of influence from my Finnish heritage in both the décor and the menu. Since then we’ve been a two-time James Beard semi-finalist for 'Outstanding Bar Program' and have seen people from all over the world come in to drink with us. It’s a place that you can nerd out on cocktails with the staff or just relax with a great local beer, a glass of wine or a pour of a well-made spirit."
"For some reason, people are always skeptical of restaurants in hotels, but Bolster, Snow & Co. proves that you shouldn't be," Volk says. "Inside the West End's historic Francis Hotel, Bolster, Snow & Co. is an intimate space where you can watch the open kitchen and chef Nicholas Verdisco make food that feels classically American but is filled with modern touches. The West End of Portland has been changing in recent years and it's wonderful to see places like Bolster, Snow & Co. become destinations outside of downtown."