2011 Year in Review
It’s once again been a very busy year for the food and dining industry in Portland. I’ve scanned through the news and events for the past year and here’s my summary of the 2011 Portland Year in Food:
- Whoopie Pies – whoopie pies were a hot topic in early 2011. In order to further establish Maine as the true home of the whoopie pie, the state Legislature considered naming it the State Dessert but ran head on into the powerful Blueberry Lobby. Compromise was struck in April with the whoopie pies being named the State Treat and ceding the title of State Dessert to blueberry pie. Whicked Whoopies contributed to the hoopla by building a 1067 pound pie beating out the prior title in Pennsylvania by more than 800 lbs.
- Food Trucks – The city’s ban on food trucks stopped Bite into Maine from operating their lobster roll truck in the Old Port. Inspired by their story, Creative Portland Corporation took up the challenge and been very active in raising the issue for review by the City Council. The Press Herald has issued an editorial in favor food trucks and a volunteer committee assembled by CPC has proposed a set of guidelines that will hopefully get review and approval by the City Council in the new year.
- Schulte & Herr – Petite Jacqueline, The Holy Donut and Zapoteca all generated a lot excitement in 2011, but the most unexpected and talked about new businesses to emerge last year was Schulte & Herr. The small German restaurant run by Steffi and Brian Davin has received raves reviews from almost the first day they opened. Who could have imagined that a small German Cafe on Cumberland Ave would have opened at all, much less generated so much enthusiasm in 2011?
- Dessert – many of the new openings this year are focused on satisfying Portland’s sweet tooth. Gorgeous Gelato, Foley’s, Bakery on the Hill, The Holy Donut, and Bam Bam Bakery to name just a few. The fascination with cupcakes continued into early 2011. East End Cupcake opened a retail store on Fore Street, several other cupcake vendors entered the fray. A group of 5 food bloggers convened for round 2 of a comparative cupcake tasting. My sense is that restaurants have been investing more effort in their dessert menus in 2011 as well.
- Make Mine a Double, Again – Last year’s trend of restaurateur’s doubling up continued into 2011: Five Fifty-Five opened Petite Jacqueline, Nosh opened Taco Escobarr, Slainte opened Gogi, Walter’s opened Gingko Blue, Aurora Provisions opened the Museum Cafe. The trend doesn’t show any signs of weakening in 2012. Already on the books we have El Rayo’s plans to open the El Rayo Cantina and the Riverhouse, Silly’s plans to open Silly’s with a Twist, and Arabica’s plans to open Crema.
- South of the Border – Portland restaurateurs continued to try to answer the demand for Latin food. Gogi, Taco Trio, Hella Good Tacos, Taco Escobarr and Zapoteca all opened in 2011, The Wine Bar got into the act with a summertime taco lunch option, and both the El Rayo Cantina and Sabor Latino are slated to open this year. Now if only we could see an equal focus this year on addressing the dearth of great Chinese food in Portland…
- Expansion Fervor – while a lot of new establishments opened in 2011, the number business under construction went through a steady decline all year. At the start of 2012 there were 20+ eateries in the works and by December the Under Construction list dropped to as low as 6. A few additions late in the year have tempered the decline but it still looks like the growth rate has tapered off.
Notable Events of 2011
- January – East Ender and Gorgeous Gelato opened, Cultivating Community established the Chef Bob Smith Fund, Terroni’s Market closed after 62 years in operation.
- February – Shanghai Tokyo opened and Slow Food Portland announced the winners of the Young Food Writers Competition.
- March – Petite Jacqueline and Top Thai opened, dueling cocktail events took place on the eve of Maine Restaurant Week, and for the 3rd year in a row Silly’s won the Cajun Cookin’ Challenge. Both The Bollard and From Away published surveys of Portland area Chinese restaurants and found them wanting. Red’s Dairy Freeze reopened and Henry VIII closed their sandwich shop in Monument Square. Krista Kern Desjarlais became a finalist for the Beard Foundation’s annual awards in the Best Chef: Northeast category. Wicked Whoopies constructed a 1067 whoopie pie and in doing so snatched the title for the World’s Largest Whoopie from Pennsylvania. Nosh won the Cuban Sandwich Smackdown. Gabrielle Hamilton was in town for book signing and wine dinner in her honor, and the 6th Annual Slow Food Writer’s Night took place.
- April – China Taste, Gogi, Deux Cochon, Apsara and Dobra Tea opened. SPACE held the 2011 edition of Food+Farm, 158 won the Taco Smackdown, and The Cheese Iron was named a Outstanding Specialty Food Retailer by NASFT. A law was passed that makes the whoopie pie Maine’s official State Treat and blueberry pie the official State Dessert.
- May – Gingko Blue, Cobblestones and Exchange Street Cafe opened, Sebago Brewing moved to Fore Street, and Phil’s Dogs started operating at night on Congress Street. Opinionated About Dining rated Miyake, Hugo’s and Fore Street as Highly Recommended, Chef Wilfred Beriau retired from SMCC, the Maine Culinary Podcast was launched, and Hugo’s won the Chicken Smackdown.
- June – The Holy Donut, Museum Cafe and Zapoteca opened, and Foley’s returned. Grace and architect/chocolatier Dean Bingham won the People’s Choice Award from the American Institute of Architects. Barber Foods was acquired by AdvancePierre.
- July – East End Cupcakes, White Cap Grille and Fez opened, and Miyake moved to their new location on Fore Street. South Portland kicked off a weekly farmers market.
- August – The Honey Exchange and Taco Escobarr opened, Cafe at Pat’s reopened under the guidance of the founding chef, and the Portland Food Co-op relocated to roomier digs on Hampshire Street. Food Network magazine recognized Otto Pizza as one of the 50 best pizzerias in the nation. Coffee by Design roaster Dylan Hardman and his team took first place at the national Roasters Guild Retreat. Joe Ricchio launched Food Coma TV.
- September – Schulte & Herr and Bam Bam Bakery opened, and , Granny’s Burritos returned. Bard Coffee was recognized as one of the top coffee establishments in the nation. Novare Res was one of 30 locations worldwide to participate in Cantillon Zwanze Day 2011. An effort got underway to allow food trucks to operate in Portland. The beekeeper at UFF began blogging at Urban Jungle Honeyees, and the inaugural Portland Brew Fest took place.
- October – GoBerry and Plush West End opened and Bull Jagger Brewing launched. the Press Herald issued an editorial in favor of food trucks and several others weighed in on the issue. Controversy erupted over plans by Gelato Fiasco to open a store on Fore Street near Gorgeous Gelato. Rob Evans competed and won an episode of the reality cooking show Chopped, and the premiere of Farms and Fables was staged. In anticipation of a visit by Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain the Press Herald explored the antipathy Portlanders have toward Bourdain and Chubby Werewolf published his perspective on Bourdain. A new video food blog, Parsley Sage Rosemary and Tim was launched.
- November – Bakery on the Hill, Roma Pizza and Al Huda opened. Hugo’s won the Lobster Smackdown, and Maine Beer Week took place.
- December – The Edge opened and Instant Portland launched. Chubby Werewolf published an interview with Krista Kern Desjarlais about the start of lunch service at Bresca, the 3rd Annual Obscure Holiday Cocktail party took place, and Otto Free Slice Day took place.
25 Most Popular Restaurants of 2011
- Petite Jacqueline (-)
- Zapoteca (-)
- District (>25)
- Schulte & Herr (-)
- Bresca (1)
- Bar Lola (2)
- Miyake (19)
- Figa (>25)
- Caiola’s (9)
- Five Fifty-Five (4)
- Local 188 (10)
- Boda (3)
- Grace (15)
- East Ender (-)
- Hugo’s (>25)
- Walter’s (11)
- The Salt Exchange (6)
- Paciarino (14)
- Emilitsa (17)
- Gogi (-)
- The Thirsty Pig (-)
- Taco Escobarr (-)
- Pai Men Miyake (23)
- Blue Spoon (16)
- Fore Street (24)
The numbers in parentheses indicate their rank last year.
- Michael Barriault – photographer and food blogger who published PortlandTown died of cancer at the age of 64.
- Stanley T. Bennet II – the President of Oakhurst Dairy passed away at the age of 64 after a battle with cancer.
- Frederick P. Dyer – founder of Dyer’s Variety on Portland Street passed away at the age of 90.
- Taylor Griffin – President of The Rogers Collection died in a car crash at the age of 40.
- Bob Mathews – the longtime owner of Botto’s Bakery on Washington Ave died at the age of 78.
- John Palanza – owner of Uncle Andy’s Bakery in South Portland died at the age of 89. He ran the bakery for 45 years starting in 1951.