2013 Year in Review: Hugo’s, Hunt + Alpine, Food Trucks, Coffee, Beer and Spirits

As in 2012, 2011 and 2010, 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 2013 Portland Year in Food:

  • hushhush3Best Newcomers – there were a lot of strong contenders this year: Outliers, Salvage, Empire, Piccolo, Small Axe and Urban Sugar all come easily to mind.  However I think the two best newcomers of 2013 were Hunt + Alpine for Best Bar and the new Hugo’s for Best Restaurant. H+A owners Andrew and Briana Volk first announced their plans in late 2012, and organized the  Hush Hush cocktail series (February, March, April at Eventide) while their bar was under construction. They’ve assembled a talented staff of some of the city’s best bartenders and created a cool new space to see and be seen in. Imbibe called their menu “an ode to the beauty of cocktails, old and new”. Likewise, the trio who run the new Hugo’s have also created something really special. Great service, a spectacular urban space and truly innovative and excellent cuisine. It takes the already strong reputation of 88 Middle Street to a new high.
  • Food Trucks – 2013 was the first full year of food trucks in Portland. El Corazon, Gusto’s, Mainely Burgers, Mainely Treats, Portside Picnic, Small Axe, The Squeeze,Urban Sugar and Wicked Good joined Bite into Maine and Love Cupcakes as part of the Portland food truck fleet, Rising Tide kicked off an event series featuring a different food truck each week, Flea-for-All hosted a monthly gather of trucks, a group of food bloggers worked together on collaborative review project, and by the end of the year 3-4 additional trucks were in development for 2014. The City Council also made some updates to food truck ordinance which should make it easier in the coming year.
  • brescacodBest Dish – I enjoyed some truly excellent food in 2013. Some of my favorites were the soup prepared by Rob Evans for the January Pocket Brunch, the rabbit dish on opening night of Outliers,  the steak and fries at Little Tap House, several excellent dishes had at the new Hugo’s, the Mi Ga from Cong Tu Bot, the chicken adobo from Bar Lola, a General Tso’s Pork Belly sandwich from Small Axe, the chicken slovakia at Emilitsa, the lambs neck cavatelli and a number of the desserts at Piccolo, and a fantastic fluke crudo (with sea salt and tiny garlic flavored flowers) from Eventide. All were excellent. But standing above them all was the entree served at my final meal at Bresca, a perfect piece of pan-seared cod served over a root vegetable broth–simply unforgettable.
  • East Bayside and South Portland – the Portland restaurant scene continued to push beyond the boundaries of the Old Port and Congress Street. Restauranteur’s seemed to finally discover South Portland this year. The former owners of Rachel’s opened Enio’s, Otto opened a location, Elsmere, Ruby Thailand, 158 began serving pizza, the Cia coffee shop, Little Bigs, Mainely Grains, Tony’s, and there’s more to come. East Bayside also saw a lot of growth. Maine Craft Distilling, Coffee by Design, Small Axe, Maine Pie Line, Pure Pops, Bomb Diggity all joined Rising Tide, Sorella’s Bakery, UFF, Bunker Brewing and Tandem in this small industrial neighborhood. A rezoning further expand the possibilities. As Meredith Goad recently pointed out, restaurant real estate in the center of the peninsula is getting expensive. That will inevitably drive more investment further afield—in the suburbs and in the off-peninsula section of the city.
  • Coffee – the coffee scene continued to expand in 2013. Black Cat Coffee opened on Stevens Ave, Omi’s opened in the West End, Hilltop is in the process of moving to new quarters and Coffee by Design opened a 23,000 sq ft roasting facility with a new co-located cafe due in January. The city’s newer roasters also made in roads in the wholesale business to markets and restaurants Speckled Ax is served at Black Cat, Blue Rooster, Piccolo and Vinland, Tandem at Pai Men, Gelato Fiasco, Eventide and Hugo’s. Hopefully the diversification will continue in 2014.
  • Local Beer and Spirits – Portland and Maine as a whole has seen a rapid expansion in the number and size of brewers and distillers in 2013. Allagash expanded their capacity as did Rising Tide, Maine Beer Company (now in Freeport), Baxter Brewing in Lewiston. In’finiti blazed on to the scene this summer. Bissell Brothers, SoMe Brewing in York and Banded Horn in Biddeford all launched in 2013. Oxbow Brewing from Newcastle has established a strong foothold on the taps in Portland restaurants. Two more Portland brewers (Foundation and Austin Street) should launch in early 2014. Little Tap House created a new beer bar in the West End and Maine Craft Distilling launched mid-year with a great line-up of artisanal spirits. Vena’s Fizz House now provides home cocktail enthusiasts a place to source accessories and Coastal Root will soon be supplying Portland with locally made bitters. Last but not least, Portland was home to 3 beer festivals in the past year, including The Festival which brought brewers and beer enthusiasts from all over the world to Portland.
  • Under Construction – more than 40 new food businesses launched in 2013 and another 30 or so are already under development and set to launch in 2014 including another 3 food trucks, 2 brewers and a cocktail bitters company. Five spots that I’m especially looking forward to are Central Provisions, Miyake Diner, Slab, and the new restaurants being produced by Bar Lola and Tao Yuan.

Notable Events of 2013

25 Restaurants Looked-up Most Often on PFM

  1. In’finiti (-)
  2. Outliers Eatery (-)
  3. Blue Rooster Food Co. (-)
  4. Eventide Oyster Company (9)
  5. Bar Lola (4)
  6. Petite Jacqueline (3)
  7. Piccolo (-)
  8. Little Tap House (-)
  9. The North Point (-)
  10. Caiola’s (8)
  11. Empire Chinese Kitchen (-)
  12. Local 188 (13)
  13. Enio’s (-)
  14. Hugo’s (23)
  15. Bresca (6)
  16. Portland & Rochester Public House (-)
  17. Schulte & Herr (1)
  18. Five Fifty-Five (7)
  19. Zapoteca (11)
  20. Spread (2)
  21. Hot Suppa (20)
  22. Back Bay Grill (10)
  23. Blue Spoon (5)
  24. Grace (14)
  25. Salvage BBQ (-)

The numbers in parentheses indicate their rank last year.

Passings

For some other perspectives on the past year see Peter Peter Portland Eater, the Portland Phoenix, The Golden Dish, Eater Maine and MaineToday.

For more information on Portland’s food past see the 2012 Year in Review, 2011 Year in Review and 2010 Year in Review, as well as PFM blog posts from 2009, 2008 and 2007, and the Portland Food Timeline.

6 Responses to “2013 Year in Review: Hugo’s, Hunt + Alpine, Food Trucks, Coffee, Beer and Spirits”

  1. Dawn Says:

    Fantastic write-up! We greatly appreciate the time and thought you but into this.

  2. Bob R. Says:

    Gotta agree. Great write-up. My resolution: try to hang out with you to eat and drink really well!

  3. PFM Says:

    Anytime Bob. Just let me know when you’re free.

  4. PFM Says:

    Thanks Dawn!

  5. Sarah Says:

    Such a pleasure to read.

  6. johnnyd Says:

    Really well done, PFM – time for our cocktail hour!