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:
- Best 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.
- Best 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
- January – Supreme Pita opened on Forest Ave, Eventide made it on to the Find Eat Drink top 50 list, and Rob Evans was the guest chef for the January edition of Pocket Brunch.
- February – The North Point opened, The Chinese Laundry held an open house, From Away blogger Malcolm Bedell won an NBC’s Today show competition for his Apricot Shellacked Ghost Chile Chicken Wings; Rob Evans came in 2nd place on Chopped Champions, Chris Gould began working on Central Provisions, chef Eric Simeon was the guest chef of the February Pocket Brunch, the Food Law Colloquium took place at USM, Maine magazine published their annual food issue.
- March – Enio’s, In’finiti, Little Tap House, Blue Rooster, Cia opened, Crooked Mile took over the former Udder Place location on Brighton Ave, Andrew Taylor and Michael Wiley were nominated in the Food & Wine People’s Best New Chef competition, Miyake and Hugo’s made it into the Opinionated Top 100 list, Brad Messier and Nolan Stewart were the guest chefs for the March Pocket Brunch, Oriental Table, Empire, Carmen’s and Bull Jager and The Wine Bar closed.
- April – Outliers opened, several Maine chefs were listed in the 2013 edition of Best Chefs America, Portland Food Map won Best Food Blog in the Phoenix Readership Poll, Bakery on the Hill and Seagrass Bistro closed.
- May – food trucks El Corazon, Wicked Good Street Kitchen, Mainely Burgers, Portside Picnic all launched, Union Bagel opened, Artemisia began serving dinner, Max Mejia was the guest chef at the May Pocket Brunch, Bresca and Korea House closed.
- June – Small Ax Truck launched, Bresca and the Honey Bee, Wannawaf, Mi Sen, GoGo Crepes and Flora Bliss opened, Cong Tu Bot got off to a start, The Festival took place, Bite into Maine made it on the Food & Wine list of the America’s Best Lobster Rolls and Eventide won the Editor’s Choice at the Lobster Roll Rumble, Bon Appetit called Leslie Oster’s dinner the standout event at the Kennebec Festival, From Away was recognized by Down East as having the Best Personal Food Blog in Maine, Portland Food Map got started on Twitter, Krista Kern Desjarlais was the guest chef for the June Pocket Brunch, Stephen Lanzalotta and Micucci’s parted ways.
- July – MJ’s Wine Bar, Maine Craft Distilling, the (short-lived) Compass Rose, Vena’s Fizz House, Portland & Rochester, and Mainley Treats opened, a newly renovated Hugo’s reopened.
- August – Black Cat Cafe, Little Bigs, Boone’s, Elsmere, a South Portland outpost of Tony’s opened, the NY Times and Food Republic wrote the Portland food scene, Bon Appetit named Eventide one of the 50 Best New Restaurants in America, at the suggestion of Map & Menu PFM got started on Instagram, DiPietro’s and Mike’s closed.
- September – Salvage BBQ, Omi’s, Hunt + Alpine, Empire, Piccolo, Oscar’s and El Tipico opened, Maine Pie Line launched, a 3-alarm fire on Fore Street impacted several restaurants, Sweet Marguerites went out of business.
- October – Urban Sugar Mobile Cafe and Daigle Baked Goods launched, Wannawaf and The Farmers Table closed.
- November – Mainely Grains Baker and Otto opened in South Portland, El Rayo bartender Henry Yost appeared in GQ, The Holy Donut opened a 2nd location on Exchange Street and Cafe Crepe moved to Portland and a food cart called Little Jamaica launched, the Press Herald began the search for a Food Editor, Bar Lola and Wok Inn closed.
- December – Mainely Wraps, Vinland and Daily Greens opened, Bissell Brothers Brewery launched, Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell announced plans to take over the Palace Diner in Biddeford, CBD threw a party to celebrate their new facility in East Bayside, Imbibe named Portland in their list of 10 places to watch in 2014.
25 Restaurants Looked-up Most Often on PFM
- In’finiti (-)
- Outliers Eatery (-)
- Blue Rooster Food Co. (-)
- Eventide Oyster Company (9)
- Bar Lola (4)
- Petite Jacqueline (3)
- Piccolo (-)
- Little Tap House (-)
- The North Point (-)
- Caiola’s (8)
- Empire Chinese Kitchen (-)
- Local 188 (13)
- Enio’s (-)
- Hugo’s (23)
- Bresca (6)
- Portland & Rochester Public House (-)
- Schulte & Herr (1)
- Five Fifty-Five (7)
- Zapoteca (11)
- Spread (2)
- Hot Suppa (20)
- Back Bay Grill (10)
- Blue Spoon (5)
- Grace (14)
- Salvage BBQ (-)
The numbers in parentheses indicate their rank last year.
- Randall Chase, 71 – owner of the Miss Portland Diner for 24 years and the Middle Street Cafe for 6 years.
- Ralph Edward Dahms, 87 – he operated a concession stand in City Hall for 30 years.
- William C. Dilios, 74 – owned Christy’s Restaurant on Cumberland Ave in the 60s and 70s.
- Richard Foss, 96 – worked for 63 years at Schlotterbeck & Foss, a Portland specialty foods company founded by his grandfather Charles Foss and Augustus Schlotterbeck in 1866.
- Karen Kay Geary, 68 – co-founder of D.L. Geary Brewing
- Peter Reali, Jr., 60 – former owner of Portland’s Oldest Pub.
- Anna E. Russo, 93 – Russo and her husband Alphonso ran Al’s Luncheonette on India Street from the 1940s until 1964.
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.