Archive for the ‘History’ Category

James Beard’s 1964 Visit to Portland

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

BeardDoyon4In November 1964 LBJ had just defeated Goldwater, the Sardine Law was front page news,  and famed chef and food writer James Beard visited Portland to lead a 4-day series of cooking demonstrations organized by the Portland Symphony Orchestra as a fundraising activity for their 1964-65 season.

Reporter Hazel Loveitt from the Press Herald along with “more than 200 women and two men” (Brunswick chef Pete Doyon and home cook Harry Dunbar) were on site for the first day of classes. Loveitt reported,

Beard’s heroic proportions belied his agility as he did a culinary ballet between the stove, oven and food preparation. When he added “about a half teaspoon” of vanilla to the filling he was making for apple flan the master chef dispensed the flavoring directly from the bottle to the cooking pan with the flair of a showman.

While using the slim handleless French rolling pin to roll the tart flan Beard explained that the pin was easier to guide than the more common rolling pin.

An earlier version of the article was certainly a product of the times. President Kennedy has delivered his famous challenge for a moon landing 2 years earlier, and the article referred to the rolling pin as a “slim space-aged model”.

beardbookletThe town was still in the afterglow of Beard’s visit several day later when the paper published a follow-on piece which concluded “All calories aside, we’ve been living in a gastronomical Shangri-La.”

Beard was assisted with the classes by Ruth Norman and they were held at the State Street Church. Their entire series of 5 classes went for $12 per person. Accounting for inflation that would be $91 in today’s dollars—a bargain in any decade.

A half century later few people in town remember Beard’s visit, but as luck would have it one of few artifacts of that week, a booklet from Beard’s classes (shown above), came into the possession of Rabelais Books, and owner Don Lindgren brought it to my attention. It contains 34 pages of recipes from the classes. They’re an interesting mix of French, Italian, American and Asian cooking such as Salad Nicoise, Shish Kebab, Rummed Crab Spread, Cannelloni, Crepes Duxelles, Barbecued Spareribs and Fried Rice.

Many thanks to PSO historian Hank Schmidtt and to the Symphony for their assistance in researching this article.




Amergian Bros.

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

AmergianCross West Bayside on Oxford Street and you’re likely to spot this old sign for the former Amergian Brothers neighborhood market at the intersection with Chestnut Street. It was founded by George Amergian in 1928 in what was then the Armenian neighborhood in Portland. The market remained in business until the beginning of the 21st century and was for many year’s run by his nephew Edward Mardigan.

Eating Well in 1888

Friday, August 7th, 2015

imageHere’s an artifact from Portland’s culinary past, a banquet menu for an 1888 dinner of the local association of drugstore owners. 8 courses which included oysters, beef tenderloin, baked pike, lobster and saddle of venison.

The menu is from the collections at Rabelais Books in Biddeford.

Farmers’ Market History, Part 2

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

The Maine Sunday Telegram has published an article (part 2 of 2) about the history of the Portland Farmers’ Market.

Over the centuries, the market rose and fell, and rose again, along with the fortunes of the city. Over the market’s 246-year lifespan, it has moved at least half a dozen times, operated indoors and out, sometimes at multiple locations, and has almost been extinguished by industrial agriculture and the popularity of supermarkets.

You can read part 1 of this article online.

Gritty’s 25th Anniversary

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Today’s Press Herald includes a front page article about Gritty’s 25 years in business and the impact they’ve had on Maine’s craft beer industry.

“Yeah, I’d say [Dave] Geary and those guys ([Gritty’s co-founders] Stebbins and Pfeffer) were sort of the godfathers of Maine brewing, and today the scene is just so filled with talented people, very small outfits finding a niche for themselves,” said Houghton, who also runs The Liberal Cup brew pub in Hallowell. “The main reason I’m in Maine is because of Gritty McDuff’s.”

Bangor Daily News and publisher of The Bollard has also written about Gritty’s 25 anniversary in his weekly column.

Together with David Geary, Dave Evans of The Great Lost Bear, and Alan Eames of Three Dollar Dewey’s, Gritty’s founders Richard Pfeffer and Ed Stebbins deserve a significant amount of credit for the scores of breweries, thousands of jobs and millions of dollars the microbrew movement has brought to Maine since the 1980s. For that alone, Pfeffer and Stebbins deserve the key to the city and a big bear hug from Gov. Paul LePage…

Gritty’s 25th Anniversary Party is taking place at 4pm today at their Portland location.

Historical Menus & Food Trucks

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Today’s Press Herald includes an interesting article about the Maine Historical Society’s collection of old menus,

Remember The Roma Cafe, known for ages as “Portland’s most romantic restaurant” and the place you had to take your date on Valentine’s, or else suffer the consequences?

There are also menus for Hu Shang on Exchange Street and the Victory Deli in Monument Square (where Foley’s Bakery is now), both former frequent lunch spots for Press Herald reporters. At the end of the day, when we wanted a cocktail, we went down to Cotton Street Cantina. (On the menu, it’s called Cotton Street Tropical Grill and Bar.)

and passing reference to recommended changes to the food truck regulations (at the very end of the article) made by the Health and Human Services Committee.

The changes would allow food trucks to cluster in certain zones by eliminating a rule that trucks be at least 65 feet from each other. And operators would have to pay only $30 for a permit to operate on private property, rather than $105.

J’s Oyster Bar

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Maine magazine has posted an article about J’s Oyster Bar that appeared in the July issue.

On the stool to my right sits a slight man in a baseball cap with a gray mustache who tells me, “I was here on opening night back in 1977!” The man is Frank Kimball. He is 75 years old, grew up on Peaks Island, and is a former Navy sailor, postman, drag racer, and husband. He doesn’t eat oysters, but he loves the scallop casserole. “You got to get it,” he says. “The atmosphere is 90 percent of the reason I come here. The rest is the scallop casserole.”

Portland Food History: Valle’s

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

The Portland Maine History Facebook page has posted a history of Valle’s steak house that was founded in Portland and its peak had locations all throughout New England.

Valle’s Steak House began as a 12 seat café in Portland, Maine in 1933, owned by Donald Valle who was born in Lettomanopello, Italy in 1908 and immigrated to the United States in 1912 at the age of four; he married Sue Crone and they had two children Richard and Judith. Before Woodford’s Corner, Valle’s was at 551 Congress Street, but not sure if that was the original location…

Rum Diaries

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

The October issue of Portland Magazine includes a feature article on the history of the rum industry in Maine.

The rough and rowdy history of Maine rum turned violent in the 1850s, as under the growing temperance movement spearheaded by mayor Neal Dow, ‘the Napoleon of Temperance,’ alcohol production and sale of liquor was prohibited. However, it was discovered four years after the passage of the law that Dow himself was keeping large stocks of brandy set aside for ‘medicinal’ purposes–necessary to maintain the temperaments of solid, respectable citizens, of course. But for the working population of the city, alcohol was often their only escape, and many of the rioters decried Dow’s attack on what they viewed as their culture.

Ned Wight from New England Distilling in Portland was interviewed for the article.

Ned Wight, whose Eight Bells Rum hit shelves in September, agrees that it’s not all about the sea. Much of the rum produced in Maine was likely produced in stills in the back of public houses, produced not for bottling and off-site consumption but to be drunk on the premises by the patrons. “To me, that’s the real essence of Maine’s connection to rum, less than sailing or piracy.

Portland’s Restaurant History

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

For anyone interested in the history of Portland’s restaurant scene (that’s all of us, right?), Epicuranoid has published a very interesting history of Portland’s restaurants in the 70’s and 80’s.

Long before The Old Port renaissance, Portland had a hopping restaurant scene.  There was a famous French restaurant named Marcel’s.  Several good steak houses like John Martin’s Art Gallery (where Asylum is now) and many restaurants that did all kinds of seafood baked, broiled & fried.  However, In the time before The Old Port boomed, the last great features of Portland’s restaurant landscape were Italian.  I refer to it as the old Italian guard because much like Boston’s North End today, the Italian restaurants dominated.   Only DiMillo’s was actually in the area we call The Old Port, but the city was littered with the likes of Verillo’s, The Sportsman’s Grill, The Roma, The Village Cafe, Maria’s and my old favorite, Giobbi’s.

If that’s wet your appetite for Portland food history, take a look at the restaurant timeline here on PFM.

Neal and Ricky

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Today’s Portland Daily Sun includes an article on Portland’s prohibitional past and a story about the naming of Rockin’ Ricky’s Tavern,

Back to famous bars though. One of my favorite bar stories is one I was told about Ricky’s, on Portland Street, across from the post office. It seems that when Italy changed sides in the Second World War an Italian submarine navigated into Portland Harbor and turned itself in, and because Italy was in dire straits at the end of the war some of the Italian crewmen decided to stay in this country. They were each given a stake by the federal government to establish themselves in their new country and the story goes that a man named Ricci used his cash to start a tavern on Portland Street, which he named after himself, and over time Ricci’s became anglicized to Ricky’s. Rockin’ Ricky’s Tavern, who would’a thought.

Profile of Pat’s Meat Market

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

The Portland Daily Sun has published a profile of Pat’s Meat Market.

In the era of “Big Joe” Vacchiano, Jaime’s great-grandfather who immigrated to Portland from Italy and started a butcher’s shop at the base of Munjoy Hill, there was a meat market in every neighborhood. Over time, Pat’s Meat Market held on while others vanished. Jaime Vacchiano said the business pressures are demanding, yielding little in profit, which may explain the scarcity of private butcher shops today. He also theorized that a 24/7 world is inhospitable to an old-fashioned family business built on quality over expediency.

A Trip Down Food Memory Lane

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Pepperclub co-owner Eddie Fitzpatrick takes a walk down food memory lane for a retrospective article on the 25th anniversary of Portland magazine.

Twenty-five years ago, a new wave of restaurants in Portland dazzled diners and earned raves from The Atlantic and New England Monthly. Among them: Swan Dive, Alberta’s, L’Antibes, Brattle Street, The Vinyard, and 34 Exchange. At the time, Eddie Fitzpatrick was editor of the Maine Sunday Telegram. Today, he co-owns Pepperclub…

In the later part of the article Fitzpatrick also offers his perspective on the last few years of expansion in the restaurant industry in Portland.

A second article later in the magazine also provides another point of view on Portland restaurant past and present.

Back in the ’80’s, Portland had “just about a dozen feature restaurants,” radiating from the restored brick wharehouses of the Old Port, recalls Dick Grotton, president and CEO of the Maine Restaurant Association

The second article isn’t available online but the new issue of Portland magazine should be available at your local newsstand and you can read the article on page 84.

Food History: 1925

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

A pair of vintage photos of Chinese immigrant waiters taking an “Americanization Class” have recently been added to the Maine Memory Network website. The men all worked at either the Empire and the Oriental in Portland. The Empire stood on the corner of Forest Ave and Congress Street where Empire Dine and Dance is today. The Oriental was located at 28 Monument Square in the spot that now houses the Public Market House.

Neon Diner/Gogi

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Every so often when a new restaurant at is under construction at 653 Congress Street you can catch a glimpse of the old Neon Diner sign (see this recent photo by Corey Templeton). That’s the case now as Gogi, a new Asian fusion restaurant, get’s set to install their new street sign in the old Neon Diner frame. I’ve heard that Gogi hopes to open in March. The Neon Diner was in operation 1991-1995.

4 Star Review of Pai Men Miyake

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Pai Men Miyake received 4 stars from the Taste & Tell review in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Spicy miso ($11) from the ramen list gave perfect satisfaction. A half of a hard-boiled egg marinated in soy added some salty protein, and spicy sesame garlic paste revved up the miso broth to the savory thickness and intensity of a kind of Japanese meat glaze. Tons of skinny ramen noodles filled the bowl in which a couple of thick slices of pork belly provided bites of mild and tender meat.

Also in today’s paper are the teenage reminiscences of Congress Street in the 1950s by Martha Pillsbury. In her article she recalls a number of eateries from that era,

It is with sweet thoughts that I remember Soule’s Candy Kitchen and Haven’s Candy. Also, who remembers the State Theatre, the Pagoda Restaurant, State Street Drugs, Hays Drugstore, Your Host Restaurant, Strand Theater and the Puritan Restaurant?

The Puritan was where kids would stop on our way home from high school to eat french fries with gravy, have a Coke, and maybe smoke a first cigarette. West End kids got to know a lot of East End kids at the Puritan.

Under Construction: Gogi Asian Fusion

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Gogi, an Asian fusion restaurant, is under construction at 653 Congress Street. The draft menu (see page 83) includes items like kim chee fries and bulgogi beef tacos. When it opens it will bring a fourth Asian restaurant to Longfellow Square which is already home to Boda, Pai Men Miyake, and King of the Roll.

While that location has changed hands a number of times in the last few years, it has a long history. Influential restaurateur James Ledue ran Zephyr Grill and then Bella Cucina at that spot 1996-2002, for 24 years (1962-1986) it was Soule’s Candy Kitchen and in 1885 Augustus Schlotterbeck ran an apothecary at that address. Schlotterbeck co-founded the flavor extract business Schlotterbeck-Foss that still operates today from a John Calvin Stevens building on Preble Street.

The Salt Exchange Review & the 1855 Portland Rum Riot

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

The new issue of Down East magazine includes a review of The Salt Exchange,

As for the food itself: In a word, it’s stunning — well conceived, delicately balanced, and impeccably presented. Maine lobster salad with crème fraiche, cucumber, and greens is so delicately seasoned as to be a bit bland on first bite. But with successive nibbles the flavors reveal themselves, the slight tang of the crème fraiche creating a perfect complement to the lobster’s richness.

and an article about the 1855 Portland Rum Riot,

Men loitered in the square with an air of impatience. A cache of liquor had been seized in the basement of City Hall, Racklyffe was told. The rumor circulating that day was that the liquor belonged to Portland’s mayor, Neal Dow, the “Father of Prohibition” himself.

Chewing Gum, Maine Food History and Academic Success

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

An article in Tuesday’s edition of the Portland Daily Sun writes about the history of chewing gum in Maine and research that shows chewing gum boosts academic performance by 3%.

Eventually demand grew beyond what the Bangor kitchen could produce so Curtis and family set up a facility in Portland. The business continued to grow, eventually employing 200 people who produced 1800 boxes of gum a day. the three-story factory was located on Fore Street in the building now occupied by Hub Furniture. By the late 1870s, Curtis had earned enough from the masticating masses that he was able to build a home in Deering Center that was the largest and most expensive home at the time.

So many restaurants opening . . . will it ever end?

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

In 1977 the Maine Times published an article entitled “Why are so many restaurants opening in Portland and will it ever end?” According to the article,

Ten years ago [1967], Portland was practically without restaurants. The Roma . . . was almost alone in trying to serve food that was not pre-portioned and pre-packaged. Then came the Gaslight on Exchange Street, then the Old Port Tavern and then it seemed to explode.

Author Mark Mogensen asked several restauranteurs about whether a “saturation point” had been reached—quite ironic given the ever growing number of eateries to be found in the city in 2010.

Opinions ranged from “it’s fast approaching” from the owner of the Hollow Reed* to “I think the saturation point has been reached” from Charles McGee, co-owner of the Old Port Tavern.

I wonder what they would say about the Portland restaurant scene of today?

The Maine Times article also includes the earliest reference I’ve ever seen to the “most restaurants per capita” stat.

“Christ there’s a lot of them” [Portland license inspector Ed] Newbegin said. From a survey, Newbegin said he learned that “Portland Maine, per capita, has the highest population of restaurants in the U.S.”

*Reportedly Portland’s first vegetarian restaurant.