My Kitchen Their Table: Chef Courtney Loreg

A new column launches on Portland Food Map today. Welcome to My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite.

When it comes to Portland’s food scene, few people know it better than the very chefs immersed in it. Not only do they challenge themselves in their own kitchens, but they gain inspiration from their colleague’s tables around town. This got us thinking. How could we delve into the details of Portland’s best dishes – not just from the perspectives of the chefs who craft them, but from their fellow professionals as well?

Thanks to the generous sponsorship of Evergreen Credit Union, each month you’ll now find a new Q&A posted here on PFM. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the month on Instagram.

In the first few months, you’ll see how Chad Conley prepares the ultimate tuna melt at Palace Diner, and where he takes visitors to show them the “soul of Portland.” You’ll learn how Bowman Brown makes Elda’s iconic lobster dish so succulent, and watch a chef he respects construct a dish that truly blows him away.

This series has been created with PFM’s new roving reporter, Angela Andre. Angela has a Masters of Arts in Food Studies from NYU, works in the seafood industry, and is a talented food writer and home cook. It’s been fun to work with her to pull this all together and we’re excited for you to experience the fruits of her labor.

So without further ado, here is the first Q&A, featuring Courtney Loreg, the chef at Woodford Food & Beverage. Check back tomorrow on the PFM instagram account (@PortlandFoodMap) for a story on how Courtney builds and broils her popular brisket burger. Then, stay tuned throughout the rest of the month to hear, see, and read about her favorite Portland restaurants and dishes.


Courtney Loreg may be from Kansas City, but she knows Portland’s food scene better than most natives. Loreg first moved here in 2001, shortly after Rob Evans took over Hugo’s and just before Five Fifty-Five debuted; long before our seaside city was named one of the best places to eat in the country. She’s not only witnessed Portland evolve into the food destination it is today, but has personally contributed to its growth and recognition.

Loreg got her local start at Fore Street where she served as sous chef for four years. In 2001, Fore Street ranked sixteenth in Gourmet magazine’s Top Fifty Restaurants of the United States. In 2005, she helped open Two Fat Cats Bakery where she assisted with recipe development and whipped up their famous whoopie pies. She then spent a couple years working side-by-side with Chef Krista Desjarlais at the beloved Bresca.

Today, Loreg is the Executive Chef at Woodford Food & Beverage. Established in January of 2016, Woodford F&B is an American brasserie serving hearty, fine food with a local twist in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Woodford F&B has been featured in The Boston Globe, Zagat, Wine Enthusiast, and was named one of the best restaurants and best places for brunch in Portland by Condé Nast Traveler.

THE INTERVIEW

AA: You’re pretty well known for your burger. What makes it special?
CL: For me, the burger had to represent the casual, but more upscale restaurants I grew up going to in Kansas City where you could get a nice steak, but there was no shame in getting a burger either. So, I approach the burger the same way that I would approach any other dish. The treatment of the ingredients is special. The onions are grilled and marinated. The brioche bun is made locally by Atsuko from Norimoto Bakery. The pickles are housemade. There’s dijonnaise. And I make a cheese blend that I think is better than just a slice of cheese. It’s a mixture of cheddar, french cream cheese, shallots, white wine, mustard, and paprika formed into a patty that melts.

AA: It sounds like the cheese is a defining characteristic of your burger.
CL: The cheese element and ratio of meat-to-cheese is absolutely crucial. It’s gotta be, like, three-quarters meat and one-quarter cheese. So, I use a cheese blend and a slice of cheese. I have a tendency to go pretty hard-to-the-paint with cheese. I’ve never had anyone come back and say, ‘It’s not enough cheese.’

AA: What other dishes are you known for?
CL: I’m getting high marks for the chicken tenders (laughs). Which is also on purpose! I brine the meat and bread the tenders in house and serve them with my own honey dijon mustard. We’ve always said we wanted to be a restaurant where there would be no shame taking your kids there. You can still have an adult meal and not feel like you’re forcing your kid to eat something or worse, have them not eat anything at all. The point is for everyone to walk away having a great time and also maybe feel like they had a better meal than they thought they were going to. For me, I want you to be able to think “Wow, I did not expect that.” The whole idea of under promise over deliver I think is very real.

AA: How would you describe Portland?
CL: We have an embarrassment of riches. We have all of the farms and all of the things. You can throw a rock in any direction and hit a good cup of coffee or a good meal. You can go see a show. Go to the beach. You can drive. Or not. It’s very walkable. We have all the creature comforts. We’re doing alright.

AA: How would you describe its food scene?
CL: Portland is a destination and food tourism is a big thing here now, but it’s not formal. All of our fine dining options have to be looked through the lens of ‘Vacationland.’ People want to have a nice meal, but they also want to sit around in their flip flops and have their kids there.

AA: What is a particularly memorable dish you’ve eaten in Portland?
CL: I went to a six-course French dinner event at Hugo’s with guest chef Fred Eliot. He’s kind of getting known for pâté en croûte. He did a couple pâtés and one of them really struck me. It was chicken and sweetbreads and I believe it had morels in it. It was really beautiful and really delicious. I was like, ‘Wow, I never would have thought of that.’

AA: Have you been to any newer restaurants recently?
CL: I just went to Gross Confection Bar and it was really good, not that I was expecting anything less. Brant Dadaleares is enormously accomplished, obviously very passionate and driven, and just puts out delicious things. Also, I like the location. It feels very special. Every time I walk by there, there’s always people looking at his sandwich board saying to each other, ‘Should we do it?’ and you just walk by and you’re like ‘Do it. Just do it. Just go down there.’

AA: What are some of your favorite dishes in town?
CL: Paulo Laboa’s pesto pasta at Solo Italiano. You can’t get out of there without having a great meal, but he’s known far and wide for this pesto and it is no joke. It is the best pesto pasta I have ever had. It’s a very refined pesto. There’s no textural element. It just becomes part of the pasta. It’s outstanding.

AA: Are there any other dishes you think are the pinnacle of what they are?
CL: There are several dishes in this town that I think are absolute benchmarks. The turnspit roasted pork chop at Fore Street is probably the best version of that thing I’ve ever had. It’s something you’d never get tired of, even working there. I’d eat the scraps of it that were leftover at the end of the night. It’s one of those flavor memories that has remained in my brain. Any other pork chop is just a race for second place.

AA: What is another “absolute benchmark?”
CL: I feel like I’m stating the obvious, but… that biscuit at Tandem is awesome! I don’t say that very often. I like the savory one with local cheese, hot honey, and black pepper. It has great layers and it’s just sweet enough. It’s not bland, not like baking powder biscuits that I grew up eating. I’m from the Midwest and strawberry shortcake is cake! Even after the many years I’ve spent in New England, I still don’t understand the world of biscuit for strawberry shortcake. But that biscuit… I don’t think I’d be mad at you if you served me strawberry shortcake on that biscuit.

AA: Then I’m guessing you have some strong opinions on barbeque as well?
CL: Don’t even get me started on barbeque…

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Volks Opening Verna’s All Day in Waterville


Andrew and Briana Volk, owners of the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, have leased space at 150 Main St in Waterville where they plan to open Verna’s All Day (website, instagram), a “casual, classic American chop house”.

The Volks are planing to bring ” locally-sourced food from farmers, classic cocktails and friendly service” to a town that’s undergoing a significant change as Colby College brings investment and attention to developing the downtown of the city where it’s been located for 207 years.

The restaurant is named for Briana’s grandmother. Verna’s is scheduled to open in late 2020.

Andrew Volk is a Colby alum from the class of 2005.

Conley Launching Ramona’s in Early Spring

As reported back in October, Chad Conley and Josh Sobel have leased the former Flying Fox Juice Bar at 98 Washington Ave.

Conley and Sobel are working with Carrie Dessertine from Mey & Co. on the redesign of the space which they plan to reopen in early spring as a Philly-inspired breakfast and lunch hoagie shop called Ramona’s (instagram). The menu is still under wraps but Conley and Sobel shared one item it will include: a roast pork/broccoli rabe/sharp provolone sandwich.

Chad Conley is well known as the co-owner of Palace Diner and founder of Rose Foods. Josh Sobel hails from Philadelphia. He is a member of the Rose Foods staff, and has worked in NYC at Mile End, Diner, Marlow & Sons, and Court Street Grocers; he was also a co-owner of Southside Coffee. Grub Street put Southside at the top of their list of NYC’s best breakfast sandwiches back in 2016.

Flying Fox closed October 19, 2019.

This Week’s Events:Pie Day, Burger Freak, Ice Bar, Trillium Dinner, Temperance Dinner

Monday – In celebration of their 4th anniversary Woodford F&B is partnering with Allagash to raise money for The Locker Project at Ocean Ave Elementary School; proceeds of all Allagash pours (White & Black) and all oysters, raw & roasted will benefit the school and program to fight food insecurity.

Wednesday – Eaux is serving a 7-course Trillium beer dinner, there will be a presentation at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute on Sustainable Seafood in the Gulf of Maine., and the Hunt & Alpine Club is holding their first Hush Hush event of the year (caviar, hot dogs, champagne).

Thursday – Chaval is serving a 4-course temperance cocktail dinner, Seaweed Night is taking place at the Maine Oyster CompanyTwo Fat Cats will be offering a slice selection of 12 different types of pie in celebration of National Pie Day (3 taster slices for $6.95), it’s the first night of the annual Ice Bar., and Ada’s is holding the pasta ribbon cutting for their grand opening.

Friday – the Ice Bar continues.

SaturdayBurger Freak is holding a pop-up dinner at Rose Foods, Portland on Tap is taking place, it’s the final night of the Ice Bar and the Winter Farmers’ Market is taking place.

Chef Summit –The 5th Annual Chef Summit is taking place January 29-30. Tickets are now on sale for the workshops, panel discussions, tasting events and keynotes.

For more information on these and other upcoming food happenings in the area, visit the event calendar.

If you are holding a food event this week that’s not listed above, publicize it by adding it as a comment to this post.

Vegan/Vegetarian Dining Overview

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram includes an overview of the vegan and vegetarian options in town.

Portland’s plant-based restaurant scene is booming, with at least 11 all-vegetarian eateries in the city. That number doesn’t include Portland’s veg-friendly spots, which according to Yelp.com number more than 200, and according to Rent.com’s recent calculations earned the city the No. 6 spot on its list of the Best American Cities for Vegans.

This scene went into overdrive at the end of 2019.

Reviews: The King’s Head, Anoche, Cheese Shop, Fore Street

The Maine Sunday Telegram has reviewed The King’s Head Pub,

Winter is an ideal time to visit, in part for the gastropub’s cozy, wood-paneled, exposed brick digs and in part because the menu of beer-friendly “slightly upscale bar food” (as executive chef Tory Bridgman calls it) is especially appealing in the cold weather. Just as appealing are the more than three dozen tap lines that supply the bar with mostly local beers and ales.

the Press Herald has reviewed Anoche,

An upscale Basque-focused cider bar. Great date spot or a place to grab a drink and a nibble before heading somewhere for dinner.

the Press Herald has reviewed The Cheese Shop of Portland, and

f this is your first visit, go straight for the store’s signature Ham & Butter ($9), made with justly famous Benton’s country ham, from Tennessee, and cultured butter. It’s extraordinary – salty, thinly shaved ham fused to a crusty Standard Baking baguette with double-sided lashings of butter so fluffy and flavorful I wondered if I’d ever tasted butter before. It wasn’t until I’d eaten half of the Ham & Butter that it occurred to me that there I was in a cheese shop eating a sandwich that had not a speck of cheese.

The Golden Dish has reviewed Fore Street.

In big, bold letters put Fore Street back on your list (if it ever left) of must-go-to restaurants. In fact, after a recent visit, I’m proclaiming that it’s still one of the best restaurants in the city. It has managed to maintain its supreme status since opening nearly 30 years ago as a citadel of farm-to-table cookery with its focus on food from local farmers (meat, poultry and fowl), foragers and fishermen and women.

Congrats to Maine’s 6 Good Food Award Winners

Congratulations to the 6 Maine food producers that are  2020 Good Food Award winners:

Magnus on Water Opens Saturday

Magnus on Water (websitefacebookinstagramtwitter) a new cocktail bar and restaurant in Biddeford will open Saturday at 5 pm serving cocktails, wine, beer and a menu including dishes like masa hush puppies with crab, barbacoa tacos, and co-owner Carmen Harris’ family recipe for chocolate cake.

Magnus is headlined by a trio of former Elda staff: bartender Brian Catapang, GM Brittany Saliwanchik, and sous chef Ryan Nielsen in partnership with Julia Russell and Carmen Harris.

The Magnus is located at 12 Water Street just over the bridge from Saco. It is named for Albertus Magnus, a 13th Century alchemist and Catholic saint, thought of as one of the “greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages”.

Their regular schedule will be 5 to 11 pm on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and 5 to midnight on Friday and Saturday.