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.
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.