As Winter Approaches

The Bangor Daily News talked to restaurant owners from around Maine about their plans for this winter.

As cold weather sets in around Maine, restaurant owners and their staff now face an uncertain winter season. After a warm-weather season that was better than expected and helped greatly by expanded outdoor dining across the state, some eateries are concerned about keeping customers as temperatures drop and snow flies.

My Kitchen Their Table: Jordan Rubin

Welcome to the October edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Jordan Rubin. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on Instagram, so stay tuned.

Mr. Tuna premiered in Portland in July 2017 and made a splash from the start — gaining national attention and building a loyal local following. For many, Mr. Tuna is a gateway to sushi. Colorful cone-shaped rolls served cartside coupled with owner Jordan Rubin’s laid-back attitude makes eating sushi for the first time far less intimidating. You don’t need to know the difference between nigiri and maki or how to use chopsticks to enjoy his food. 

Jordan has worked on and off in sushi for over fifteen years. His first professional kitchen experience was at Uni Sashimi Bar under the mentorship of Ken Origner, one of Boston’s most notable chefs and restaurateurs. His time at Uni overlapped with Chris Gould’s, who went on to open Central Provisions where Jordan eventually got his local start. 

Jordan’s affection for Maine brought him to Portland in 2014. He joined Gould in the kitchen for one year before leaving Central Provisions to help open Solo Italiano with Paolo Labao. He manned Solo’s crudo bar and crafted spectacular dishes, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy his love of working with raw fish. 

When he launched Mr. Tuna, he set up shop on Commercial Street right across from Solo Italiano, slinging hand rolls and sushi burritos from a hot dog cart. Not surprisingly, Paulo was one of his first customers. Since then, he’s added several trailers to his mobile unit and landed a spot in the Public Market House.

These days, you can find Mr. Tuna in Portland at the Eastern Promenade seven days a week from 11am to 7pm and Austin Street Brewery every Saturday year round. For now, he remains temporarily closed at the Market House. You can also catch him in Brunswick at the Town Mall Monday through Saturday from 11am to 3pm. Follow @mr.tuna_maine to stay up-to-date on schedule changes. 

In this month’s edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, you’ll learn where to get a great meal outside of Portland, which hand roll Jordan’s loving right now, and how he’s staying in business during a pandemic while also giving back to the community. Read the full interview below and stay tuned for weekly Instagram stories featuring some of the excellent dishes and restaurants that he frequents.


AA: What made you want to start Mr. Tuna?
JR: I loved working at Solo, but deep down in my heart I’m a sushi chef. I remember seeing the HighRoller Lobster cart with maybe twenty people in line and they just looked like they were having a great time. I didn’t have the capital to open a restaurant, so we started the cheapest possible way we could – with a hot dog cart. I got it on Craigslist from Vinalhaven. It was a real hunk of junk, but we made it work.

AA: Your fiancė, Marisa, has been crucial to the business from the start. What is her role?
JR: She does a lot – payroll, scheduling, booking events, our social media and marketing. She is also front-of-the-house manager at the market and works on the food truck. 

AA: How has the pandemic affected your business?
JR: A lot of people assume food trucks are making a killing through the pandemic, but we’re really not. The majority of my business is in catering and special events. Without the festivals, breweries, and Thompson’s Point concerts, it’s been really tough. In the beginning, we were making a ‘Laid-Off Lunch’ bento box for two dollars. Over 200 people came the first day it was available. Eventually, I couldn’t afford to do it anymore, but then I heard about Cooking for Community. 

AA: What is Cooking for Community (C4C) and how has it helped support your business during the pandemic?
JR: C4C raises money to pay restaurants to make food that feeds those in need. It’s a win-win. I have guaranteed work for my employees, we’re making a small profit, and we’re feeding the hungry. We do 200-500 meals per week for the YMCA, the My Place Teen Center in Westbrook, and Amistad. We usually make sushi with seaweed salad and edamame or chicken teriyaki with steamed broccoli and rice.  

AA: What is your vision for the future of Mr. Tuna?
JR: I’ll never stop doing hand rolls, but I’d like to offer more elegant and traditional Japanese cuisine. When I went to Japan, it really opened my eyes to omakase-style dining. Before COVID-19, I did a couple omakase ticketed dinners at the Market House. We sold out both times for all three seatings. There were fourteen courses of nigiri, a few hot dishes, and a dessert. Ultimately, I hope to have my own brick-and-mortar someday. 

AA: What are some of your favorite Mr. Tuna hand rolls?
JR: Right now, the otoro roll is one of my favorites. It’s has local line-caught bluefin tuna belly that is aged and brushed with nikiri, a sweetened reduced soy sauce, with pickled daikon radish and scallions. We age all of our tuna for up to two weeks to develop the flavor and texture. I also really love Boston mackerel; it’s so under appreciated. A lot of people have had a bad experience with mackerel, but I encourage everyone to try ours. We use fresh, locally-caught mackerel. It’s lightly cured , brushed with nikiri, and paired with grated ginger, and scallion, and nikiri.

AA: If someone is visiting Portland for the first time, what restaurant do they have to eat at?
JR: I always recommend Solo Italiano – it’s some of the best food. Get the carbonara di mare. Instead of using eggs, he uses sea urchin to emulsify the sauce. It’s really rich and creamy. Then he adds clams, mussels, and shrimp. It’s so decadent. The tajarin with sixty-yolk pasta and white truffles will blow your mind, too. 

AA: What are some of your go-to meals in Portland?
JR: Being in the Market House, I eat at Yardie Ting a lot. Chef Wright does this curry goat that is unbelievable. It’s so tender with tons of spices. [watch Yardie Ting hef/owner Shanna-Kay Wright make her curry goat] Another one is Belleville’s pepperoni pizza. Chef Deutsch makes it with the really good pepperoni that curls up into a cup then drizzles hot honey on top. I drive by every day leaving the Eastern Promenade and it’s so hard not to stop. [learn how Belleville makes their pepperoni pizza]

AA: Where have you dined recently that really impressed you?
JR: I just tried Judy Gibson in South Portland. I really like Chef Wilcox’s flavors. They’re very unexpected. He builds the menu around whatever is in season and uses a lot of local produce and seafood. I especially appreciate his salads – there’s always two or three. Some places put salad on a menu because they feel like they need to, but he’s really thoughtful about it. [learn how to make a Judy Gibson salad]

AA: Where else outside of Portland would you recommend?
JR: One of my favorite places is Purple House in Yarmouth. It’s unbelievable. Everything I’ve eaten there is so good. She does pizza, ice cream, wood-fired bagels, salads – all kinds of stuff. Krista Desjarlais is next level. She cooks from the heart. I have so much respect for her. [watch Krista Desjarlais dish-up some of her excellent ice cream]

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article…Solo Italiano has both indoor and outdoor seating, Yardie Ting is available for takeout as is Belleville, Judy Gibson has takeout and The Purple House will be re-opening for takeout next week on October 22nd.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, and Matt Ginn.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

Papa Neighborhood Eats Food Truck

Josh Amergian is launching a new food truck called Papa (website, instagram). He has bought the former Mami food truck and is renovating it to meet the needs of the new business. Amergian plans to launch in late summer 2021 and his long term plans for Papa include opening a brick and mortar restaurant in Gray where he lived as a child.

Amergian has worked in the restaurant industry for most of the past 12 years including a four year stint with Cara Stadler. The concept for Papa is “neighborhood eats”. You can see some examples of what that might mean by taking a look at the Papa instagram account.

The business name is a reference to Amergian’s own father who’s example he credits as his motivation and inspiration who being in the industry. “I loved cooking with him at the stores as a kid and as a teenager…I would like to think that us boys are his legacy so I’m paying it forward and turning his into my own.”

The Amergian family has owned restaurant and shops in Portland for several generations,

[M]y father bought a pizza/sandwich shop [in Gray]. It was called Dry Mills Store. He owned it for 11 years from 1992-2003. He’s owned a few stores around Portland in the 70’s 80’s and early 90’s. He’s a third generation grocer. He owned Amergian’s Market on Danforth street taking over for my grandfather, owned Amergian’s variety on oxford street and then the old port general store on market street which is now Pats Pizza and he also owned a bar/Laundry mat on Milk St called Bubbles and brew.

Update: while this project has been delayed it is still moving forward. See this instagram post for the latest info.

Exchange Street Holy Donut Closing

The Holy Donut is permanently closing their location on Exchange Street.

The Holy Donut team would like to extend our gratitude and appreciation to everyone that has helped make our Exchange Street location a success over the last 7 years. We are humbled by the amount of guests that chose to stop in for a treat. It is with a heavy heart that we announce that our last day of business at our Exchange Street location in the Old Port will be Monday October 19th.

The pandemic has had a tremendous impact on this location and we have made the decision not to renew our lease. We look forward to stepping back into the Old Port again in the future when the timing is right and we can secure a location that can better serve the needs of our loyal guests and our exceptional teammates. Our Park Avenue location will continue to be there for all of our Portland fans! Thank you Portland!”

For a full accounting of closures see the pandemic closure list.

Coveside Coffee in Woodford’s Corner

A new coffee shop called Coveside Coffee (instagram) is under construction in Woodford’s Corner at 28 Vannah Street. The shop is being opened Andy Nesheim and Zara Bohan who live in the neighborhood with their two children. They are planning a shop that is a “welcoming, family-friendly neighborhood gathering spot”.

Coveside will serve 44 North Coffee and light breakfast options including a mix of pastries as well as a limited lunch menu. Coveside will feature a walk-up window with outdoor seating in addition to the interior space.

Andy and Zara have started renovations to the building and hope to open Coveside this spring. They’ll be working with Better Lettered Hand Painted Signs to design a mural for the exterior of the building.

This Week’s Events: Broken Arrow, Josh Potocki, Apples Four Days, Ben Jackson, Snapper Fest

Tuesday – tickets for the launch of Broken Arrow (website, instagram) go on sale Tuesday afternoon.

WednesdayJosh Potocki from the 158 Pickett Street Cafe is Wednesday’s guest chef at the Duckfat Friteshack, and the weekday Deering Oaks Farmers’ Market is taking place.

Thursday – Belleville, Chaval, Leeward, Magnus on Water, Mr. Tuna, Sur Lie, The Purple House and Union are all participating Apples Four Days—a celebration of heirloom and unusual apples. Follow each of them on instagram to see what they’re cooking up with these special apples, and when you visit tag the pictures you post online with #applesfourdays.

Saturday – the weekend Deering Oaks Farmers’ Market is taking place.

Sunday – Chefs Ben Jackson and Chris Wilcox are collaborating on a sold out dinner at Judy Gibson, and Black Tie and Fore River Brewing are collaborating on Snapper Fest.

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.

Apples Four Days

In celebration of fall and Maine apple season, The Righteous Russet (instagram) and Portland Food Map are collaborating with a group of local restaurants to showcase heirloom and unusual apple varieties. The restaurants, bars and bakeries listed below will all be featuring dishes this coming Thursday through Sunday produced with varieties like Bramley Seedling and Knobbed Russet.

  • The Purple House is cooking with Tolman Sweet
    The opening of The Purple House has been delayed a week. Visit them starting October 29th for their regular menu and their Apples Four Days special.

Follow them on instagram to see what they’re cooking up with these special apples, and when you visit tag the pictures you post online with #applesfourdays.

Plant-Based Foods from Black-Owned Restaurants

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram takes a look at the plant-based foods being offered at Black-owned restaurants in Portland.

In Maine, we’re blessed to have the new directory, which allows users to search by business category and region of Maine. When the site launched in June, it confirmed what I suspected. Portland is home to many Black-owned restaurants, and most offer robust vegan choices.

PBS News Hour: Portland Small Business

Chef Damian Sansonetti from Chaval was interviewed for a segment on the PBS News Hour about how the pandemic is impacting small businesses in Portland.

October is a funny business in Maine. Warm days and cold nights; New England’s northern tip offers a confusing waltz between the seasonal past and what is to come. But this October is particularly difficult to read. After a summer nearly canceled by the pandemic, the fall is offering Portland a few extra chances at economic recovery. But, winter is coming, and the brief resumption of business made possible by warmer weather and outdoor space is in its final days.

Also interviewed for the report were Mary Alice Scott from Portland Buy Local, Lauren Wayne from the State Theatre and city councilor Justin Costa.

Portland Banded Brewing Opens Saturday

Biddeford-based Banded Brewing Company (website, facebook, instagram, twitter) will be opening their new brewery and tasting room in Bayside on Saturday. The 2,500 sq ft space at 82 Hanover Street houses a  5-barrel pilot brewing system. It will have limited indoor seating as well as a three-season patio area.

Banded plans to use the brewery to produce “a broader range of styles, as well as small-batch and experimental beers” which will be available at their two tasting rooms.

The Portland location will initially be open 4 – 9 pm Wednesday-Friday, 2 – 9 pm Saturday, and Sunday 2 – 7 pm.