Ocean Street in SoPo

This week’s Portland Phoenix has a report on the growing number of restaurants and food businesses on Ocean Street in South Portland.

“We chose this area because we knew, from personal experience, that all our friends and people we knew that were of the age to want to go to breweries were moving out of Portland, and South Portland was becoming a cool place to live,” Julia Dilger [co-owner of Foulmouthed Brewing] said. “We knew that young families in this area wanted a place to come with their kids and not have to go over the bridge.”

My Kitchen Your Table: Kelly Nelson

Welcome to the September 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 Kelly Nelson from Fore Street. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on instagram, so stay tuned.

She is unmistakable, eccentric, and nothing short of fabulous. Her hair shifts from one vibrant shade to the next (it’s currently flamingo pink) and cephalopod tattoos wrap her arms and legs. On Instagram she’s @geeksquid, and if you follow her you are well aware of her fondness for hairless rats. After contributing to the Portland food scene in various ways for over a decade, she now revels in the role of wine coordinator at Fore Street. She is, of course, the one and only Kelly Nelson.

Kelly’s wine expertise has been years in the making. In fact, there was a time when she disliked red wine altogether. Long before she began curating thoughtful and intentional wine lists, Kelly attended College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. At the ripe age of nineteen, she became the kitchen manager at Reel Pizza, but her personality screamed front-of-the-house. Since then, she’s held nearly every front-facing restaurant role outside of the kitchen, from host to general manager.

In 2008, Kelly left Bar Harbor for Portland where she was persistent in her pursuit of working at Local 188. “Local 188 was a hotbed of creativity. It was one of those places that everyone wanted to be,” Kelly explains. She dropped her resume off multiple times, but it wasn’t until she bumped into chef-owner Jay Villani at Whole Foods that she finally got her foot in the door. She told him how much she wanted to work there and he responded with, “Yeah yeah kid, just show up at 4:30 pm.”

Kelly was a loyal employee of Local 188 and its sister restaurant, Sonny’s (now closed) for six years. She rose through the ranks, eventually running events and building wine lists. She continued to expand her wine knowledge at the beloved Italian restaurant, Piccolo (now closed), for more than five years. Then, in January 2019, Kelly became general manager and wine coordinator at Evo Kitchen + Bar where she also planned wildly popular monthly wine dinners. While most of her expertise is self-taught, she has a Level 2 Award in Wines from Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and is also a member of Maine Sommeliers Society, a blind tasting group run by Erica Archer of Wine Wise.

Since April 2021, Kelly has been breathing new life into Fore Street’s wine list. Vintage wines and Napa Cabernet Sauvignon are still plentiful but now you can also try something a little off the beaten path. Read on to learn her favorite wines on Fore Street’s expansive list, her go-to Portland restaurants, and where she ate her most memorable meal nearly ten years ago.


AA: How was Local 188 influential to your career in wine?
KN: When I started at Local 188, I knew nothing about wine. I didn’t even like red wine then. I drank Pinot Grigio because I knew how to pronounce it. I learned about wines from Gary Boycott, who is now the operations manager. He had an incredible way of translating what was washing over his tongue when he tasted wine. Without him, I wouldn’t be as passionate about wine as I am now or have had that kind of introduction that made this path possible.

AA: How do you pair wine with food?
KN: There are two ways of pairing wine with food; one is with a wine that cuts through the richness of the dish. It has that palette cleansing experience. The other is with a wine that becomes one with the dish. Each bite of the food and sip of the wine becomes a full-circle experience. You’re not quite sure where one begins and the other ends.

AA: What is your favorite winery or wine region?
KN: Chateau Musar in Lebanon is my favorite winery. It’s one of the most unique wineries in the world. It’s all French varietals grown in the Bekaa Valley. Every sip is layered with spice, acidity, fruit, and tannins. It fascinates me that it comes from such a war-torn country and a place of strife and pain, but also so much beauty. It’s all the things that I love in life trapped inside a bottle. Evo really gave me the opportunity to highlight that winery.

AA: How does your wine list at Fore Street differ from the one you created at Evo Kitchen + Bar?
KN: At Evo, I wanted to create an esoteric wine list that connected wine with food in the way that it is meant to be. Their food is more delicate and vegetarian-based. Because of that, you don’t need tannic, aggressive wines. You need wines that are more quaffable in nature. At Fore Street, I wanted to blow a little dust off of the wine list. I’ve been designing the wine list to make it all-inclusive. I have everything from the classics to a Gaglioppo from Calabria, which pairs well with grilled meats. Of course, that’s what Fore Street is known for. You need wines that balance all that smoke and char.

AA: What are some of your favorite white wines by the bottle at Fore Street?
KN: The Château Simone Palette Blanc (2014) is a beautiful expression of a varietal that you don’t hear about often. It has the right amount of oxidative notes and this really interesting full-body palette without being too cloying. It goes beautifully with our turnspit roasted chicken, which is next level. I also love the Dona Maria Amantis Reserva Viognier (2016) from Portugal. Viognier can be a very temperamental variety. With the right amount of care, it can either be very bright and light or rich and voluptuous. This one has nice spice and caramelized notes. It tastes like it’s from Portugal.

AA: What is one of your favorite red wines by the bottle at Fore Street?
KN: One bottle that I added to our list is the 2013 Movia from Slovenia. I actually priced it a little lower because I want to make it more accessible to the general public. It’s sultry with dark fruit, like blueberry and bramble. It has a lot of depth, but also a burst of acidity that opens up your palette. That’s what sets this one apart from pinot noir.

AA: Where do you go to eat in Portland?
KN: One of my favorite restaurants in town, and has been since they opened in 2011, is Schulte and Herr. Brian and Steffi are some of the most kind, generous, humble, hospitality-driven people that I know. Their restaurant has that hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop kind of feeling. It’s one of the only places in town that is BYOB. The potato pancakes are to die for and hopefully they will bring back the Sunday Brunch. For the Sunday roast, they do this beautiful big pan of roast beef or pork with gravy and potato dumplings. I’ve never been anywhere that’s as consistent as they are.

AA: Where else do you dine often in Portland?
KN: Izakaya Minato. I’m a huge fan of Thomas Cooke’s food and Elaine Alden does an incredible job with the wine and sake list. I love their warm cozy atmosphere and fine detailed food that’s also so comforting. Again, I’ve never had a bad meal there. My favorite dish is the age ochazuke. I usually get at least two servings.

AA: Where have you had an incredibly memorable meal?
KN: At Hugo’s on January 4th, 2012. It was my birthday. I still have the menu from that night on my refrigerator. Nicholas, my partner, planned this incredible meal with the then chef-owner, Rob Evans. He is wildly talented. He made twenty courses and it ran the gamut. The Fantasy of Lamb was one of my favorite dishes. It looked like a Salvador Dalí landscape of food. The whole meal was memorable beyond imagination.

AA: Are there any newer restaurants that you’re loving right now?
KN: Leeward is so good. Raquel Stevens is amazing. She put together a wine list that I’m obsessed with. It’s so unique that I get overwhelmed by how awesome it is. I just asked her to pick a wine for me. The chef, Jake Stevens, made a Nero pasta with squid that was awesome and a stuffed squash blossom with maple cream, mushrooms, and fried lemon. It was so interesting and really well done.

AA: We know you’re a big fan of Ruski’s. What is it that you love about the West End institution?
KN: I love Ruski’s for many reasons. The main one is comfort. Ruski’s is that old comfy robe that you’ve had for years that shows its age in the best ways — frayed and stained it keeps the importance of nostalgia at the forefront of your mind. I’ve literally walked from my house in my pj’s and robe to enjoy a beverage with some of my favorites both behind and at the bar.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article: Local 188, Evo, Izakaya Minato, Leeward, and Ruski’s are open with indoor and outdoor seating. Schulte & Herr is open for takeout. Hugo’s has been closed during the pandemic. Fore Street is open for indoor seating—reservations are strongly recommended but if you don’t get one join the line that forms starting at around 4:30 to grab a seat at the bar or one of the seats held back for walk-ins each night.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, Cara Stadler, Thomas Takashi Cooke, Ilma Lopez, Bowman Brown, and Brian Catapang.

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.

Free Street Restaurant & Cocktail Bar

Eli Shapiro along with business partners Jay Town from New York and James Duhamel from Falmouth have leased the former Binga’s Stadium location where they plan to open a restaurant and cocktail bar called Free Street (instagram). Free Street looks forward to being a go to location for diners looking to grab a meal before or after events at the Cross Insurance Arena, and to also be a destination for Portlanders and visitors regardless of their evening plans. Shapiro is a former Boston-based bartender who will be Free Street’s co-owner and general manager.

The 17,000 square foot space is currently under renovation. The interior will be a blend of the former Binga’s Stadium layout plus wall murals by Max Erwin and Alexis Wells, some new furnishings, taxidermy, rainbow colored epoxy floor designs, and sculpture to create a truly  unique space.  For a quick take on the vibe they’re aiming for read this recent instagram post.

The first floor will feature a bar and lounge with seating for 175+ people. Additionally Free Street will have a large basement performance space where Free Street plans to showcase local and national talent that focuses on original music.

Chef Josh Carraha will be serving a menu of casual pub-style food, Shapiro has plans for a draft cocktail program along with novel house-made ice cube. Both the cocktail and food menus are currently under development so stay tuned for more details. One drink sure to be on the menu is the Recess which is garnished with an ice cream sandwich.

Upcoming Events: Lager Dog, Wine Dinner, Gluten-Free Dinner, Etc

Monday Lager Dog will be popping-up at Oxbow today.

Tuesday Cocktail Mary is holding a wine dinner.

ThursdayMrs. Gee Free Living and Sur Lie are collaborating on a gluten-free dinner.

October 9thOxbow Brewing is holding their annual Goods from the Woods event in Newcastle.

October 17thCraft Curbside and Portersfield Cider are collaborating on a 5-course cider dinner, and Mami, Sur Lie and Austin Street are collaborating on a pop-up event to celebrate Sur Lie’s 7th anniversary.

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

Bard Coffee at Portland Foreside

Bard Coffee is opening second Portland coffee shop. It will be located in the first floor of the new Sun Life Insurance building currently under construction in the Portland Foreside development in the East End.

The new Bard will have similar range of coffee and food offerings to their original café on Middle Street plus an expanded focus on tea. The space will feature a long bar, a takeout window, window-facing counter seating, tables and possibly a partitionable space for meetings or events. The construction plans for Bard 2.0 are still a little bit in flux but owner Bob Garver hopes to open have it open by mid-year in 2022.

A growing number of restaurants and other food businesses have been opening east of India Street as new buildings have sprouted up in the area. Other new food businesses in the area are Helm, Navis Cafe, Speckled Ax, Evo X, the Bard Coffee food truck and Grippy Tannins. The list will expand quite a bit once the Portland Foreside food hall launches.

Outdoor Dining & Covid Sensory Impact

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram includes a rundown  of some outdoor dining options in Portland, and

Many Portlanders, especially those of us with vulnerable friends and family, are still holding off on dining indoors. For the past ten weeks or so, that’s been easy, but as the leaves begin to fall, our options seem to dwindle by the day. Don’t despair just yet – Greater Portland still offers plenty of local al fresco dining and drinking opportunities. Here are a dozen of my favorites.

a report on how Covid has impacted the sense of taste and smell in the food community.

The same day Diane Hudson’s doctor expressed concern about her cough – a cough Hudson assumed was just a symptom of hay fever – and had her tested for COVID-19, Hudson stopped by the store and bought feta cheese.

That night, she made a beautiful Greek salad and poured a glass of her favorite Greek wine to go with it.

“I sat down to eat it,” the Portland photographer recalled, “and everything tasted like cardboard.” The wine, she added, smelled and tasted “like motor oil.”

Ruby’s in the NY Times

Ruby’s West End is featured in a New York Times article about changing pay practices in the restaurant industry.

So last spring, when the couple opened Ruby’s West End, a cafe in Portland, Maine, they decided that every aspect of their restaurant would diverge from business as usual. Ms. [Corrinna] Stum, 30, spurned pricey subscriptions for reservation and scheduling software, and instead used that money to help pay every member of her small team $12.15 per hour, Maine’s full minimum wage. She also added a 20 percent service charge to every check, to be shared with the kitchen staff, which traditionally doesn’t benefit from tips.

Upcoming Events: Lobster Week, Wine Dinners, Zwanze Day, ColoniAle

This WeekMaine Lobster Week is taking place through Saturday.

Thursday – Wayside Tavern is holding a Sicilian wine dinner.

SaturdayNovare Res is one of a select number of locations worldwide participating in Cantillon Zwanze Day, and the Tate House Museum is holding ColoniAle 2021 with a lecture by Colby professor Ben Lisle entitled “Ale for Invalids: Brewing and Drinking Beer Under the Maine Law in 19th Century Portland.”

September 28thCocktail Mary is holding a wine dinner, tickets go on sale September 21st.

SoPo Seafood Now Open

SoPo Seafood (websitefacebookinstagram) opened their new fish market in South Portland on Wednesday. They’re located at 171 Ocean Street in the space formerly occupied by Uncle Andy’s. In addition to the retail shop the new business also features a raw bar where co-owners Matt Brown, Lucas Myers and Joshua Edgcombe plan to showcase the local Maine seafood that they specialize in.

SoPo Seafood launched in March 2020. In addition to in-person sales at the market, and selling wholesale to restaurants, they also operate a seafood delivery service (order online) serving Portland, South Portland, Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, Saco, Biddeford, and Biddeford Pool. The South Portland market will initially be open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 – 7.

SoPo Seafood is located in the evolving restaurant row on Ocean Street that now includes Taco Trio, Solo Cucina Market, Judy Gibson, Ben Reuben’s, and Cafe Louis.