Historical Menus & Food Trucks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.