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.

Portland Coffee Professionals Qualify for Nationals

Staff from Bard Coffee and Speckled Ax participated in the US Coffee Championships qualifying event that took place over this past weekend in Nashville.

Congratulations to all three that have placed high enough to participate in the national championships taking place later this year:

  • Julien Langevin from Bard placed 11th in the Cup Tasters competition
  • Daniel Whitmore from Speckled Ax placed 11th in the Coffee Roasters competition
  • Kyle Knight from Speckled Ax placed 14th in the Brewers Cup competition

Apples and the Art of Detection

What does the music of Sun Ra, 16th century Basque whaling ships, wanted posters, and Sherlock Holmes all have in common?

Well in the mind of John Bunker, the preeminent American apple expert and resident of Palermo Maine, the answer is Apples of course!

In 2019 the world of apple enthusiasts around the globe was enriched when Bunker published his new book Apples and the Art of Detection.
Part instruction manual, part autobiography, and part history, Bunkers new book is fascinating start to finish. You can pick up at a copy at Rabelais Books in Biddeford or online at the Out on a Limb Apple CSA.

2019 Year in Review: Italian, Cider & Apples, New Restaurants, Closings, Top Articles, Up and Coming

Another year of great food and evolution of the Portland dining scene has gone by, and I’ve taken a moment to sort what took place and assembled this report on the notable events and trends of 2019:

  • Most Notable Openings – 2017 still sets the high water mark for new restaurant opening but there was a solid cohort of new businesses that lauched in the past year. I would highlight the most notable openings in 2019 as: Christian Hayes’ new restaurant The Garrison in Yarmouth, Greg Mitchell’s new West End restaurant Flood’s, the launch of Gross Confection Bar (both restaurant and bakery) by Brant Dadaleares, the opening of the culinary knife shop Strata on Washington Ave, the re-emergence of Ten Ten Pié talent Atsuko Fujimoto leading her own business Norimoto Bakery, the vegan ice cream shop Sticky Sweet in Bayside, the opening of  Basque cider bar and restaurant Anoche and the opening of Nura by the owners of Falafel Mafia. You can see a full list of opening in the calendar section of this report below.
  • Italian is All the Rage – After several years of relative stability, the Italian restaurant landscape is undergoing some tectonic changes. Both Vignola/Cinque Terre and Espo’s closed, and JP’s Bistro moved to Falmouth. Maria’s moved from their longtime home on Cumberland Ave to the former Espo’s location on Congress Street. Rockland-based Ada’s Kitchen is soon to open a location in the Arts District. Jake and Raquel Stevens are in the process of launching a new Italian restaurant called Leeward on Free Street, and Joshua Miranda is launching Via Vecchia in the former Vignola/CT building on Dana Street. Beard Award semifinalists from New Jersey, Randy and Ally Forrester, are taking over 52 Washington Ave where they plan to open Radici Pizzeria, and the former Anjon’s location in Scarborough will be the home of a new Italian restaurant in 2020 called Amore on the Marsh.
  • Cider and Apples – I may be a bit biased, but I think heirloom apples and cider came into their own in 2019. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Out on a Limb Apple CSA has raised the awareness and changed the appetites of us all. Apple buyers can now find heirloom varieties regularly on sale at Rosemont, the Co-op and other markets. Maine is now home to 3 cider bars (Perennial, The Cider House, Anoche)—the only New England state with even one—that are developing an appreciation for how excellent and diverse hard ciders are.   The heirloom apple tasting that The Righteous Russet and Portland Food Map hold each year sold out in record time and we were invited to put on an encore presentation the following week at the Blaine House.  The Cider Club, a small group of restaurant professionals, cider makers and enthusiasts, now meet regularly to taste ciders from Maine, New England and across the nation, and new Maine cider makers came on line in 2019 and I hope to see more in the coming years.
  • Closings – several well-loved restaurants—Ten Ten Pié, Walter’s, Local Sprouts, Lolita, Brian Boru Andy’s Old Port Pub and Silly’s—all closed in 2019. There was a lot of concern about whether this the indication of a major shift in the industry or a sign of unwanted change in our city. The Press Herald even did a feature story that explored whether we were seeing a restaurant bubble about to burst. The short answer is we’re not but that didn’t lessen the sting for longtime customers of establishments that have been lost. At least in two cases fans have gotten a reprieve with the relaunch of Andy’s scheduled for January and the launch Norimoto Bakery by Ten Ten’s very talented former baker Atsuko Fujimoto. The Local Sprouts and Silly’s spaces have already been leased to restaurants that will open in 2020, and I expect that will also happen with the former Walter’s and Lolita locations.
  • Upcoming in 2020 – There are a number of new businesses slated to open in 2020—the full list can be seen here PFM Under Construction list—that hopefully will be successful in building their own loyal following. The ones I’m most looking forward to are:
    • Magnus on Water – a cocktail bar and restaurant in Biddeford.
    • Leeward – an Italian restaurant on Free Street being launched by Jake and Raquel Stevens.
    • Judy Gibson – a contemporary American restaurant from Chris Wilcox, a former chef de cuisine at Eventide.
    • Radici Pizzeria – an Italian pizzeria by Randy and Ally Forrester who ran the Beard semifinalist Osteria Radici in New Jersey.
    • Speckled Ax – a new 2nd location for Speckled Ax on Thames Street.
    • Terlingua – Terlingua is taking over the former Silly’s building where they’ll have a larger restaurant, outdoor seating and market.
    • Two Fat Cats – TFC is moving from their original location to a larger building in West Bayside.
    • Via Vecchia – Joshua Miranda, the owner of Blyth & Burrows, is opening an Italian restaurant and bar in the former Vignola/Cinque Terre.
    • Name TBA – Chad Conley and Josh Sobel’s new eatery on Washington Ave.

Top 10 Articles

The most popular articles published on Portland Food Map in the past year.

  1. The opening of Bird & Co in Woodfords Corner (March 12)
  2. The launch of Kuno, a food truck serving Malaysian Peranakan cuisine (February 16)
  3. First news about Other Side Diner (February 6)
  4. Report on new ownership of Congress Bar and Grill (August 30)
  5. The closing of Local Sprouts (July 3)
  6. News that the Minervinos were taking over Pizza Villa (February 21)
  7. The opening of Coals Pizza (June 12)
  8. The opening of the Royale Lunch Bar (April 2)
  9. JP’s Bistro decission to move to Falmouth (September 30)
  10. First news about the Maine Maple Creemee food truck (July 10)

Notable Events of 2019

  • January – the former Aurora Provisions building was bought at auction by Tom Landry, 6 Maine producers were award recipients at the Good Food Awards, Botto’s Bakery celebrated their 70th anniversary, the 2019 Chef’s Summit took place; Gross Confection Bar and Little Sichuan opened; Ice It Bakery, the Washington Ave CBD, Rosanna’s Ice Cream closed; and both Frog & Turtle and Tandem Bakery announced expansion plans.
  • February9 Maine chefs and restaurants were among the 2019 Beard Award semifinalists, Figgy’s chef/owner Natalie DiBenedetto appeared on Chopped, word broke about Magnus on Water, Sam and Rob Minervino took over Pizza Villa, Portland Food Map began publishing monthly restaurant real estate listings; Strata, Oxbow Beer Garden, the Kuno food truck launched.
  • March – Two Maine brewers Lone Pine (5) and Mast Landing (24) were among the Brewers Guild’s list of the fastest growing brewers in the country, Elise Miller from Rosemont competed and won on Chopped, Hunt & Alpine bartender Sylvi Roy came out on top at the North East SpeedRack competition, Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell celebrated 5 years of owning Palace by keeping the diner open continuously for 30 hours, Cong Tu Bot hosted Lil’ Deb’s Oasis for a pop-up, Rob Tod from Allagash Brewing Co. was named a Beard Awards nominee in the Outstanding Wine Beer or Spirits Producer category, Chaval bar manager Pat McDonald became a national finalists in the 2019 Tio Pepe cocktail competition, North Bayou and Ripka relocated to Maine; the MBC tasting room, Bird & Co, Dizzy Bird opened, and Ten Ten Pié closed.
  • April – Matt Ginn and Christian Hayes appeared together on MaineVoices Live, a fire temporarily closed Fore Street, the inaugural Seaweed Week, the first Turamali pop-up took place at Belleville, Northern Hospitality was named an IACP awards Finalist, Mary Ann Esposito was the guest of honor at a Solo Italiano dinner, Atsuko Fujimoto founded Norimoto Bakery, Rose Foods launched a guest chef series; Cheevitdee began serving breakfast, the Other Side Diner, Royale Lunch Bar, Maiz opened.
  • MayRob Tod was the recipient of a Beard Award in the Outstanding Wine, Beer and Spirits Producer category, Maine resident Scott Tyree became a Master SommelierHop Culture and The Boston Globe published eating guides to Portland; Flood’s, Blue Spoon Cafe, Quiero Cafe, Grippy Tannins, and Rebel Cheesesteaks opened; Vignola/Cinque Terre and Walter’s closed.
  • June – The Great Lost Bear celebrated its 40th anniversary and Coffee by Design celebrated their 25th, the 2nd annual PFM paper pocket guide was released, the 2nd Annual Portland Wine Week took place, Wine Enthusiast named Drifters one of the 100 Best Wine Restaurants in the country, Northern Hospitality was a final nominee for a Tales of the Cocktail award; Coals Pizza, Island Lobster Company, Poke Maine, LB Kitchen West, Yardie Ting, Bánh Appétit, Huong Ice Cream Coffee Shop, Lorne Wine and the Forest Ave Blake Orchard opened; Local Sprouts closed.
  • July – Krista Desjarlais appeared on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Cherry Bombe recorded a podcast episode with a panel of Maine’s female chefs and food producers, a fire temporarily closed Ri-Ra and Flatbread, CBD released a set of 3 anaerobic process coffees; The Garrison, the Gross Confection bakery, Three of Strong Spirits, Twist, and Black Dinah Chocolatiers opened; Maelily Ryleigh closed.
  • August – The Wall Street Journal has published an “An Incomparable Insider’s Guide” to Portland, the New York Times has published an article on Bluet, Conde Nast Traveler has published a set of articles about Portland, Chaval was the featured restaurant for an Outstanding in the Field dinner, Mr. Tuna kicked on a dinner series – Mr. T’s Night Market – with guest chef Sang Lee, David Mallari appreared on Chopped; the Cider House, the Old Port edition of Po’ Boys & Pickles, and Chula Elotes opened; Brian Boru, Silly’s and Simply Vegan by Silly’s closed.
  • SeptemberChefsFeed held three collaboration dinners at Lio, the B Side explored “the myriad unexpected ways honeybees are part of the social and cultural fabric of our everyday life,” the 3rd Annual Dine Out for Equality took place, BlueFin hosted a Maine meets Miami dinner with chef Micheal Beltran from Ariete Coconut Grove, the Washington Post has published A Local’s Guide to Portland, Novare Res hosted Cantillon Zwanze Day, the 2nd edition of Maine Chefs Table was released; Sticky Sweet opened, Poke Pop closed and the owners announced plans to replace it with a restaurant called Noodle Love, and JP’s Bistro announced plans to move to Falmouth; Lolita closed.
  • October – Portland Food Map launched a line of branded tote bags, t-shirts, coffee mugs
    with the tag line Small City Big Appetite, Man & Oak kicked off a set of whiskey blending workshops, the  6th Annual Heirloom Apple Tasting with a follow-up event taking place at the Blaine House, Culinary historian Michael Twitty gave a talk at USM, The Boston Globe has published an article about The Purple House and its chef/owner Krista Kern Desjarlais, Harvest on the Harbor took place, the Independent Ice Company earned their Executive Bourbon certification from the Stave & Thief Society, Coffee by Design was recognized by Roast Magazine as their 2020 Macro Roaster of the Year; Candy’s and CBG opened, Terlingua announced plans to move into the former Silly’s building, Burke’s Perks replaced One Six Green in Monument Square, the Toast Bar extended their hiatus due to the lack of staff, and Flying Fox juice bar closed
  • November – Portland Beer Week and the 15th Annual VegFest took place, Little Woodfords was recognized as one of the Best Coffee Shops in America by Food & Wine magazine, Medium explored the question “Why is the Whitest, Oldest State in the U.S. Home to Such a Vibrant Food Scene?, 12 Maine food producers were announced as  finalists in the 2020 Good Food Awards; Cocktail Mary, Uncharted Tea, Anoche, the new Cheese Shop opened, and A & C Grocery began serving dinner; Andy’s Old Port Pub and Portland Pulp closed.
  • December – news surfaced that John and Tanya Lowell are in the process of buying Andy’s Old Port Pub with plans to reopen it, the Maine Sunday Telegram examined whether the Portland restaurant industry is a bubble about to burst, Thrillist included the Hunt & Alpine Club on their list of the Best Cocktail Bars in America, the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook project launched; Nura opened, Maria’s reopened after completing a move to the former Espo’s space on Congress Street; The 5 Spot and Rockin Ricky’s Closed.

Passings

For some other perspectives on the past year see articles by Andrew Ross and Avery Yale Kamilla, and annual A to Z roundup in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Here are links to the Portland Food Map year in review reports for 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

Jef Wright: New Chef at Sur Lie

Sur Lie has hired Jef Wright as the restaurant’s new executive chef.

Wright is a Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy graduate. In 2019 he’s been the sous chef as part of the team assembled by Christian Hayes to launch The Garrison. Wright is originally from Florida and for several years he worked in Atlanta with chef Richard Blais, “focused on molecular gastronomy as a means to reimagine and refine traditional southern dishes.” Wright has also worked for a 2 Michelin star restaurant in New York, and worked in the Philadelphia.

According to the release,

His style is best described as heavily influenced by traditional French and Spanish cuisine with a love for upscale Southern always focusing on refined techniques…Jef is thrilled to be stepping back into the role of Executive Chef and leading the kitchen at Sur Lie. He looks forward to sharing his excitement and passion for delicious, sophisticated cuisine with Portland.

Wright will be taking over the position held by Emil Rivera since Sur Lie opened in 2014. You’ll recall word spread that Rivera was moving to a new roll back in October. The long notice has enable Rivera to be involved with the recruitment and interviewing of his replacement in conjunction with Sur Lie owners Tony and Krista Cole.

Wright takes over starting December 21st and the restaurant has indicated, “Sur Lie fans can expect to see his imprint on the menu becoming more clear as the new year progresses.”

Nielsen Joins Magnus on Water

Magnus on Water (websitefacebookinstagramtwitter) has announced they’ve hired chef Ryan Nielsen.

Nielsen has spent the last year working for chef Bowman Brown at Elda and prior to that was the executive sous chef at Armsby Abbey in Worcester, Mass.

Nielsen shared that he finds inspiration in Latin American cuisine but that we should also expect to see notes of Nordic and Japanese/Asian influences on the Magnus menu as well.

Magnus on Water is in the final stages of construction and is expected to open early next year.

Boston Globe: The Purple House

The Boston Globe has published an article about The Purple House and its chef/owner Krista Kern Desjarlais.

That wood-fired oven is at the heart of Desjarlais’s multifarious approach to food — an intermingling of meticulous French pastry, rustic Maine farm cooking, and gutsy ingredients that to date has made her a James Beard Award semifinalist six times and a finalist once. But it’s also at the heart of another sort of transition she currently finds herself in. “Without getting too academic about what I’ve been thinking all this past summer, I’m really at a crossroads,” she says, leaning forward at the lone table in The Purple House and pushing back a blonde curl. “I’ve always cooked the things I love, but I’m rethinking the way to be in touch globally and also reflect right where you are. We here in the Great North know how much French-Canadian cuisine is a big part of Maine, whether it’s green herb sauces, sausage creton [a rustic Quebecois pork meatloaf], or pâtés and terrines. And how do I fit all of that into my background in French and Italian cooking, as both a cook and a baker?”

A ‘Cultural Home’ at Maiz

The Press Herald has published a Maine Voices letter from Brittany Cronin about her appreciation for Maiz, a Colombian restaurant in Woodfords Corner.

I know I’m not the only one who’s found a cultural home in Maiz. Every Portland Colombian I know, I’ve met at Maiz. I’ve even met Colombians who drive in from more than an hour outside of Portland just to go to a Friday night dance party at Maiz. We like to stay awhile, to talk with the owners and staff, to talk with each other. We’ll also drop in just to say hi, or leave a box of chocolates with Martha for her birthday. It’s our space: familiar, comfortable and Colombian.