Good Pizza PHL

Ben Berman, one of the original co-owners of Mainely Burgers, has been written up in the Washington Post for the home-based pizza service he’s running in his neighborhood in Philadelphia.

The pandemic had become more dire by the summer, and he was wondering how he could help people in need and boost the spirits of his neighbors, many of whom were also staying in their apartments.

“I was talking to my girlfriend, and she suggested that pizza was the way to do it,” said Berman, 28. “So I decided to make free cheese pizzas and lower them out my window to anyone who wanted one, with a suggestion that they make a donation to charities that help people who are hungry or homeless.”

“I thought, ‘If I can make people smile by dropping pizzas down to them from my apartment, why not?’ ” he added.

The 2020 Year in Review

It’s been an extremely difficult year for restaurants and the entire world. No report can fully or adequately capture all that has happened and that we’ve experienced in the past 12 months. That said, here’s an attempt to provide a high level overview of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the rays of hope and sunshine that was the 2020 year in food for Portland:

  • Covid-19 – The pandemic crashed into the restaurant industry in the week leading up to Friday the 13th of March. It’s been a tortuous year for employees and business owners ever since. Everyone experienced the uncertainty of those early days, the rapid growth of takeout options, the eventual loosening of restrictions in the early summer that paved the way for outdoor and on-street dining, and the contraction in business as cooler weather and darker days arrived. A number of restaurants have permanently closed—each and every one of the having a ripple effect through the lives of their staff and the communities they were part of. The vaccine(s) have provided a light that we can see at then end of a long tunnel. Here’s to hoping for a better year in 2021.
  • Community – In response to Covid, the racial justice protests and hardship heightened by the recession we’ve seen the restaurant industry and the broader community work together and respond in new ways. In the spring efforts like Feeding the Frontline and Frontline Foods channeled donations from the public into free meals to medical staff who were working to respond to the pandemic. Cooking for Community was founded in Maine as a way to deliver meals to people in need while simultaneously supporting local restaurants, farms and fisheries. Thousands of Mainers took part in the Black Lives Matter protests. The restaurant industry showed its support by taking part in Bakers Against Racism, the Black is Beautiful collaboration beer project and Food Industry Action, and Mainers became new customers Black-owned restaurants, bars and other businesses informed by the list created by Fork Food Lab established an entrepreneurial empowerment scholarship program and Mainers supported a Go Fund Me campaign to enable Me Lon Togo to move their shuttered Waterville restaurant to Camden. This list just scratches the surface…numerous efforts by individual restaurants and people have raised funds, created programs from scratch and otherwise stepped forward to help people in need.
  • Most Notable Openings – Against all odds, new food business have launched both pre/post pandemic and managed to hold on throughout the year. The most notable opening for me have been Magnus on Water in January, Judy Gibson in February, Leeward in March, Via Vecchia and Zao Ze Cafe in June and Liu Bian Tan in September, and the fearless launch of Solo Cucina Market on March 22nd. See the monthly chronicle for details on all 2020 openings.
  • Latin American and Caribbean – Options for Latin American and the Caribbean are on the upswing. Magnus on Water, Dos Naciones, Sal de la Tierra, Tacos y Tequila, Mi Pueblo Tacos y Tequila, and Pacifico all launched in the past year. In addition, Yardie Ting is planning to open a second location, Flores is building out a bigger second restaurant at 431 Congress Street, a new eatery called Caribbean Taste in under construction in South Portland, and a Costa Rican/Honduran inspired restaurant called Cafe Louis is under construction in South Portland.
  • Upcoming in 2021 – There are a number of new businesses slated to open in 2021 and I expect additions to the list to accelerate as we head into spring. For the full list of new food businesses under development see PFM Under Construction list. Here are some of the current highlights:
    • Cafe Louis – a Costa Rican/Honduran inspired restaurant being opened by Eaux owner Evan Richardson and business partner Ben Ferri in South Portland.
    • Coveside Coffee – a new coffee shop in Woodfords Corner being launched by Andy Nesheim and Zara Bohan.
    • Dandy’s Handy Store – a market being opened in Yarmouth by Garrison chef/owner Christian Hayes.
    • Elda/Jack Rabbit – Bowman Brown will be re-opening Elda and launching a new bakery cafe in the mill building Biddeford.
    • Helm – a new oyster bar and restaurant located in the WEX building on Thames Street.
    • Papa – a new food truck being launched by Josh Amergian.
    • Pigeons – Peter and Orenda Hale are opening “fly casual” daytime neighborhood bar/eatery and with a daily happy hour in the space where they formerly operated Drifters Wife.
    • Sok Sabai – a new food truck being launched by Tina Nop that will serve  Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese food.
    • SoPo Seafood – a new oyster and wine bar and seafood shop in Knightville in South Portland.

Top 10 Articles

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

  1. Big Takeout List (March 14th)
  2. Indoor/Outdoor Dining List (June 21st)
  3. Pandemic Casualty List (May 4th)
  4. Black-owned Restaurants List (June 1st)
  5. Rise of the Restaumart (April 21st)
  6. Maine Hospitality Workers Resource Guide (March 23rd)
  7. Vertical Harvest Coming to Maine (July 28th)
  8. Food Truck Tracking Apps (June 26th)
  9. Maine Heirloom Apple Guide (August 31st)
  10. Opening of NewYork Fried Chicken (June 7th)

Notable Events of 2020


  • Nancy Whipple Lord – a co-founder of the Seamen’s Club restaurant in 1973.
  • William M. “Bucky” Leighton, Jr., 70 –  a teacher at the Culinary Institute in Portland and a chef at Roberts Restaurant in Portland as well as a food service instructor at Portland Regional Vocational Technical Center in Portland.

For additional perspectives on the past year in food see Andrew Ross’s 2020 Best of list in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Here are links to the Portland Food Map year in review reports for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

Feeding the Frontline

The Press Herald has published an update on the Feeding the Frontline initiative which got under way back in the spring and has been re-energized this winter as Covid cases and the strain on the healthcare system and medical staff has increased.

“Obviously we all hoped that this wouldn’t go in the direction it has gone in, but we suspected it would, and here we are again,” said Birch Shambaugh, the co-owner, along with his wife, Fayth Preyer, of Woodford F&B on Forest Avenue. “It’s an unfortunate truth and reality … The withering pressure that the front-line workers are under in hospitals is profound and perhaps a closer representation of what we feared would materialize in the spring but didn’t.”

Read the article for details on restaurants with Feeding the Frontline programs.

NYT: Laughing Stock Farm

As part of their Family Interrupted series the New York Times talked with Ralph and Lisa Turner, owners of Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport, on how they changed their business model due to the pandemic by launching a farm stand.

LISA We bagged up stuff as if we were going to have maybe 10 people a day come.

We sent it out to probably 450 email addresses — and then people just started sharing it and sharing it and sharing it. The first day it was like, wow, that was a lot of people. And I had to refill some stuff that I wasn’t really expecting to.

The eggs were flying out of here — we had kind of a back stock of eggs. We went through 130 dozen eggs in two and a half days. It was insane.

Interview with Pete Sueltenfuss

The Portland Phoenix has published an interview with Pete Sueltenfuss, co-owner of Other Side Deli and Other Side Diner.

It’s a dreary, overcast Friday morning. Pete Sueltenfuss, owner of the three Other Side Diner and Deli locations in Portland, sits in the almost deserted diner at 500 Washington Ave., off Bates Street.

“The delis have been open the whole time, we never had to shut them down at all,” Sueltenfuss said of his East Deering spot nearby on Veranda Street and the West End location on Vaughan Street.

My Kitchen Their Table: Cara Stadler

Welcome to the December 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 Cara Stadler. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on Instagram, so stay tuned.

Cara Stadler
was only sixteen when she graduated from high school, eighteen when she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and
twenty-four when she opened her first restaurant. In 2014, she was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine and nominated for Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation. Since then, she’s tacked on three more JBF nominations.

In 2011, after cultivating her skills both near and far at prestigious restaurants like Guy Savoy in Paris and Gordon Ramsay Au Trianon Palace in Versaille, Cara settled in Maine. Along with her business partner and mother, Cecile, she opened her first full-service concept, Tao Yuan Restaurant, in Brunswick in May 2012. Cecile runs the business while Cara runs the kitchen. The small plates menu has a heavy Chinese influence and is built around locally-sourced ingredients.

Cara and Cecile have two more dining concepts under their company, Eighty Ate Hospitality (eight is considered a lucky number in China). Their second restaurant, Bao Bao Dumpling House, opened in 2015 in Portland’s West End. Since March, Bao Bao has been weathering the pandemic as a to-go restaurant. Luckily, Chinese food is the second most popular takeout food in the U.S., after pizza. 

Cara’s latest concept, Zao Ze, launched in response to COVID-19 and the temporary closure of Tao. She wanted to offer ‘fun, easy, not fussy food because that’s what we need right now. We might as well enjoy the little things while we can during this crazy time,’ she explained. Zao is currently running out of Tao’s kitchen and will eventually move into the first floor of the Canopy Farms building. Zao will operate as part cafe part grocery store where customers will buy housemade Asian staples like buns, dumplings, kimchi, hot sauce, sambal, and soy sauce. 

Canopy Farms was developed in 2013 by Cecile, Cara, and her life-long friend, Kate Holcomb. The aquaponics greenhouse is currently operating at fifty-percent and supplies its restaurants and a CSA with a bounty of produce. “As an L3C entity, we are a for-profit company, but mission-driven. Our mission is to promote the industry and development of sustainable year-round agriculture,” Kate Holcomb explains. Canopy Farms offers public tours, community education, and immersive internships through the University of Southern Maine. Public tours are available on the second Saturday of every month. 

In this month’s edition of My Kitchen Their Table, you’ll discover which ‘weird’ dish at Zao Ze is Cara’s favorite, what she loves most about being a chef in Maine, and where she goes in Portland and beyond for a great meal.


AA: What is one of your most popular dishes?
CS: The most popular dish in my company is, without a doubt, the 88 Slaw. We serve it at all three locations. It’s a riff on a dish I’ve had many times in China modified for the American palate. It’s not as sharp. I use less vinegar and more fat. It has carrots, cabbage, snow peas, fried shallot, rice vinaigrette, peanuts, cilantro, and scallion. It’s never what I thought would be the bread and butter of my company, but people love it.

AA: What is your favorite dish on your menu?
CS: I like the weird things; the items people read on my menu and have no idea what it is, like the sheng jian bao at Zao Ze. It’s a cross between a dumpling and a bun. The dough is yeasted but thinner than a bun and thicker than a dumpling. Usually, it’s made with pork belly, but we make it with Peking-spiced duck. It’s so greasy, it’s almost like a soup dumpling, but with animal fat. It’s really unhealthy and really delicious. 

AA: How has your team contributed to the success of your restaurants and keeping the doors open through a pandemic?
CS: The team is so essential. They’ve gone through so much. The first week was insane. Transforming a restaurant that does in-house dining to takeout in the span of a week is nuts. It was very stressful and took a lot out of everyone. I’ve been very fortunate to have great people on my team.

AA: Why do you think we have such a vibrant food scene?
CS: Maine has the best farms. The produce here is insane. It’s so beautiful and it’s done in all of the right ways. So many are family-owned and operated; Mainers support that as an identity. And then there’s the seafood! The oysters, clams, lobster, mussels… Bangs Island produces the plushest mussels and there’s never a single piece of grit in them. We have cheese, Maine Grains, so many breweries, I could go on and on. 

AA: Speaking of farms, what made you want to start your greenhouse project, Canopy Farms?
CS: We’re not here to compete with the local farms. We’re doing a different kind of sustainable farming. Our goal is to create a financially viable system that can be used anywhere year-round. I also wanted to grow weirder stuff and things I can’t source here, like ngò om (aka rice paddy herb). It’s a Vietnamese herb that tastes like citrus and cumin. 

AA: Do you eat Chinese food out?
CS: I go to Sichuan Kitchen. Their food is legit. It’s nice to have some flavors that are aggressively Chinese and not watered down for the American palate. The mapo is really good. It’s greasy in the way that Chinese food in China is greasy, where fat is flavor and a vehicle to stretch ingredients. For example, in America we trim fat, but in China trim is a whole other dish. They waste nothing.

AA: What restaurant or dish have you tried recently that impressed you?
CS: The pizza at Radici. I’ve had them all. I ordered the whole menu for a staff member’s going away party. The marinara is delicious and the ragu is killer. Get the anchovy sauce and chili oil, too. 

AA: Where do you recommend going for a great dessert?
Leeward. Kate Fisherham is one of the most talented pastry chefs in the state. I went a little while ago and had the olive oil cake and all of the ice cream flavors, which were chocolate, peach raspberry, and corn at the time. Her desserts always introduce new flavors but still feel familiar at the same time. They’re surprising and comforting.

AA: What are your go-to restaurants in Portland?
Izakaya Minato is my favorite. I love what Thomas and Elaine Cooke do. I think they’re some of the most genuinely wonderful human beings in the world. I like the aged ochazuke. It’s a fried rice ball in fish broth. They offer it with plum or ikura (salmon roe), but I like to get both and add uni. Also, how could you not get the sashimi plate? It’s a steal!

AA: Where else do you recommend going for a great meal?
CS: I love Portland, but in my opinion, some of the best food in Maine is outside of Portland. You have Primo in Rockland where chef-owner Melissa Kelly brings an ethos and mentality about food to a place that is so remote. It takes a ton of talent to do and do well. There’s Suzuki, too. Her food is so simple and so good. It’s perfectly executed. Long Grain in Camden is also lovely and Oyster River Winegrowers is on the way. The owner, Brian Smith, is a teeny winemaker. It’s just him and his family. The pét-nat is so perfectly made. There are so many people doing small beautiful projects that aren’t in the interest of expansion, but stability for themselves and their community. That’s what makes Maine, Maine.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article…Sichuan Kitchen, Radici, Suzuki, Long Grain and Leeward are all open for takeout. In addition takeout, Izakaya Minato also has outdoor seating; Primo has both indoor (through this weekend) and outdoor seating. Oyster River is selling wine for pick-up at their location in Warren.

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

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.

Beard Chef Series: Krista Kern Desjarlais

The Maine Sunday Telegram has published the fourth and final article in their series with Maine chefs who were 2020 Beard Awards nominees. For this week they’ve interviewed Krista Kern Desjarlais and published her recipe for a shaved brussels sprouts salad. I first ate that salad in 2007 and having tried (and failed) to reverse engineer the recipe especially appreciate this article.

She has been understandably cautious about bringing back her North Yarmouth bakery/café during the ongoing pandemic, waiting until “I’m able to do it absolutely the right way.” For Desjarlais, a finalist this year for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Northeast award, that has meant anticipating the winter with equal parts pragmatism and imagination.

Prior articles in the series have focused on Vien Dobui from Cong Tu Bot, Ben Jackson from the now closed Drifters Wife, and Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell from Palace Diner.

Joe Ricchio Favorites

Rob Caldwell interviewed Joe Ricchio about some of his favorite food shops.

Since the pandemic began Joe Ricchio has been cooking at home. “Almost constantly,” he says. “Which is nice at certain times. But you definitely miss eating out when you get tired of your own food.”

Dining out has been a big part of his life for years, as you’d expect of a food writer and host of the Food Coma podcast, but Ricchio is also a talented cook, so we listen when he talks about some of his favorite vendors in Maine.