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 BlackOwnedMaine.com. 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

Passings

  • 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.

Best Fried Food

Maine Sunday Telegram restaurant critic Andrew Ross has put together his list of the best takeout fried food.

I realized a few months ago that I’ve eaten less deep-fried food than perhaps ever before. While my cardiologist is probably elated, I’m less pleased about the dearth of crunchy, golden batter in my life. With Hanukkah in full swing right now (it started Thursday evening and runs through this coming Friday), the timing seems perfect to bring back a little deep-fried delight.

Most Essential Bakeries: Night Moves

Food & Wine has named Night Moves one of the top ten of America’s Best Bakeries. Food & Wine published their list 100 bakeries back in early May, and from that list selected Night Moves as one of the “10 most essential bakeries” in the nation in the December issue of the magazine.

Can a loaf of sourdough have terroir, just like wine? If yes, Kerry Hanney’s would be Maine in bread form. One of the region’s most forward-thinking bakers, she leans heavily on local grains and mills them herself. And her loaves, packed with fruit and nuts or subtly flavored with maple syrup, are essential breakfast slices—just add some local butter.

During the pandemic Night Moves is taking weekly pre-order for pick-up on Saturdays. Order online this Wednesday (8 – 5) in order to pick-up you baked goods this Saturday (11 – 3) from their bakery window in Biddeford.

Cheapest & Nicest

Conde Nast Traveller (UK edition) has included Rose Foods on their list of the Cheapest, Nicest Restaurants in the World.

‘The place for a dose of some of the best bagels and schmear outside of New York. The design is of another time – Formica tables in aquamarine and dusty pink, bright wallpaper and a black-and-white hexagonal-tiled counter backed with nostalgic deli items (Martinelli’s apple juice, Dr Brown’s soda, Raye’s mustard) for to-go orders. It’s easy to stock up on provisions for the day, but come for the bagels and latkes with a side of matzo-ball soup and make sure to buy some merch on your way out.’

Nine 2021 Good Food Awards Finalists from Maine

Congratulations to the nine Maine food producers that are  finalists in the 2021 Good Food Awards in these six categories:

This year’s finalists were “[s]elected from 1,928 entries to the 11th annual Good Food Awards, these 475 products represent 45 states plus D.C. and Guam and have passed vetting for category-specific sustainability standards.”

The winners will be announced at a virtual event on January 22nd.

Saveur 100: Rabelais Books

Rabelais Books and its owner Don Lindgren have been recognized in this year’s Saveur 100, a list of the magazine’s 100 favorite favorite foods, people, places, and things of 2020.

Thrillist: Where to Eat in Portland

Portland resident and food writer Mindy Fox has assembled an eating guide to Portland for Thrillist.

Portland, Maine’s city motto is “Resurgam,” which is latin for “I shall rise again.” These are words we all need right now as we navigate the challenges of COVID-19, and a phrase that especially resonates with the city’s resolute restaurant owners and their intrepid crews. Lucky for us diners, Portland has maintained a vibrant dining scene, with creative restaurateurs who are providing astoundingly creative and delicious fare under more pressure than ever, while keeping safety top-of-mind.

Whether you call the city home or are just visiting, it’s easy to support local spots by ordering takeout or dining outdoors. Here is our salute to Portland’s best new restaurants, including brave stars from 2020, as well as faves from the past five years.

The article features: Belleville, Chaval, Island Creek Oysters, Izakaya Minato, Judy Gibson, Leeward, Mami, Mr. Tuna, Radici, Ramona’s, Rose Foods, Scales, Solo Italiano, The Honey Paw, Woodford F&B.

Fodor’s Travel

Fodor’s Travel has published an article about Portland, This Small City Makes Booze You’ve Never Even Heard Of.

But, this foodie darling of a destination offers more than just scrumptious bites for travelers. Maine’s largest city is also home to a vibrant and growing beverage scene, complete with a nationally-renowned craft beer pioneer, a creative rhubarb winery, fermented goodness at a kombucherie, a unique artisan gin operation, and so much more. Read on to learn about the quirk and innovation in some extra special Portland beverages.

Review of Leeward

The Blueberry Files has published a first look review of Leeward.

The chicken liver mousse with a crab apple mostarda and crackers. So good, with its salty, sweet, richness. We also enjoyed the summery burrata and roasted apples, with radishes, pecans, sourdough crisp and balsamic vinegar.