Wicked good. That’s an expression well familiar to anyone who has spent time in Maine. I spent nine days in this majestic state with fellow writers from the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and I’m already itching to return. I arrived in Portland on a Wednesday evening and longtime friend Charlie Ross picked me up at the Jetport. Charlie and I became acquainted thirty years ago when we both lived on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He now manages the Portland Country Club. We grabbed a quick bite at The Porthole (steamers and chowder) and headed home. The next morning he gave me a tour of the Country Club, we had a great lunch at J’s on the waterfront, said our goodbyes and I checked into the West End Inn.
Innkeeper Sara Stempien made me feel right at home in this oh so cozy bed and breakfast. The inn’s six rooms are charming and comfortable. After getting settled, I walked a little over a mile to Walter’s for an out of this world dinner experience. Jeff and Cheryl Buerhaus bought Walter’s a few years ago after having worked there. They brought along wine and beverage manager Steve Lovenguth, who greeted me and made sure I was well taken care of. The full story on my dining experience is available on our sister site, winesdines.com.
Breakfast at the West End Inn is beyond description, but I’ll try. The first morning I dined on grilled pineapple followed by French Toast stuffed (yes, stuffed) with strawberry cheesecake. A stuffed yours truly put on his walking shoes once more and strolled back downtown. The sign for the Old Port Wine Merchants caught my eye and I wandered in and visited with owner Jacques deVillier. He has a nice selection of wines and cigars, and I took my first peek at a few Maine wines which I would wind up tasting later in the week.
Sure enough it was time to eat again, and the sounds of bluegrass drew me into the Portland Lobster Company. The Jerks of Grass were playing and they sounded great. I pulled up a stool at the bar and ordered a lobster roll and an Allagash Black. The roll was mouthwatering and loaded with lobster. I asked how the steamers were and the description made them sound so good I had no choice but to order a bucket. They were phenomenal.
Following lunch I strolled next door to Long Wharf and met up with IFWTWA President Maralyn Hill and her husband Norm. We chatted for a while and then met Angie Helton from the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Pamela Laskey, owner of Maine Foodie Tours. We hopped aboard the trolley for a two and a half hour Culinary Delights Trolley Tour. Guide John Hickson was the epitome of a New Englander. He did an exceptional job pointing out the sights and history of Portland as we wound around the city, stopping first at Standard Baking Company, where owner Matt James brought us some delicious samples of his bread. Next up, a visit to Shipyard Brewery to watch a video of the company’s history and the process of making beer and then several samples of what they brew. Rosemont Market & Bakery was our next destination, and we nibbled on cheeses and bread before heading on to the Maine Mead Works. Co-founder Ben Alexander showed us how Mead is made and then we tasted several meads made with Maine wildflower honey in flavors including blueberry and lavender. I believe that was my first experience drinking mead and I found it quite tasty. Our next stop was at the farmer’s table, where they delivered some fresh haddock chowder into the trolley. We wound up back where we started and went into DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant and met owner Steve DiMillo. Steve’s dad Tony opened DiMillo’s in 1982 and is given the bulk of the credit for cleaning up Portland’s once rough and tumble waterfront. After some fresh blueberry cobbler, our fabulous trolley tour had come to an end.
I made my way back to the West End Inn to change clothes. As I’m sure you can gather, I just hadn’t had enough to eat, so after a quick stop, I went back downtown for dinner at the grill room. First, though, I stopped at Gritty McDuff’s, better known as Gritty’s, for a beer. Gritty’s Brew Pub opened its doors in 1988. The beer was very tasty, and the food looked and smelled great, but dinner time was just around the corner, so I finished my beer and walked up the block to the grill room.
The skies opened briefly, lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, but soon I was safely inside the grill room. Ryan Rush greeted me and I was seated at this very busy restaurant. As you might gather from the name, and the bull hanging above their front door, this is a carnivore’s paradise. They were kind enough to bring me a grilled scallop while I waited for my rib eye. The scallop was cooked to perfection and presented beautifully. The rib eye was a work of art and was accompanied by garlic spinach and mushroom risotto. Although I didn’t think I could squeeze in one more bite, I couldn’t resist the strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. It reminded me of how much I love rhubarb and that I should have it more often. My only complaint was the noise inside the restaurant. Had I been dining with others carrying on a conversation would have been quite tricky.
I returned to the West End Inn for my final night, ready to head for Rockland the next morning. After a good night’s sleep, Sara greeted me with another incredible breakfast: a mini strawberry shortcake followed by ham and cheese crêpes with asparagus. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there and can recommend it highly to anyone planning a visit to the Portland area. I walked across the street to The Pomegranate Inn where I met my fellow writers and we boarded a Cadillac Escalade stretch limo and took off for Rockland. Portland’s annual Harvest On The Harbor is scheduled for October 21-23, and I’m hoping to be there for it. We’ll keep you posted.