As snow season approaches, Maine's ski-mountain restaurants are starting to get some love. The Red Onion in Rangeley, "a mainstay on Main Street since 1970," merits 3 stars from The Portland Press Herald's Nancy Heiser. It's a come-as-you-are, "friendly and welcoming service, a good-time outing without pretension" sort of place, that touts its pizza as "the best in Western Maine," (perhaps, but "doesn't stack up" to the pies at Otto's and its ilk on the coast, says Heiser).
Two dishes among those we sampled were real finds. The homemade Kennebec bean soup ($2.99 cup; $3.99 bowl) included at least five kinds of beans, softened but intact, in a perfectly textured, tawny and smoky soup. A delicious pan-fried trout, one of the night's specials (and a bargain at $12.99; it came with a soup or salad) was moist and coated with a lightly breaded crust ... It tasted subtly sweet, and was thoroughly enjoyable with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon.
Newer, flashier restaurants have made their mark on the Portland food scene, but there is one particular stalwart, "regularly cited among the elite, which has weathered the storm and continued to attract patrons regardless of what the current trends may be." Joe Ricchio is referring to the venerable Fore Street, in a reverent review on the Eat Maine blog. At Sam Hayward's "destination" restaurant, the "ambiance has remained warm and inviting" and to Ricchio's delight, "warm foie gras is perpetually found amongst the menu offerings, with an ever-changing array of accoutrements."
After over 15 years of operation, it is refreshing to see that Fore Street still maintains the standards of excellence that earned them their sterling reputation to begin with. The end is, thankfully, nowhere in sight.Eventide Oyster Co. is one of the newbies that's keeping Portland firmly on the map - Bostonians that didn't discover it on their summer vacations may have their interests piqued enough by The Boston Globe's review to drive up and see for themselves. Some will quibble with this assessment from writer Jonathan Levitt:
These days a trip along the coast in search of real cooking is too often met with overcooked lobsters, fries from the freezer, and chowder as thick as mashed potatoes.At Eventide, in contrast, he finds "good Maine food is once again made from scratch," despite that "the servers look like J. Crew models, and the diners are more likely to be local graphic designers than fishermen."
86 This in Ellsworth "specializes in wraps and burritos that are anything but garden variety," writes Emily Burnham in her review for the Bangor Daily News. Plus, "all the menu items are named after indie and punk-rock bands, from the spicy, meaty Social D burrito to the vegetarian or vegan Mountain Goat wrap." Jeff and Diane Kelly-Lokocz opened the place a year-and-a-half ago with a novel idea:
"I always wanted to have a little punk-rock place where kids could take their punk-rock girlfriends or boyfriends, and go out and have a cheap dinner," said Jeff Kelly, who previously worked as a chef at restaurants such as Cleonice in Ellsworth and Table in Blue Hill.
· For Hometown Vibe And Friendly Prices, Try The Red Onion [PPH]
· Fore Street, Portland [Eat Maine blog]
· Eventide In Portland Puts A Twist On Maine's Classic Dishes [BG]
· Punk Rock Burritos Pack A Punch At Ellsworth's 86 This [BDN]
[Photo: Dining room at The Red Onion/rangeleyredonion.com]