cheap eats- thirsty piggin it.

5 08 2011

not to be confused with “porky piggin it”, which is the condition of wearing a shirt, but no pants or underwear (a la porky pig).

i love a hot dog. red hot dogs. foot long hot dogs. 7-11 roller hot dogs… in my meat eating days, i would shovel down those natural casing lovelies (THE SNAP!) like they were going out of style. and then i became a vegetarian, and my hot dog prospects became instantly very very grim. tofu pups? seriously?

over time, i have managed to find some work arounds. i’m a big fan of the yves  veggie dogs, i think they have the most realistic hot dog flava available in the mass consumer fake meat marketplace (especially when buried under sauerkraut, onions, and spicy mustard). they’re even better if you grill them in a pan with butter (sorry vegans!).  as it turns out, they are slightly less good if you roast them over a fire.  surprise! it’s blister covered corpse dogs!

although the worst thing about it is that i can’t just stroll through tommy’s park and grab a red snapper from mark’s on a summer afternoon… or any one of portland’s many varied and awesome hot dog stands. it sucks. so when linda bean’s famous bullshit chowder something something shut down, and the thirsty pig moved in (and actually carried a veggie dog), i was pretty fucking excited. Read the rest of this entry »





broke & hungry.

28 04 2011

there is absolutely no question that portland has incredible food. on munjoy hill alone live three of the best restaurants in town (bar lola, blue spoon, & front room), and the most perfect neighborhood market that ever lived.  possibly secondary only to family and friends, it is the thing that holds me here and reminds me that portland is home.

yesterday, i took a jaunt to the new five guys with a very bummed out boyfriend who was just informed that he needed to purchase a new transmission. place was PACKED! i really love how they only have like 5 things on their menu. simplicity to me is one of the earmarks of a restaurant that knows what they’re doing. you don’t have to have 200+ menu items if the 5 things that you make are super delicious.

that said, i wasn’t expecting much from my grilled cheese. and i was right to set the standards low. the cheese to bread ratio was way off (like an inch of american cheese- TOO MUCH!), and it was super small and dense. edible, but not amazing. french fries were undercooked and mouth searingly hot. although, my friend @torreyham said that he saw the face of god in his hamburger, and the boyfriend seemed overall quite pleased- even if they forgot the BBQ sauce.

but that’s not entirely my point today.  the point is that there are all these new restaurants opening up in portland all the time, but there is one large gap being left in the market that i would like to see filled: affordable food with sit-down atmosphere (mall restaurants need not apply).

on the cheap is easy when you’ve got diners and pizza and burger places up the yaz. upscale is easy if you can afford it. there also appear to be an inexplicable amount of asian restaurants cropping up on every corner… but when my mom refuses to eat indian food, and i only have $20, where do we go?

i don’t know exactly how to make it work. and i certainly have no idea how to run a restaurant… but i would love to see people opening restaurants with a greater awareness of A) how many similar restaurants already exist in the area, and B) the fact that we’re pretty much all fucking broke.

yeah, i’m sure that grass fed beef with walnut fennel chutney is great and all, but we don’t need to be so fancy. but we also need to be able to afford things that aren’t just pizza and french fries. oh, and we want the food to taste good.

ok, so maybe i’m asking a lot. but if anyone out there wants to open a restaurant, this town could use some unpretentious budget fare that doesn’t have to get cooked in a fryolator.

who’s with me?

(or we could scrap this idea entirely and just open an automat)





i am not a monster!!!

22 04 2011

when i first conceived the IKEAbus many moons ago, everyone seemed really excited about it.  it was positive vibes all around, and it propelled me forward to the point where i actually put my tax return money down on a bus, in hopes that i could actually  fill it up with swedish furniture loving folks with $30 to spare. (ta da!)

a few weeks in and a few tickets (very few at that point) sold, i posted an article on the wsch around town blog about it, thinking that might be a good place to drum up some local enthusiasm. instead, i got this:

Hey WCSH why don’t you take more time talking about the great family run furniture stores that still exist here in Maine, as opposed to encouraging folks to take their business out of state, In a time when Maine is so desperate for every penny in business it can get, I find this irresponsible!

i didn’t know what to say. so stupidly, i said nothing (i really aught to rectify that).

well, i’ve spent the last few weeks ruminating about it, and here is what i have decided: Read the rest of this entry »





get your cake on!

29 09 2010

i don’t remember a single kid in my entire elementary school that had a peanut allergy. maybe bees (epi pens look so fucking cool when you’re 7), but not peanuts- and certainly not gluten. as a matter of fact, i lived the majority of my adult life not really even knowing what gluten is, or that people even could be allergic to it. but there it is. all of the sudden, everybody and their grandma has celiac disease or is gluten intolerant… where there were once no food allergies or sensitivities, now even walmart has a gluten free department. wacky.

i hate to conjecture as to why there has been this apparent spike in food allergies and conditions (pesticides? medications? evolutionary failure?), because it will just make me want to enclose myself in a plastic bubble (and not the sexy jake gyllenhaal kind, the creepy john travolta kind). but the fact is that gluten allergy/intolerance is a new reality that many have to deal with every day, and it totally sucks.

i fucking love gluten.  i can tear through a bread basket in the blink of an eye (no seriously, if you ever go out to dinner with me- DON’T BLINK if you have any interest in pre-show bread), so my heart goes out (way out) for anyone who can’t enjoy the glory that is starchy, glutenous goodness. that said, there are a growing number of products out on the market dedicated to our gluten repellent friends that are actually quite tasty. for example, i’m a big fan of the lucy’s brand cookies (specifically the sugar cookies). what i’m learning, is that gluten free baked goods can be totally kick ass, as long as they’re done well. unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.

to add another layer of suck, gluten free shit is FUCKING EXPENSIVE. can you imagine having to spend $6 every time you wanted to buy hamburger buns? so basically, there’s not much you can eat, and what you can eat is ludicrously pricey. and then what about things like birthdays and holidays? maybe you can get some gluten free  mix or something from the whole foods, but it’s not hardly the same as having someone make you real cake or cookies from scratch.

therein lies the subject of our blog post/love letter today. cakeface contacted me about a week ago about doing a review of their startup gluten free bakery business.  now, i get contacted semi-regularly to review things on my blog, and i don’t always say yes.  what appealed to me about cakeface is the fact that they’re local, they’re vegan, and that i would get to eat cupcakes. sold! i headed on over to their website and ordered half a dozen peanut butter cupcakes, 3 blueberry scones, and 3 chocolate chip scones. the goods were delivered to my office promptly the next afternoon (they deliver to a good chunk of the southern maine area).

reason #1 to love cakeface– the people who own it are some of the best people you will ever meet. jj does the baking, simon handles the business end, and they are both ridiculously nice, charming, and completely genuine. i kind of want them to be my new best friends.  basically, you can rest assured that your cupcakes will not be made by assholes.

i decided to share the scones with the people in my office, and hoard the cupcakes for myself (well, and possibly the boyfriend).  everybody snarfed theirs down in record time, and the only complaint by one of my coworkers was “not sweet enough”.

reason #2 to love cakeface- they make smart food. as far as i’m concerned, people who who like their food overly sweetened have stupid tongues. too much high fructose corn syrup and processed snack cakes have made them unable to appreciate any flavor above and beyond twinkie level sugar shock. it’s tragic. i thought they were the best scones that i’d ever eaten (they are so not paying me for this in cupcakes or otherwise, i just thought they were kick ass scones). moist but not soggy, not too sweet, and with just a tiny bit of salty in there to make things more interesting. similarly, the cupcakes had a nice flavor balance (mildly sweet and nutty), were the perfect moist but not oily texture, and had exactly the right amount of jj’s killer peanut butter frosting (just ask the boyfriend who shoved down 3 of them in a sitting).

cakeface simon and i actually had a funny conversation today about how too much frosting can destroy a perfect cupcake experience. too much frosting for me is a clear sign that the cake portion of a cupcake can’t stand on its own. it’s showboating. excess frosting is full of lies.

reason #3 to love cakeface- they’re unpretentious. food that tastes good doesn’t need 4 inches of buttercream and a fondant daisy to make it worth eating.  my cakeface treats came neatly packed in a brown bag, simply presented, without a ganache floret in sight. oh, and they also threw in a  totally adorable bumper sticker, just because.

ok, so we’ve covered their charmingness, their taste goodingness, and their lack of showboatingness… all excellent and necessary qualities in a bakery. but what’s the bottom line on all this deliciousness?

reason #4 to love cakeface- you can afford them. i’m a girl who has (and will again) paid upwards of $5 for a single cupcake, and you might expect a company like cakeface that uses pricey ingredients like hazelnut flour and vegan sugar to be in the upper ranges of the cupcake market. not so! starting at $1.50 a cupcake, $1 a scone, and $.50 a cookie (less if you order more), you’d be lucky to get some gas station hydrox for the same price.

ok, before this lovefest carries on for too long, let me just say one thing- i know hardcore product/ pimping is not my general modus operandi, but when really good people are doing something admirable and worthwhile (and delicious)… i think they deserve a little shout out.  along with throwing down an order of your own (what’s on their order page is just a starting point- give them a call for everything from birthday cakes to alternative scone flavors), if you want to help support cakeface’s future development (they’re working on a second set of dedicated cookware so that they can also offer nut-free treats), you can also donate to their kickstarter account to help assure that their venture gets started with a real chance. after all, it’s always the right time to get your cake on.





cheap eats- top 10 under $10

30 07 2010

ok, i’m done with my hopeless wallowing from yesterday.  i’m still feeling hopeless, but i’m taking a break from wallowing for a while, at least publicly. the brilliant @amycasey (worth the follow for you twitter geeks out there) recently suggested that i try the “small changes” plan, and i’m starting to think that it might be a good idea. perhaps if i can just force myself to focus on succeeding at one small element of life, i can use that momentum to pick up other small things as i go- eventually resulting in me actually having accomplished some of my goals (e.g.,having 2 month’s pay in my savings account, and fitting back into my size 8 jeans).

small task #1: stop spending so much goddamn money on eating out. i love eating out, and hells no i’m not going to stop, but i have decided that it’s time for me to take a big vacation from pricey pig-fests.  for the next month, unless it is a very special occasion (sort of like a very special episode, but with more gluttony and less emotional breakdowns), i’m going to try to keep my eating out budget to $10 or less. daunting, yes. but the benefits are two-fold! i will both A) spend less money, and B) by cutting out extras like appetizers, desserts, & booze… i should cut some calories as well. at least i hope so, because these size 12s are at MAX CAPACITY, and i will get back alley liposuction before i allow myself to go up another pants size.

in honor of this historic decision, i have decided to list my top ten things in town that are worth eating for under $10. not necessarily full meals, and definitely not always high end, but goddamn delicious and easily accessible.   i will probably be calling on this list fairly often over the next few weeks, so help a girl out, and gimme some more recommendations.

1. amatosbreakfast sandwich $2.29: cheap and dirty (and so simple, but shockingly delicious), but my absolute go-to whenever i’m broke and starving. it’s sort of like when i smoked, and cigarettes were only $2. you can always find enough couch/purse/street change to get a breakfast sandwich, and if you get them on toast (delicious non-wonderbread italian toast), it is both bigger, and better.

2. micuccisicilian slab $4.50: we’ve all heard what i have to say about the miraculous qualities of the sicilian slab. cliff’s notes version- shit is GOOD, and 1 piece will fill you up for at least two meals. also, totally worth getting into a noisy altercation with a stranger.

3. gilbert’s chower house grilled cheese $3.25: basically, this is what i get when i’m hungrier for more than just a breakfast sandwich.  simple and unpretentious, it’s got like an inch of cheese and really good bread. oh, and it comes with chips.

4. caiola’spolenta fries $5.95: caiola’s is my favorite restaurant in portland, perhaps anywhere. i have never had a bad meal there ever (from their superb sangria to that salty caramel cake that haunts my dreams), but if i had to choose only one food to eat for the rest of my life, it would probably be their polenta fries. no florid description of their crispy perfection and accompanying red chutney stuff could really do them justice. i know they’re not even close to a whole meal, but seriously, GO EAT THEM RIGHT NOW.

5. green elephantspicy vegetable medley stir fry $9: along with being the only 100% vegetarian restaurant in town, the green elephant is both totally tasty and extremely reasonable. they have a multitude of $9 entrees on the menu, but the spicy veggie medley is my favorite. but if you’re in the mood for something a little less healthy, i also recommend the king oyster mushroom tempura- rock ’em sock ’em fried mushroom action.

6. the maine squeezeamanda berry $5: i have a bigtime starch and fat problem. potatoes, bread, pasta… butter, cheese, cream sauce… you might notice that the majority of my top 10 faves are a combination of those very elements. however, every now and again even i hit the wall, and i start to feel like if i don’t get some fruits and veggies fast- i might die. maine squeeze will make you a giant-ass smoothie of delicious healthfulness for a mere five bucks. the amanda berry has the distinction of being one of the few smoothies on the menu without bananas (my arch nemesis), but you should eat them, they’re full of potassium and they’re good for leg cramps.

7. kamasouptraloaded baked potato soup $5.50: again, you’ve heard me do the dance of love for these guys, so i’ll keep it brief. a bowl of incredible soup (at a place that has more veg options than meat options) + a piece of bread roughly the size of small watermelon.

8. norm’s mashed potatoes $2.50: norm’s is tricky for me because it’s a BBQ joint (meat fiesta!), but the trick is in the side orders. a cereal bowl filled with buttery garlicy mashed potatoes and/or a hunk of home made corn bread that can double as a personal flotation device are only a few of the tasty, filling, and dirt cheap options on their side order menu. there might even be some vegetables in there, but who gives a crap about those?

9. otto–  cauliflower & mushroom pizza $3.00: i sing a lot of (well deserved) praises about micucci, but in the land of the thin crust, otto reigns supreme. innovative and flavorful, with a rotating cast of flavors from mashed potato to cheese tortellini, 3 big slices for 9 small dollars is a dinner to be proud of. actually, it’s kind of freaky that maine has such kick ass pizza. i thought we could only make lobster rolls and whoopie pies?

10. corner roompapparadelle & mushroom pasta $9: i can easily take down $60+ worth of food and beverage at the corner room without even thinking about it, but the beauty is that assuming i lay off the booze & desserts (although their stiletto & tiramisu are positively worth shanking for), i can get a perfectly serviceable and incredibly delicious dinner for just $9. all their pasta options come in whole or half orders ($15/$9), and the half order portions are more than enough food to constitute a full meal (especially if you ask for extra bread). the papparadelle dish is full of perfect home made hand cut pasta (double wide), floating in the kind of pitch perfect cream sauce that grocery store pasta dreams about.

HONORABLE MENTION hot suppa– fried green tomato eggs benedict ???: i’m fairly certain that it’s less than $10, but i couldn’t confirm, so i don’t feel like it’s fair to put it on the official list. regardless, even if you’re a canadian bacon loving carnivore, this is still one of the very best things to eat on the peninsula at ANY PRICE. it has the perfect balance of salt and fat and acid, and by far the best benedict i’ve ever had anywhere ever (and if there’s benedict, i will eat it).





cheap eats- an intimate soup encounter.

21 04 2010

after loving so hard on peanut butter jelly time, i was uncertain that i wanted to do another public market house vendor review right away. but as they’re rapidly filling up their brand new 2nd floor, they’re also rapidly becoming both the best and cheapest place in town to get lunch.  case and point, new kid in town, kamasouptra. that’s right, they made a sexy joke about soup. their totally adorable and slightly dirty tagline is actually hot. steamy. soup. and they don’t lie.

i like simplicity. if i could make one criticism (a loving criticism) of PB&J time, it would be that he has A LOT going on. like today, i realized that he sold belgian waffles. which is not to say that i don’t appreciate a fresh belgian waffle (because i certainly do), it’s just that it seems a bit cluttered up there and like there are too many choices. kamasouptra is exactly the opposite. they offer soup, the complimentary bread that comes with the soup, and a few drinks (i may have also noticed a few breakfast items).  it’s all very minimalist in a way that i really enjoy. the soup is the main attraction, and that’s the end of the story.

and what an attraction it is. served in mismatched ceramic bowls (which is a lovely homey touch), they had a really wide selection including lots of vegan & vegetarian options (not just the standard 1 choice that most places have), as well as gluten free. they also offered 3 price levels (i’m assuming based on ingredients), $4.95, $5.95, & $6.95, and only one size. so streamlined!

i chose the $4.95 mushroom barely soup, and my fabulous date got the $5.95 vegetarian chili. each bowl came with a WARM crusty wheat roll (freshly baked according to their website), roughly the size of the bowl that the soup was in. seriously, it was some HUGE BREAD, and exactly the right size for dipping & eating the amount of soup that they give you. my soup was really good, a little on the salty side, but flavorful and totally busting with fresh vegetables. my friend’s chili on the other hand was AMAZING. as close to veg chili perfection as i have ever encountered. my entire meal with $1.50 bottled water was $6.81, and i was definitely full (although that didn’t stop me from stuffing down a tony’s donut from the rock city coffee).

you might think that a year round soup is a misguided plan, but i say that really delicious and good quality food knows no season. also according to their website, they’ll be adding some cold fruit soups and dips come the hot season. in the meantime, if you’re needing a little steamy lunchtime action, kamasouptra knows tricks that you have only seen in videos.  so practice your come hither look, and get your ass down there now (you don’t want to keep them waiting).

Kamasouptra on Urbanspoon





a tale of two dinners.

10 03 2010

so restaurant week ends today, and i’m still on the fence about whether or not it’s really a good idea. i do love the concept of a 3 course fixed price menu. and who can argue with a reason to go and check out all sorts of the incredible restaurants that portland has to offer (did i mention that bon appetit called us america’s foodiest small town)? unfortunately, over the last 2 years my experiences have been so mixed that i’ve found myself turned off more restaurants than on. last year’s jaunt to the pepper club delivered a dry crumbling lentil loaf, and i haven’t been back since. this year, the farmer’s table disaster:

1. despite having a 7:30 reservation, arriving 5 minutes early, and seeing at least 2 empty tables in the dining room… we were told to wait at the bar for about 30 minutes before we were seated- at the corner of kitchen & bathroom. nice.

2. while seated at the bar, we were completely ignored for at least 15 minutes before someone came to take our drink orders, which then took another 15 minutes to prepare.

3. once seated at our really great table, our waitress took another 15 minutes to bring us bread and water. my bread had big chewy floury blobs in it. not good.

4. by the time our order was taken, they were already out of one of the appetizers, bummer. we ended  up getting the salad, but ordering the brie fritters off the regular menu as a supplement. theoretically these should have been amazing. too bad they were smothered in stone-cold overly sweet and weirdly bitter blueberry compote. oh, and our waitress neglected to give us plates (and then proceeded to ignore us until our salads arrived), so we both had to eat them out of the bowl in a way that was both awkward and messy (dear farmer’s table, i will not be apologizing for the blueberry stains on your tablecloth. you know what you’ve done.)

5. the salad was inedible. smothered in some sort of hydrochloric vinaigrette, there was so much acid that it burned our tongues and cheeks and we both gave up after about 2 bites.

6. the main courses were ludicrously unbalanced. the boyfriend got half a pig beautifully roasted and sitting on a bed of sexy looking red rice and root vegetables. i got a huge plate with a very small well (5″ in diamter?), half filled with some scraps of the worst hand made pasta i’d ever had (intermittently chewy and mushy). edible, but not good.

7. dessert was again, edible, but not good. my pineapple upside down cake had clearly never actually been upside down… the cake was dry and the pineapple was chewy and still tart. certainly not soft, brown, and deliciously carmelized (as should be required). the boyfriend’s lava cake looked like sad naked deflated cupcake- and neither of us could detect any actual lava inside. lame!

anyway, for our $30.01  each + cocktails + an off-menu appetizer + 20% tip even though the waitress completely didn’t deserve it… we felt more like we’d been mugged than had just come from a fine dining experience.  no me gusta!

this is where the on the fence part comes in. restaurant week should be about providing amazing food and reasonable prices in order to seduce new clientele into your establishment. but in my experience, things have felt hastily thrown together with a distinct sacrifice of quality.  also, the restaurants seem overwhelmed by the volume of people, and the service suffers gravely.  STEP IT UP PEOPLE!

for those of you who have bothered to make it this far (as i did promise you a tale of 2 dinners), we can still end this fairy tale with a happily ever after.  my second restaurant week selection, the corner room,  was phenomenal. i had been there before and enjoyed it, but with my reservations on how restaurant week can ruin things, i was curious to see how it held up.  well, i will spare you the jizz covered exaltations about every morsel, but let me just stay that it held right the fuck up. with gusto. a few small highlights:

1. the corner room stiletto  is hands down my favorite cocktail on the peninsula.

2. my main course was practically the same dish as i had at the farmer’s table in conception (handmade pasta with mushrooms and cream sauce), except that it was appropriately portioned and lick your plate tasty.

3. despite the fact that our food was big and delicious, the corner room was only $20.01 (the lowest restaurant week price point). plus, they only charged me an extra $2 for ordering a non-restaurant week dessert. (their tiramisu is panty dropping good).

4. our table was solid, and the service was perfection. thank you corner room for making us feel like we were worthy of dining in your restaurant.

i suppose that the moral of this lengthy tale is that a good restaurant is a good restaurant. and a really good restaurant can take a challenge like restaurant week, and make it fit seamlessly into their menu. as opposed to making you feel like you’re getting a cheap knock-off of their real food, and that you are not worthy of decent service. whether it’s $20.01 or $100.01, research before you eat. if i had asked some friends and done some online research first- i could have easily saved myself $100 and 2 hours of feeling like a second class citizen.