One of the “main” reasons I was anxious to visit Southern Maine recently was because I kept hearing about the great food in Portland.
Bon Appétit called it “The Foodiest Small Town in America,” while others in-the-know freely describe Portland as “a foodie’s paradise,” a major dining destination not only in New England but the entire Northeast.
Second only to San Francisco in restaurants per capita, the largest city in Maine may not be a major metropolis like New York or Boston, but when it comes to good food, it’s big on appeal, quality, and innovation. If you know Portland at all, you know it’s fertile ground for creative types, so it’s no surprise that cooking is enthusiastically celebrated and embraced as a fine art. It’s all about showcasing fresh local ingredients and maximizing the unique wealth of resources that circle the city (farms, apiaries, fishing grounds, dairies, smokehouses).
It begins when you’re little and you read a picture book about bears and blueberries. You have no idea where Maine is and have never seen real blueberry bushes in person, but this story of mothers and cubs stays with you always.
As you grow up, you develop an eternal craving for lobster and blueberry pie. You eventually hook up with L.L. Bean, fly through Bangor airport on the way to Europe, and after you get married you hear interesting stories about “Maine people” from your in-laws in New Hampshire.
After starting a book and food blog, you notice there are lots of very cool author and artist types (in addition to Mr. McCloskey) associated with Maine: E.B. White, Barbara Cooney, Margaret Wise Brown, Gail Gibbons, Carrie Jones, Melissa Sweet, Cynthia Lord, Cathryn Falwell, Ashley Bryan, on and on.
Many friends who don’t actually live in Maine flock to the Southern Coast every summer and return refreshed and inspired with blueberry stains around their mouths and a decidedly dreamy look in their eyes.
So I asked myself — what is it about Maine that could spawn the likes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as well as Stephen King? Why are there more poets per capita in Maine than any other state? Is the lobster that good?
Moreover, how did I manage to reach near fossilization 29 years of age 🙂 without ever having set foot on Maine soil . . . or sand? And what’s this I keep hearing about Portland being a foodie paradise?