If March is on our doorstep, that means it’s almost time for creme brulee French toast.
On March 1, Lisa Kostopoulos of The Good Table restaurant in Cape Elizabeth will defend her title as reigning champion of the Incredible Breakfast Cook-Off, which will launch this year’s Maine Restaurant Week. Her decadent creme brulee French toast, piled high with fresh fruit, has taken the prize three years in a row.
Can you say “dynasty”?
This is the fifth year of Maine Restaurant Week, and while there are some interesting changes in store, its basic structure will stay the same. The breakfast cook-off and the other major event of the week, a cocktail-and-dessert competition called the Signature Event, are extremely popular and usually sell out. These parties haven’t changed much because the basic formats have not yet gotten (pardon the expression) stale.
But they are evolving, especially the Signature Event.
This year, the Signature Event will be held at a luxury auto dealership and have a sushi bar.
I know: Huh?
Apparently, holding parties at auto dealerships is a thing. At least, it is in the rest of the country – as usual, Maine is playing catch-up.
Jim Britt of event organizer/publicist gBritt PR said he first saw the concept in Atlanta a few years ago. The Signature Event will be held at the Prime Mercedes-Benz dealership in Scarborough, which will be transformed into a nightclub with lights, decorations and music.
Yes, it’s a bummer that the party won’t be in Portland this year, but Jim and Gillian Britt have had a tough time finding a space large enough in town to hold all the people who want to come – 600 attended last year – without the guests feeling like they’re packed in like sardines or standing in a summertime line at Duckfat.
The dealership space will give everyone some breathing room, not to mention valet parking. And sushi: Whole Foods Market will be sponsoring a sushi bar at the event.
“We’re going to be in the showroom and in the garage where the maintenance gets done,” Britt said. “Because it’s a luxury dealership, it’s spotless. It’s incredibly clean and fun and fresh. The tables for the bartenders and the dessert contestants are going to be literally right over the jacks that lift the cars into the air. It’s going to be really cool in there.”
Insert your own clever comment about not drinking and driving here.
The cocktail judges this year are impressive, and all local. John Myers of The Grill Room, one of Portland’s favorite bartenders and a nationally known talent, will be joined by Forrest Butler, owner of Royal Rose, a cocktail syrup company in Biddeford (you can read about their syrups in my January column here ) and Andrew Volk, the force behind Portland’s first craft cocktail bar opening this spring, the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club.
Dessert judges have not yet been announced. Last year, Portland’s Standard Baking Co. won the Peoples’ Choice award in the dessert competition with its Gateau Noisette, a chocolate and hazelnut cake.
“This year, Standard Baking is coming back to defend their crown, but Two Fat Cats and Scratch are both coming to compete against them,” Britt said. “So it’s like we’ve got this all-star trio of the best bakers in town matching up against great restaurants who have amazing pastry chefs.”
Proceeds from the culinary competitions will benefit the United Way of Greater Portland.
As for the restaurants participating, there are more than 75 locations that have signed up so far. Britt said 10 or 15 restaurants typically wait until the last minute to come on board, so the participation rate looks similar to last year’s.
Restaurants will be offering three-course, prix fixe menus at special prices – $15 for lunch and $22, $32 or $42 for dinner. The prices have been raised by $2 this year, the first price increase since Maine Restaurant Week began.
New places include David’s Opus 10 (which will be offering its seven-course dinner for $42) and Buck’s Naked BBQ in Portland, Fromviandoux in Camden and the Lucerne Inn in Dedham.
Another first: The Cumberland Club, a members-only club in Portland, will open its doors to the public during Restaurant Week so people can sample its food and see what the club has to offer.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]