Friday, December 13, 2013
In such a barmy, restaurant-crazed metropolis like Portland, lunch is given short shrift—as though it were a forbidden meal from the impecunious fringe. But we’re hardly a city of mere brown baggers--plenty of lunchtime portals offer interestingly good midday meals. Tabs are also much less expensive than dinner with prix fixe menus in the $10 to $12 range.
Eve’s at the Portland Harbor Hotel is a serious lunch spot. The dining room is typically urbane, with large tables and comfortable, cushy chairs. The kitchen is headed by Timothy Labonte, a Maine native who is their new chef. Recently I had a light lunch of a tomato caprese salad with grain mustard creamy vinaigrette, mozzarella and a touch of anchovy along with a cup of squash soup. Tomatoes are an odd item to see on winter menus, but Maine is blessed by such year-round growers like Backyard Farms who supply many restaurants here and throughout the northeast with the ruby-red fruit. My friend had a Panini curiously stuffed with sautéed spaghetti squash. Who knew that squash could figure in a sandwich? But it was delicious. Sandwiches are accompanied by a mini-fryolator basket filled with potato chips. Were these deep fried in that basket? Sadly, no. They’re right out of a bag, and that basket has never seen bubbling oil. Still, Eve’s works for a business meeting, romantic lunch or a discreet rendezvous since you’re not apt to bump into anyone you know.
That’ is not the case at the Salt Exchange. This is a popular spot at lunchtime. The dining room is flooded in noontime sun, and the large tables and ample bar offer comfortable dining. Their fixed lunch price of $12 is a good deal and includes a main course with one side, such as soup, salad, mac & cheese and house-made truffled potato chips. On several occasions I’ve had the fish taco, which is topped with chipotle mayo that imparts a formidable zing. Another favorite is their grilled cheese (local aged cheddar) sandwich, which is the best in Portland. It’s christened with a thick slab of apple wood smoked bacon. Order a side of a cup of soup and you have the perfect lunch.
20 Milk Street at the Portland Regency is another option for hotel dining. Here again the tables are large and the chairs are comfortable. At a recent lunch I ordered the seared sesame tuna salad with grilled pineapple. As soon as it arrived I realized I had this dish in the summer on their very pretty outdoor dining terrace. Hark to seasonality! It’s time to change the menu. My friend, who’s a vegetarian, had a Mediterranean wrap, which he liked well enough, but those accompanying fries were the largest I’ve ever seen.
This series on lunch in Greater Portland will appear on successive Mondays for the next several weeks.
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.