December 15, 2011

Eat and Run: The Thirsty Pig, Portland

Nothing could be swiner: You'll love both the local brews and the ummyay oodfay.

From staff reports

The Thirsty Pig in Portland is a great place to pop in and grab some delicious homemade sausages and a local beer.

click image to enlarge

Kate Pierce, right, serves a Sausage Chili Bomb to Tony Ries at The Thirsty Pig in Portland.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


WHERE: 37 Exchange St., Portland; 773-2469

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Wednesday; 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

CHEAPEST GRUB: Classic Dog, $3.50; add a second dog for $2

WAIT: 5 minutes

PARKING: On street only


RATING: *****

Based on a five-star scale

At least, that's the word on the street. Literally.

As I was walking into The Thirsty Pig late one brisk afternoon, I overhead a couple raving about the place as they passed by. I have also read a lot of good things about this little restaurant that took over the space once occupied by Linda Bean's Perfect Maine.

The kudos are well deserved. By the time I finished my meal and headed back out into the cold, I couldn't figure out why this place wasn't packed with people taking a break from their Christmas shopping.

The simple menu features a dozen choices of sausages, hot dogs and other fare, plus whatever specials are on for the night. The night I stopped by, it was a $5 bowl of chili made with all of the restaurant's sausages -- just in case you can't make up your mind.

My server was patient, helpful and very friendly. I truly had a hard time making up my mind. Should I go for the classic hot or sweet Italian sausages, or try something different like the Greek Chicken sausage ($6.75), seasoned with feta, spinach and tomato and topped with pickled red onions and feta?

Or should I try the Lithuanian Kielbasa ($6.50), a pork sausage seasoned with garlic, parsley and yellow mustard seed, steamed in Shipyard Export Ale, and topped with sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard?

In the end, I went with the BBQ Banger ($6.50), a pork sausage seasoned with onion, barbecue sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and topped with barbecue sauce and caramelized onions.

The barbecue sauce in the sausage, which came nestled in an Italian roll, made it incredibly moist and flavorful. Should you decide you want more heat, there are bottles of hot sauce on the table -- Frank's, Texas Pete's and some sriracha.

The menu lists a choice of coleslaw or a side of the day, but there was no side dish available when I visited, so the choice was coleslaw or potato chips. It would have been nice to have a little side of baked beans as an alternative to the coleslaw, since I'm not a huge coleslaw fan. But I have to admit that The Thirsty Pig's coleslaw is well done and not overdressed.

To wash it down, I had a Blue Fin Stout, which is what the menu suggests as a pairing for the BBQ Banger. Every sausage has suggestions for beer pairings, and if you go during happy hour. you'll have your choice of $2.50 Shipyard drafts. If you'd rather have soda or iced tea, it's $2, and they come with free refills.

All of the sausages can be ordered on mixed greens for $1 more. There are hot dogs for the kids, a veggie dog for the vegetarian in your group, and if you just don't care for sausage, the menu includes clam chowder ($4.95), a lobster salad ($12.95), a spicy Bloody Mary shrimp roll ($8.95) and Linda Bean's lobster roll ($15.50). (The lobster roll is apparently still on the menu because The Thirsty Pig is subletting the space from Bean.)

The space is warm and cozy, with lots of red brick and wood paneling. Yes, there are some TVs around the bar for sports fans, but the sound is kept off, and the music playing in the background is not too loud. On a trip to the ladies' room, someone had written on a big mirror "You Look Beautiful!" and the sign above the sink asked hogs to remember to wash their hooves. That made me smile.

Please, people, check this place out. It would be a shame to lose an affordable place that isn't a chain and that serves well-made fare in the Old Port.

The Features staff of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram anonymously samples meals for about $7.


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