January 3, 2013

Eat and Run: Rosie's, Portland

Want good beer, delicious food and great service in the Old Port? Then this is the place you've got to try.

Much has been written about Rosie's Restaurant and Pub over the years. It's hard to add too much to the discourse that hasn't been said before.

click image to enlarge

Rosie’s bartender Barbie Asali visits with Jamie Hilton of Falmouth, left, and Peter Doyon of Cape Elizabeth.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer


WHERE: 330 Fore St., Portland; www.rosies-oldport.com, 772-5656

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday to Saturday; noon to midnight Sunday

CHEAPEST GRUB: $4.50 for a cup of soup; $4.95 for clam cakes; $6.95 for a grilled cheese sandwich

WAIT: Mere seconds for beer, 10 to 15 minutes for food

PARKING: It's the Old Port. What do you expect? On the street.

HANDICAPPED ACCESSIBLE: There's a small step up.

RATING: ★★★★

Because of that, I'll start with a personal story.

For many years, a friend and I met at Rosie's in the Old Port at least once a month for after-work drinks that also usually involved dinner. We sat at the same table, ordered the same beer and always enjoyed the service of the same waitress.

As it has for many people, Rosie's became our regular pub. We appreciated the familiarity of the place, the casual nature of the space and the friendliness of the staff. The quality of the food and beer selection were givens, but not our motivating factor for going there. We just liked the place and how we were treated.

We walked in the door, and more often than not, our beer was waiting for us by the time we reached our table -- certainly before we settled in. We never had to tell our waitress what we wanted. She knew: A 20-ounce Hooker Brown Ale from Gritty McDuff's.

Because of various circumstances -- he got a job out of town that affected his schedule, my life changed in other ways -- we stopped our routine a couple of years ago. We still go to Rosie's when we go out, but we are not regulars anymore.

I am happy to report that we are not forgotten, either.

The night of the snowstorm last week, I went to Rosie's solo. I walked in, the waitress said "hi," and by the time I shook off my jacket and took a seat at the bar, I had my 20-ounce Hooker waiting for me.

There is no other way to describe that other than great service.

Rosie's is a Portland institution because it is consistently friendly and unpretentious. It's not a sport bar, but there are sports on TV when there is a game worth watching. It's not a fine-dining establishment, but the food is excellent. It doesn't have the city's largest selection of craft beers, but the beers are good and the selection plentiful.

Last Thursday, the place was mostly empty. The storm took a toll on business, and I had most of the bar to myself. The TV nearest me was tuned to the Weather Channel, and I engaged in easy conversation with the barkeep about the parking ban, the snow-covered sidewalks and the quality of the clam chowder.

I took him up on his assertion that the chowder was indeed thick and richly endowed with potatoes and clams, and ordered a cup ($4.50) as an appetizer, along with a patty melt ($9.50).

The clam chowder decision was easy. I was given a small tasting sample to ensure I would like it.

The patty melt decision was not as easy.

I debated a grilled chicken sandwich, which is what I usually order; a burger, which I had the week before Christmas when I was out with other friends for lunch (and loved); the haddock sandwich, which I recall as fresh and tasty from a previous experience; and a variety of pasta dishes, which I have never ordered at Rosie's but always wondered about.

I opted for the patty melt, because I could not resist the temptation of a burger served on grilled marble rye with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and Thousand Island dressing.

The sandwich was perfect, and I do mean perfect. The meat was cooked medium as ordered, the cheese was perfectly melted, the onions tasty but not overwhelming, and the dressing dolloped in just the right amount to add flavor but not destroy the structure of the sandwich.

But the key to the success was the marble rye bread. It was grilled to a stiffness that provided enough substance to hold the sandwich together, and was still chewy.

Better still, it wasn't at all greasy. I savored this sandwich, and took my time eating to enjoy its nuances.

The patty melt was served with fries and a pickle spear. The fries were so-so. They were a little soft for my taste, and a little dry. But I still ate them all.

The clam chowder appetizer was all that I hoped it would be. I like my chowder creamy, and this was that. The clams were plentiful, and the potatoes thickly cubed. I do not know how it was spiced, but I appreciated that the spices did not overtake the taste of the clams or the cream.

I also appreciated that I was given three bags of oyster crackers -- two more than I needed, but I ate every last one.

I departed after a second beer, happy and content.

Rosie, you're still all right. 

The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $10.


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