You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a restaurant by its clientele.

Or in this case, a market. Specifically, Moran’s Market on outer Forest Avenue in Portland near the Westbrook line.

I stopped by last Friday in the middle of what was shaping up as a fairly busy day at work. Aside from the aroma of food that I smelled as soon as I stepped out of my car curbside, the first thing I noticed were all the guys entering and exiting the market. Not just guys, but working guys – guys in thermal overalls, guys with tool belts, guys with hard hats. Burly, bearded guys who like to eat.

Like me.

Here’s another way to judge a market: If it prices food by the pound instead by some predetermined serving size, you know you can bulk up. At Moran’s, the hot bar costs $4.75 per pound. I loaded up a pound-and-a-quarter of some of the best home-cooked food you can find for this price anywhere in Portland.

I stuffed my to-go container with a serving of (in order of preference): Goulash, thinly sliced roast pork with gravy and vegetables, and chicken with rice. I skipped the ribs, but only because I planned to eat in my car and didn’t want the hassle of eating with my hands and then grabbing the steering wheel without a chance to clean up.

Just to ease my gastro guilt, I also left room for a very small salad with light (ha!) Italian dressing.
Along with a piece of pumpkin pie and a slice of buttered Italian bread, the sum total of my haul was $7.70. As nice as the price was, the food was just as good.

While I thought the goulash was a little bland and light on the ground beef, I was absolutely delighted by the chicken and rice. The small bits of chicken were tender and spicy, and the rice retained a surprising amount of moisture.

The pork and gravy also tasted very good. I appreciated the fresh veggies that were part of the mix, especially the crunchy carrots.

Each weekday at Moran’s, the hot bar features different specialties. A co-worker drools over the shepherd’s pie that’s featured on Monday. On Tuesday, it’s meatball, noodles and gravy. Wednesday generally features a lot of pasta, and Thursday often brings roast turkey or chicken, along with meatloaf.

If the hot bar is a bit too stout, Moran’s also has a sandwich counter and grill.

No wonder the guys keep coming back. I can’t imagine doing an afternoon of manual labor feeling as stuffed as I felt after my meal. I just about fell asleep at my desk.

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

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