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The Wrap: Recapping a crazy week, plus cider! cheese! ale!

Portlanders said goodbye to Silly's and Brian Ború, and welcomed back the Crooked Mile Café.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, with another longstanding Portland restaurant and a popular Irish bar both announcing they’re closing their doors for good. Online readers were both forlorn and furious at the news, blaming everything from rumored bad business practices to the quickening changes taking place in the city that clearly make some people uncomfortable. No one likes saying goodbye to old haunts filled with good memories.

First Colleen Kelley, the owner of Silly’s at 40 Washington Ave., announced she’ll be closing the 31-year-old restaurant at 4 p.m. Sunday. In a long social media post, Kelley blamed “the new hipster artisan Washington Avenue that I really don’t fit into anymore,” then followed it up with what was surely the most talked-about quote of the week:

“I am smart enough to know my business model won’t work in a city destined to be Seattle, which isn’t meant to be a slam it is just my opinion of where Portland is going,” Kelley wrote. “I don’t want anything but wonderful things for Portland, Maine, I have enjoyed many years here. However, I am a fat woman who serves fat, over-portioned food and I won’t charge 24.00 dollars for 4 oz of dip and some pita bread.”

Daniel Steele, owner of Brian Boru, closed the popular pub earlier this week. Photo by Ben McCanna

Next came Daniel Steele’s announcement in the wee hours of last Friday morning that he would be closing Brian Ború, founded in 1993. The Irish Pub on Center Street hosted one last evening of revelry Sunday evening before serving its last Guinness at 1 a.m. Monday.

In the midst of all the mourning by customers of Silly’s and Brian Ború (not to mention Lolita, which will be closing Sept.2), Bird Dog Roadhouse in Cape Elizabeth, owned by Paul Woods, announced on its website and social media that it is hitting the “pause button” for a while. The reason for the presumed-temporary closure? The same staffing shortage that is afflicting restaurants all over Maine.

“We are not closing,” the post read. “We have a beautiful restaurant, a wonderful location and fantastic guests. Our business is sound. All of our employees and vendors are paid. We are simply pausing restaurant service operations until proper staffing levels can be achieved, which we anticipate will occur sometime in the fall.”

The restaurant cited record low unemployment figures for Maine, including a report in the Portland Press Herald about preliminary data for July that shows the unemployment rate at or near historic lows of 3 percent. Bird Dog Roadhouse posted an ad for a pizza maker this summer, offering $18 to $20 an hour, and “not one qualified candidate replied.” The post also noted that affordable housing and transportation issues for kitchen workers “actually played a surprising role this year as seen in the difficulty attracting staff to work in Cape despite paying wages far above typical rates.”

Meanwhile, a happy re-opening

Ready for good news? Nearly two years after a car ran into the Crooked Mile Café on Brighton Avenue in Portland, the sandwich shop re-opened last week. The café is open 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Chefs show their love for Portland

Watch for two special chef-driven events coming in September. ChefsFeed Indie Week, a national dinner series that flies chefs to food-loving cities to cook in local restaurants, is slated to come to Portland for the first time, on Sept. 5, 6 and 8. A dozen chefs from all over the country will join a dozen local chefs at Lio, Cara Stadler’s restaurant on Spring Street, to cook three 12-course dinners. To see a full list of chefs, prices and other details, or to buy tickets, go to chefsfeedindieweek.com 

The second event launches Sept. 26 at BlueFin North Atlantic Seafood in the Portland Harbor Hotel on Fore Street. Maine Meets Miami is a series of pop-up dinners featuring Miami-based chefs cooking with the hotel’s executive chef, Gil Plaster. First up is Michael Beltran of Ariete Coconut Grove, who will be preparing a five-course dinner with wine pairings. The dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. and costs $125. Future participants include Top Chef Season 13 winner Jeremy Ford of Afishinado and Stubborn Seed. Make reservations at brownpapertickets.com

Gil Plaster, chef at BlueFin North Atlantic Seafood at the Portland Harbor Hotel Photo courtesy of Portland Harbor Hotel

You may have heard about a third event, “The Secret Supper,” a dinner series organized by an “experiential dining” company of the same name in the Pacific Northwest. The Secret Supper is coming to Portland for the first time Saturday to kick off a seven-city series sponsored by tequila maker Roca Patrón. The location of the five-course dinner and the menu are kept secret until the last minute, although the company has announced that Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor, chef/owners of Eventide Oyster Co., will be the chefs in charge of the Maine dinner. Tickets cost $199, and the proceeds benefit The Savory Institute, which works to regenerate the world’s grasslands.

Unfortunately for you, dear reader, the Maine event has sold out. If you really, really want to go, the next dinners in the Roca Patrón series will be held in Detroit; Denver; Santa Fe, New Mexico, Monterey, California; New Orleans and Guadalajara, Mexico. Happy travels.

A chef shift at Browne Trading

Justin Smulski is the new chef in the kitchen at the Browne Trading Co. retail market on Commercial Street in Portland. Smulski previously worked at Scales and Fore Street, said Rod Mitchell, owner of Browne Trading. Tracy Banks is the new market manager.

Stop by and sip some cider

The Cider House at 28 Brackett St. in Portland is holding a grand opening from 4-9 p.m. Thursday, owner Michael Vassallo said. Maine cider makers will be there to host tastings.

Cheeseheads, take note

The Maine Cheese Guild’s annual cheese festival will be held at Manson Park, 51 Peltoma Ave., in Pittsfield this year. Twenty artisanal cheese makers will be on hand to offer samples and sell cheeses made from cow, goat, sheep and even buffalo milk.

The festival, which runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., includes a tent on the Sebasticook River, where Maine beer, wine, spirits and cider will be available to sample. Five food trucks will also be on site.

Tickets are available online at mainecheeseguild.org. General admission is $20.

Beer and ale in colonial New England

What’s the difference between beer and and ale? Why did the Mayflower end its voyage when it ran out of beer? Find out Sept. 14 when the Tate House Museum in Portland and Mast Landing Brewing Co. in Westbrook host an encore of last year’s exploration of colonial beer and ale and the role they played in New England in the 18th and 19th centuries. The event begins with a 3 p.m. “beer-focused tour” of the Tate House Museum, followed by a 4:30 p.m. beer tasting at Mast Landing and a lecture by Emerson “Tad” Baker, a professor of history at Salem State University. Tickets cost $35 (or $30 for museum members) for the both the museum and brewery events; a brewery-only ticket costs $25. The event is a fundraiser for the museum, which is located at 1267 Westbrook St. in Stroudwater.

Talking food in Maine

Cherie Scott will host a series of culinary talks in Damariscotta. Photo courtesy of Cherie Scott

This fall, the Lincoln Theater, 2 Theater St., in Damariscotta will hold a series of intimate conversations about Maine food with “notable culinary pioneers.”

The series, which is free, launches with Melissa Kelly, owner and executive chef of Primo in Rockland, on Sept. 26. Other scheduled guests are Kerry Altiero, chef/owner of  Café Miranda and Hospitality Maine’s 2019 chef of the year, on Oct. 24; James Beard Award-winning food writer, cookbook author and South Berwick resident Kathy Gunst on Nov. 21; Leigh Kellis, the founder of Holy Donuts, on Feb. 13; and Luke Holden and Ben Conniff of Luke’s Lobster restaurants on March 12. The talks start at 7 p.m.

Cherie Scott, of the culinary blog MumbaitoMaine.com and an expert on regional Indian cuisine, will host. For more information, visit lcct.org or call the theater at (207) 563-3424.

 

 


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