David Izenstatt, owner of Izzy’s Cheesecake, loads cream cheese into a mixer in 1998. Izzy’s is closing after 35 years. Staff file photo

If you are a Portlander of a certain age, you will likely recall a time when just about every restaurant in Portland listed Izzy’s Cheesecake on the menu. And if your age is at the younger end of the spectrum, it’s just as likely you’ve never had a bite of Izzy’s Maine blueberry swirl or Guinness mocha, given all the dessert choices we now have in the city.

That’s too bad, because last week David “Izzy” Izenstatt announced he was closing the business he founded in 1985. Izenstatt attributed the abrupt closure to “changing market conditions.”

In the mid-90s, Izenstatt had “virtually cornered Portland’s cheesecake market,” as my colleague, Ray Routhier, wrote in a 1994 profile of the chef-turned-cheesecake baker. “His desserts are advertised by name on the menus of dozens of restaurants.”

Izenstatt, a Deadhead who traveled to Grateful Dead concerts all over the country, once worked out a sweet deal with the band to provide them with cheesecakes in exchange for tickets to their shows. The arrangement fell through when Jerry Garcia started watching his weight. Izenstatt told the Press Herald he could have continued supplying cheesecakes to the Dead if he’d been willing to make a healthier version, but he was “philosophically opposed to low-cal cheesecake. I figure if you don’t want the calories, don’t eat it.”

Izenstatt worked out of small bakery and storefront at 135 Walton St. in Portland. The business expanded in 2016, selling mini cheesecakes in more than 200 grocery stores, including Hannaford and Whole Foods, and in restaurants around New England. Those decadent cheesecakes were worth every calorie, and will be missed, along with this slice of Portland food history.

New restaurant for Rosemont 

Chef Ryan Hickman plates carrot risotto with goat cheese, mint and cardamom. Photo courtesy of The Knotted Apron

The Knotted Apron, the restaurant that’s taken over the former JP’s Bistro location at 496 Woodford St. in Portland, had a soft opening over the weekend, quietly feeding a limited crowd so it could fine-tune its menu and service. It’s expected to officially open to the public Thursday.

A neighborhood bistro, The Knotted Apron serves American, French and Italian cuisine. Chef Ryan Hickman, who lives just one street over from his new gig, worked at the Chebeague Island Inn last summer. Before that, he ran the Pine Point Grille in Scarborough and was a sous chef at Bay Bay Grill in Portland. His menu for The Knotted Apron, which you can see in full on knottedapron.com, includes appetizers such as crab cakes and duck rillettes, and entrees such as farm-raised salmon and braised lamb pappardelle.

Kate Harvey, Hickman’s business partner, will be the general manager.

The Knotted Apron is set to open tomorrow. Photo courtesy of The Knotted Apron

Hickman says he freshened up the 34-seat restaurant (with an additional 12 seats on the patio during summer) before opening. The biggest change? The space now has an open kitchen, so if you sit at the bar, you can watch the chef at work.

Hours will be 4-10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Brunch will be served 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Oh, and a P.S.: JP’s Bistro is now open in its new location at 409 Route 1 in Falmouth. Hours are 4-9:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and 4-10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The restaurant is closed Sunday and Monday.

Local food from cow to crustacean

The much-anticipated Brunswick restaurant, Maine St. Steak & Oyster at 148 Maine St., plans a soft opening Thursday through Saturday. The public is invited, but the restaurant won’t be taking reservations, according to Kim Lully, who co-owns the place with her husband, Sunny Chung, and business partners Tony Pastor and Sarabeth Gabrielson. Lully and Chung also own Yobo, a Korean restaurant in Portland.

The official opening is scheduled for next Tuesday. The classic menu features local oysters (including Oysters Rockefeller) and littleneck clams, and entrees ranging from burgers and grilled arctic char to a selection of steaks (from local pasture-raised beef).

Maine St. Steak & Oyster’s hours will be 4-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.  Happy hours will be held every weeknight from 4-5 p.m. For now, the restaurant will be closed on Sundays and Mondays.

So many openings, you’d think it’s June

Wilson County Barbecue is now open at 82 Hanover St. in Portland. I’m looking forward to the collard greens, hush puppies and cheese grits. And biscuits with sausage gravy. And fried catfish. And banana puddin’… you get the idea. I’m plotting my first visit now with another transplant from the South. (The smoked lobster doesn’t sound too bad, either.)

Coming soon to Waterville

Briana and Andrew Volk, owners of the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, are expanding to Waterville. They plan to open Verna’s All Day in late 2020, which they describe as “a casual, classic American chop house” with local foods and classic cocktails. The new restaurant, named after Briana Volk’s grandmother, is part of an effort by Colby College to revitalize Waterville and lure food businesses there.

Brunch at The Garrison

The Garrison in Yarmouth plans to start serving Sunday brunch (no reservations) on March 1, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Chef/owner Christian Hayes says the brunch menu will consist of tartines, French toast, sandwiches, salads, fruit and shakshuka, a trendy Middle Eastern dish of poached eggs simmered in spicy tomato sauce. Diners will be able to enjoy a full bar and specialty brunch drinks.

Chef summit

Chefs, harvesters, mixologists, bakers and other “culinary innovators” are gathering this week for the 5th Annual Chef Summit in Portland and Newry. The program is geared toward professionals, but organizers say “adventurous home cooks” are also welcome.

The sessions, to be held Wednesday and Thursday at Portland’s O’Maine Studios, 54 Danforth St., include demos on fermentation, plant-based cooking, charcuterie, and open fire and wood oven cooking. The summit concludes Saturday night with a grand tasting at the Jordan Hotel, 27 Grand Circle, at Sunday River in Newry.

The Wednesday and Thursday sessions also include tastings, producer showcases and talks. A two-day pass costs $140, or you can buy tickets to individual workshops and the nightly tastings ($35 to $75). The Saturday night event, which features mostly Maine chefs plus a smattering from New York and Quebec, costs $75. Buy tickets online at tastemaine.com.

Beer stats

Every January, Zach Poole, founder of Brew Bus Tours (the company that owns the Maine Brew Bus and the Rhode Island Brew Bus businesses), compiles data from the previous year and shares it with followers. In 2019, the Maine buses took just over 6,500 people on a tour. The highest percentage of those craft brew drinkers (33 percent) were from Massachusetts and about half were 26 to 35 years old.

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