Another offbeat food niche in Portland is about to be filled – hoagies and other mid-Atlantic-style sandwiches.

Chad Conley, owner of Rose Foods in Portland and co-owner of the Palace Diner in Biddeford, plans to open a breakfast and lunch sandwich shop to be called Ramona’s at 98 Washington Ave., the former home of Flying Fox Juice Bar. The idea, he said, came from an employee at Rose Foods, Josh Sobel, who is from Philadelphia.

“He came to me and said ‘I want to do hoagies – Philly and mid-Atlantic-style sandwiches – and I want to know if you want to work together on it,” Conley said.

Lest you think this might replace what was lost when the 5 Spot on Congress Street closed, Conley says they won’t be able to make a Philadelphia cheesesteak at Ramona’s because the new space has no hood. (The space will undergo minor renovations before the planned March opening.) A more typical menu item will be the classic Philadelphia roast pork sandwich with provolone and broccoli raab on a seeded hoagie roll. You can taste that sandwich at a pop-up from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Portland Zoo, 41 Fox St.

Seating at Ramona’s will be limited, with just seven seats inside and bench seating outside, but Conley noted that “it’s not the kind of place where people are going to sit down for an hour and eat their meal.”

And why is it called Ramona’s? Conley said his mother-in-law’s name is Mona. He added the Ra to make it sound more Italian, and to match the R in Rose Foods.

Elda to expand

Warm crab with scrambled egg, crab chili foam and carrots at Elda. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In summertime, especially, it can be tough to seat a party of six at Elda, the 37-seat (including the bar) upscale Main Street restaurant in Biddeford that former Salt Lake City chef Bowman Brown launched in late 2017. And there’s definitely no room to grow. That’s why Brown plans to move Elda to a refurbished building on the Pepperell Mill campus in early summer.

Brown has leased Building 19A, where he’s installing a large kitchen, adding a prep kitchen and pouring new floors among other renovations. The new Elda, on the building’s second floor, will have 48 seats plus four at the bar. Brown plans to open a bakery and cafe on the first floor, and – possibly in 2021 – a second, more casual restaurant on the third floor, perhaps “something akin to a yakitori bar.” The Pepperell Mill gave him a “progressive lease” so that he only pays rent on the parts of the building he’s using.

“Instead of just doing a lot more business at Elda and changing the spirit of the place too much,” he said, “we thought we’d do something that doesn’t compete but brings in a different slice of that market pie.”

Brown expects the new Elda, along with the cafe and bakery, to open at the end of June. For now, he’ll use some of the third-floor space as a private dining room for Elda for large dining parties and special events. “We have no capacity for that currently,” Brown said. “We really struggle when we get groups of six or more.”

The menu format at Elda will remain the same, with diners choosing between a la carte options or a four-course chef’s choice menu. As for the current Elda space, “We hope somebody takes it and does something interesting there,” Brown said. “It’s a great start-up location.”

Brown admits that along with his success in Biddeford, he has had plenty of challenges and frustrations. But although staying in Utah might have been easier, he felt his creativity had stagnated. “If I had stayed, I wouldn’t have learned some of the lessons I’ve learned about being a better chef and better business owner,” he said.

Lucky for us, he chose Maine.

Brews and bowling

Sea Dog Brewing Co. has opened its second South Portland location – and you can bowl! Photo courtesy of Three Rivers Marketing

Hey beer lovers, tired of cornhole? Last week, Sea Dog Brewing Co. unveiled its new South Portland brew pub in the former home of Easy Day Bowling Center at 725 Broadway, overlooking the Fore River. It features 10 bowling lanes, a bar and a dining room.

“One thing people don’t talk about a lot is that breweries have been creating family-friendly spaces around the state, so I think this is a great way to continue that forward,” Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, said in a news release.

The menu includes bar food, sandwiches, salads, fish and chips, burgers and pizza. Happy hour is from 3 to 6 p.m., and outdoor seating will be available in the summer.

Arrivederci, Azure Cafe

Azure Cafe, the Freeport restaurant that served seafood and Italian classics for 17 years, has closed.

The restaurant, at 123 Main St., served its last dinner Sunday. Jonas and Kate Werner founded Azure just two doors down from L.L. Bean in 2003. The Werners cited issues with the lease renewal: “We have worked in earnest, together with our landlord, to find a way forward to a new lease term. We were both asking for something the other could not give. There is no one to blame and no hard feelings. This was our decision.”

The Werners are known for their community service and charitable giving. In 2003, the couple founded the annual Freeport Community Thanksgiving Dinner, which serves a free Thanksgiving Day dinner to the public at the Freeport Community Center.

Seconds on Seaweed Week

Union, in the Press Hotel, served smoked salmon tartine for breakfast during last year’s Maine Seaweed Week.

Last year’s Seaweed Week celebration saw top Maine chefs making creative bites such as smoked salmon tartine served with pickled sugar kelp and kombu “everything spice,” and bartenders mixing seaweed-infused gin cocktails like The Mermaid’s Garden. This year, the festival is expanding with more “sea vegetables” on local menus, and more chefs, bars and restaurants signing on. The second annual Seaweed Week will take place April 24-May 2. Newcomers include Công Tử Bột, Gross Confection Bar, Luke’s Lobster, MDI Ice Cream and Vinland.

Seaweed Week, founded by Josh Rogers, the owner of Heritage Seaweed in Portland, coincides with the Maine kelp harvest. Maine has 35 seaweed farms, more than any other state, as well as the most diverse seaweed crop, according to the University of Maine Sea Grant program.

A key event will be a panel discussion on “Entrepreneurship in the Blue Economy.” Other activities include a kelp farm tour in Casco Bay, tastings and beach walks focusing on species identification. For updates and a list of events and participating restaurants, go to seaweedweek.org.

Helping hand  

Coastal Enterprises Inc. has announced its next class of Tastemakers, a group of budding food and beverage entrepreneurs who will receive help expanding their businesses and reaching new markets: Maine Cap N Stem in Gardiner; Ocean Approved Inc. (doing business as Atlantic Sea Farms); Glidden Point Oyster Co. in Edgecomb; Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections in Freeport; Commonwealth Poultry in Gardiner; Bigelow Brewing Company in Skowhegan; and Aurora Mills and Farm in Linneus.

The Tastemakers Initiative is a partnership between CEI and FocusMaine aimed at developing Maine’s food economy. The program is now in its third year. Each Tastemaker is eligible for up to $15,000 for consulting on a strategic growth opportunity; up to $8,000 for facility design, engineering and permitting; up to 30 hours of consulting with CEI’s Workforce Development team; up to $5,000 to coordinate supply chain planning with Maine producers; and an opportunity to showcase their products in Boston.

Eat, drink, vote

Two of the state’s best-known brands – Sebago Brewing Co. and Hannaford Supermarkets – have teamed up with Cafe Miranda in Rockland to host a food competition to benefit culinary students.

The public is invited to “Maine Grown Chefs,” a tasting on March 4 at the Sebago Brewing Co. brewery, 616 Main St. in Gorham. Proceeds from the event will go to the culinary arts program at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield. To prepare for the competition, four teams of two student chefs each have been working with chef mentors to develop recipes that go with craft beer.

Ticket holders will vote on their favorite pairings. The winning dish will be featured on the menus at Sebago Brewing and Cafe Miranda later this year. Tickets cost $45. Buy them at sebagobrewing.com.


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