When it looked like we’d be staying at home for a while, I did what you might expect a food writer with a passion for baking to do: I bought yeast. Not just a few packets, but two, one-pound blocks of vacuum-sealed SAF yeast that I scored from an online retailer.

I got gouged in the process, paying twice what I regularly do. Sure, I was relieved to have secured the future of my entire neighborhood’s loaves, but getting ripped off never feels good.

I ought to have waited.

As flour, eggs, even unsalted butter vanished from supermarket shelves, they have continued (for the most part) to arrive as normal to restaurants – sometimes as part of long-standing distributor contracts that mean 15-gallon drums of frying oil and 40-pound boxes of sliced radishes keep showing up, whether customers do or not.

Over the past three months, restaurants across the nation have stepped in to share their wholesale access to scarce commodities. Selling groceries direct to the public keeps food from spoiling and provides restaurants with a source of revenue. Sometimes it is enough to keep them from shutting their doors forever.

Had I been more patient in my quest for yeast, I could have bought it from five different restaurant-grocers in Portland alone. Now when I need rosemary or chicken thighs, my first stop isn’t to gear up in a mask and stress myself out with a trip to Shaw’s or Whole Foods. Instead, I hop on Instagram and check out what my neighborhood bistro has in its walk-in.

Especially when it comes to meat, dairy and produce, the quality of the provisions for sale is often higher than what you’d find in a supermarket, thanks to the relationships these businesses build with farmers and suppliers. After all, chefs are frequently pickier consumers than we are.

This week marks the first installment in an occasional series called Dinner Plus One. In each, I’ll explore these new restaurant-grocery hybrids and find ways you can turn a single order from one of these unique food businesses into two complete dinners: one takeout, the other homemade.

It’s hard to imagine a better place to start than at Local 188. Nearly four years ago, I called Jay Villani’s first restaurant “a Portland institution.” For more than 20 years it has been the hottest spot in town for brunch, and its kitchen and bar have acted as a launching pad for some of the state’s most exciting cooks and bartenders. Local 188 is the scrappy sort of restaurant you’d expect to tough its way through the current crisis.

Like many of its peers, Local 188 has been offering curbside-pickup takeout meals over the spring. And just like other restaurants around the world, its menu has shifted in the process. But Villani’s menu alterations have been subtler than the radical species of reboot that transformed Copenhagen’s Noma into a cheeseburger joint.

These days, in place of its fairly faithful Spanish menu, Local 188 serves dishes animated by a broader, more eclectic Mediterranean perspective. It’s a creative menu that, through tiny acts of rebellion, shows off Villani’s playful side.

The Local 188 flan is on the menu both in normal times and now for take-out. Don’t pass it up. Photo by Andrew Ross

He treads lightly in places, like with a traditional Provencal-style salad ($11) of toasted hazelnuts, hydroponic Bibb lettuce and lush, slightly funky dollops of goat cheese from Sunset Acres Farm in Brooksville. And his flan ($6) is the same, strawberry-topped confection that (deservedly) has been on Local 188’s menu since it opened.

But explore further, and you’ll discover the family-style portion of risotto ($18), a classic, light Italian rice dish Villani defiantly bullies into a hearty entrée with thick slices of zucchini and onion, pecorino and tender shreds of stock-braised Dogpatch Farms pork shoulder. It’s both unexpected and hard to stop eating.

Takeout from Local 188 includes this Bibb lettuce salad with French lentils and Manchego. Photo by Andrew Ross

You might not predict such a dish would work in harmony with a Bibb lettuce salad strewn with spoonfuls of savory, steamed French lentils and shaved Manchego cheese ($11) or a fillet of za’atar-spiced, pan-seared local haddock ($22) served atop custardy housemade hummus and plump, Israeli couscous pearls, but it does just that.

“There has always been a little bit of a Mediterranean or North African influence there on the menu,” Villani said. “The Moors brought that stuff into Spain, so it’s heavily rooted. And I love cooking like in the Sam and Sam (both Clark) style from Moro in London. I always go back to their cookbook. That style also works with the ingredients we’re getting in for our menu.”

Almost all of those same ingredients are available for purchase through what Villani has dubbed Grocer 188. What began at the start of the lockdown as a casual arrangement with employees, letting them purchase leftover inventory has since become a crucial second source of income for Local 188.

“It’s a win-win,” Villani said. “I just got some really great halibut from a fisherman from Rockland. If I can sell half in retail, I’m not losing any money, and maybe I can keep somebody from standing in line at Hannaford’s. It works out, and the point of this grand experiment isn’t to get rich. It’s just not losing money. This is just helping me keep the lights on.”

Available for takeout, Local 188’s risotto, with zucchini, onion, pecorino and braised pork shoulder makes a good, hearty meal. Photo by Andrew Ross

Grocer 188’s offerings skew Mediterranean, as you might expect. But there are a few surprises, including corn tortillas ($7 for 90), house-made beef jerky ($4/2 oz.) and nearly impossible-to-find cake flour ($6/5 lb. bag).

Inspired by Villani’s new menu, I embraced 188’s leitmotif and made a second Mediterranean-style meal from supplies available there – everything from lemons ($1/ea.) to a whole chicken from Common Wealth Poultry in Gardiner ($5.25/lb., 3.5 lb. average size). With one exception: While herbs are available at Grocer 188, you’ll need to either source spices elsewhere or contact Villani to place a special request in advance.

My second meal takes about an hour to prepare and begins with a salad of Olivia’s Garden Salanova Mixed Greens ($6.50 /8 oz.) dressed with a simple lemon-tahini dressing. Whisk together equal parts tahini ($8.50/ 16 oz. jar) and olive oil ($22/ 3 liters) with a few tablespoons fresh lemon juice, minced or grated garlic ($3/4 oz. of peeled garlic), salt, freshly cracked black pepper ($6/oz.), and a pinch of sugar to taste. If the dressing is too thin, add a bit more lemon juice or very cold water and whisk.

A bright, nutty salad works to balance the spice (and heat) from the main dish: my riff on Melissa Clark’s spice-rubbed spatchcocked chicken recipe. It has become one of my favorite lockdown dishes (I even mentioned it in a previous column), and with the top-quality poultry from Grocery 188, it’s even better.

The recipe feeds four adults (or two with enough left over to shred and serve the next afternoon on toasted Wolferman’s English muffins ($4.50/6). Order the English muffins regardless. You won’t regret it.)

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of three recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at: [email protected]

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

Mediterranean-spiced Roasted Chicken with Carrots
If you have never spatchcocked a chicken, there is an excellent video tutorial here: bit.ly/2UsG8sB. Save or freeze the backbone to use for stock. You can replace the Aleppo pepper with ½ teaspoon gochugaru or a ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes.

Serves 4

CHICKEN:
1 whole chicken, patted dry
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
Optional but strongly recommended: 1 teaspoon Urfa biber or crushed ancho chiles
Flat-leaf/Italian parsley, roughly chopped, for garnish
Fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish
Lemon or lime wedges, for serving

ROASTED CARROTS:
4-5 carrots ($1/lb.)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, quartered
2 sprigs thyme ($1/1/2 oz.)
Lemon or lime wedge, for serving

To make the chicken, spatchcock (butterfly) the chicken by removing the backbone with poultry or kitchen shears.

Using a fork or small whisk, mix together the sugar, salt, and spices. Reserve about a tablespoon for the carrots.

Rub the rest of the spice mixture onto the chicken, using about 1/3 of it for the underside and 2/3 for the skin side.

Place the chicken skin-side up on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate it to dry out the surface of the bird. This will take at least 2 hours, but can be done up to 24 hours in advance. The drier the skin, the crispier it will be when it cooks.

About an hour before you are ready to cook, preheat your oven to 425 F.

To make the carrots, quarter carrots lengthwise or cut into rough chunks about ¾” long. Toss with the olive oil, garlic, thyme leaves and the reserved spice mix. Arrange in 2 portions along the side borders of the rimmed baking sheet, being careful to make sure the carrots do not touch the chicken.

Roast the chicken until its juices run clear and an instant-read thermometer reads 160 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of the breast, anywhere from 35-50 minutes.

Remove from the oven, tent with aluminum foil and allow chicken to rest for about 10 minutes before separating chicken into quarters (2 breasts, 2 thigh/leg pieces). Sprinkle with chopped parsley and mint, and serve with lemon or lime wedges squeezed over the chicken and carrots.


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