The Standard Baking Co. oven as it looked just after it was built in 1999. Photo courtesy of Alison Pray

Standard Baking Co. is giving its almost 22-year-old oven an overdue facelift this week, which is why the business has been closed since Sunday. The bakery, at 75 Commercial St. in Portland, will reopen at 8 a.m. Friday.

The 12-ton gas oven (with steam injection) was built on site in April 1999 by a French mason. The first item ever baked in it was a baguette, according to owners Alison Pray and Matt James. James did a little math in his head and calculated that the oven has baked six million loaves of bread since 1999 – “an exhausting number,” Pray said. (The bakery’s morning buns and other pastries are baked in separate convection ovens.)

Pray and James had thought their products were turning out great at their former bakery on Wharf Street, but when they moved to their Commercial Street location and built this oven, Pray said, “it was like blowing our minds how much more volume the bread got, and the deeper color and a much more substantial crust.”

If they shut the oven off, James said, “it would take between two and three weeks for it all to come down to just the ambient temperature inside the bakery room itself.”

“It’s a beast, but it’s the heart of the bakery,” Pray said. “We do all this work, and nothing would come of it without that beautiful oven. We worship it.”

Satisfy your coffee craving

Botto’s Bakery is making this mini three-layer chocolate cake for Maine Restaurant Week. The cake contains Bella espresso mousse and chocolate covered Bella beans. Photo courtesy Maine Restaurant Week

Maine Restaurant Week began Monday, with 80 restaurants participating with special offers for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and desserts available for curbside pick-up as well as indoor and outdoor dining.

Because of the pandemic, there was no Incredible Breakfast Cook-Off, but Crave – an annual event usually hosted by Coffee By Design at its Diamond Street Roastery – is being staged in a new format this year. Instead of a scheduled event, chefs and bakers are creating menu items that incorporate Coffee By Design coffees and are for sale throughout Restaurant Week, which ends March 12. Voting is canceled – just go out and support these local businesses by sampling.

The bakeries, chocolatiers and chefs have pledged to donate $1 from each purchase to Preble Street, a local nonprofit social services organization. The choices include everything from coffee-cured crispy duck leg at Verbena in South Portland to crunchy hazelnut cake with Coffee By Design Espresso Bella Crema chocolate streusel topping at Gross Confection Bar in Portland.

To see a complete list of participating businesses and their dishes, go to mainerestaurantweek.com and click on events.

Welcome back!

Several restaurants that took winter breaks or have been offering takeout only this winter are opening back up in March, although many are still offering limited hours. Here is a small sampling:

Gather in Yarmouth, which has been offering curbside takeout only (including Ethiopian food from Nivat Catering) since early December, plans to reopen to indoor and heated outdoor dining March 10, and reservations are open now. Takeout hours will be the same, 4 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Indoor and outdoor dining hours will be 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. The restaurant has developed a new spring menu.

North 43 Bistro in South Portland plans to reopen its dining room today. Hours will be noon to 4 p.m. for lunch and 5 p.m. to close Wednesday through Saturday. To view the new dinner menu, go to north43bistro.com. The restaurant is also planning a California wine dinner March 11 and a Spanish wine dinner March 25.

Other Side Diner, at 500 Washington Ave., in Portland will reopen Friday after closing in February. Regular hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

East Ender at 47 Middle St. in Portland, which has been holding a series of pop-ups since it closed dining service in early December, plans to reopen its dining room the last week of March.

According to their websites, the three restaurants owned by longtime Portland restaurateur Dana Street – Fore Street, at 288 Fore St., Scales, at 68 Commercial St., and Street & Co., at 33 Wharf St. – are all reopening for indoor dining Thursday. Check online for hours or to make reservations.

Old Vines Wine Bar, at 173 Port Road, in Kennebunk is reopening for takeout on March 9 and for indoor dining on March 16. The bar will have new items on the menu and will open at 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Taco Trio, at 119 Ocean St., in South Portland will reopen during the second week of March, according to co-owner Karen Rasmussen. The restaurant’s new location in Saco was also slated to open in March, but Rasmussen says work on the space has been going slowly and that a mid-April opening is likely.

Rude awakening

The owners of Swallowtail Farm & Creamery in Whitefield – in normal years a regular at the Portland Farmers’ Market – got quite a shock last week when they woke in the middle of the night to the sound of a tractor with a bucket loader destroying their farm stand, which they have relied upon for income during the pandemic. The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.

The good news is both customers and the local community have rallied to offer financial support, lumber and labor to help them rebuild. A GoFundMe page set up for Lauren and Sean Pignatello had raised almost $25,000 as of Tuesday.

The sweet seat

Maine native Zac Young Photo courtesy of Zac Young

Jon and Susan Young of Falmouth, the parents of celebrity pastry chef Zac Young, have named “multiple” theater seats at the new Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine in honor of their son, according to the theater’s marketing and communications director.

The 30,000-square-foot museum and theater are under construction at Thompson’s Point in Portland, and the capital campaign to fund the project has raised $13.8 million of its $14 million goal. As part of the campaign, people who donate from $1,000 to $2,500 can name a theater seat (higher donations equal better seats).

Zac Young, who grew up in Maine and now lives in Manhattan, said in a statement that as a child, the Children’s Theatre of Maine provided him with a support system, an arts education, and lessons in life skills. “It was the beginning of me finding me,” he said. Young’s first experience at the theater was in third grade.

Young said he still uses the skills he learned at the children’s theater in his career as a pastry chef and food media personality – Young has been featured on Food Network, Netflix and Bravo shows.

“As a pastry chef, when I’m thinking about a new item, I’m thinking about the theatricality of it,” he said. “I’m asking myself if it’s as ‘big’ as I can make it? Can I make it provocative? How can I play with it? I ended up working in food media and, sure, the poise and articulation from theater are important, but that’s just the superficial layer. The real core of it was the personal value that I got. All the messaging that said, ‘You are enough.’ ‘You are respected.’ ‘Trust your instincts.’ ”


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