Emilitsa, the go-to spot in Portland for sophisticated Greek food since 2008, closed after the holidays because of the pandemic. The owners left an outgoing phone message making a vague promise that they would return to 547 Congress St. sometime in late spring. Then, crickets. Emilitsa’s social media hasn’t been updated in months, and that same farewell phone message is all you’ll get if you call the restaurant.

Well, I have mixed news for anxious Emilitsa fans. The good news is that brothers John and Demos Regas do, indeed, plan on reopening. The bad news is, you’ll have to wait until late summer, maybe longer.

Paithakia galaktos tis skaras (grilled lamb chops) at Emilitsa. File photo

“If we’re back in August, I’d be pleased,” John Regas told me Monday. “I’m not sure it’s going to happen by then, but I think it will. We’re not giving up the ship. Not yet.”

Regas blamed the reopening delay on getting “a couple of issues resolved that may be a little more personal than it is business related.” He said he also wants to be confident that when the doors open, it’s to serve customers who are confident about dining inside again.

Regas explained that up until the first week in November, keeping the little restaurant open was manageable. Emilitsa wasn’t making money, he said, but they were able to cover expenses. Then several Portland restaurants, over a two-week period, had COVID cases and shut down for testing and cleaning. Although most of those restaurants reopened, Regas said the infections influenced public perception of how safe it was to eat indoors.

“We noticed right about that time that business totally fell through the floor,” he said. “I mean, totally fell through the floor. It was an almost overnight kind of thing. We kept hoping for the best, and we stayed open almost another month before we made a decision to shut down because we were taking a hit every week. A couple of thousand dollars (a week) it was costing.”

Regas, who is in his late 60s, said he’s spent the time off catching up on medical care and doing a little fishing. While it’s been nice to “step away and refresh, get a second wind,” he admits that he’s starting to get “a little antsy.”

Now the brothers are thinking about what changes they might need to make to the restaurant when they return. “I’m not sure that we’ll be exactly the same when we come back,” Regas said, “but we’re planning on coming back.”

I’ve no doubt Portland will welcome them with open arms.

Taco Trio gets new home

Taco Trio in South Portland is moving into Big Babe’s Tavern. Kate Irish Collins/The Forecaster

Who doesn’t love breaking taco news, which is what I got Friday when Karen Rasmussen, co-owner of Taco Trio in South Portland, called to tell me the restaurant is moving down the street to the building that housed Big Babe’s Tavern.

Ginger Cote, owner of Big Babe’s, said she chose to sell the building at Ocean and C streets to the owners of Taco Trio over other buyers because “I love what they do, and I think that they deserve a nice big space.” Cote says she’s searching South Portland for a new location for Big Babe’s, which will be reborn as a music venue and bar only with just a small bar menu.

Rasmussen says it will be at least another month before Taco Trio moves into its new space. When it opens, it will have a full bar and, eventually, a breakfast menu.

A new location for Taco Trio at 27 Elm St. in Saco is also in the works.

DiCocoa’s to close

Residents of Bethel are mourning the impending loss of DiCocoa’s Bakery & Cafe, which has kept the village in homemade bagels, naturally leavened breads, croissants, eclairs and pies for 26 years. Owner Cathi DiCoco, who is retiring, announced Monday that the cafe’s last day will be July 5.

But don’t fret. Two longtime employees who have been managing the business for DiCoco plan to open their own place this fall. Anna Sysko, who has worked at DiCocoa’s for 25 years, as general manager for the past three, told me that she and Nicole Pellerin, co-manager with her, are about to close on a space in the village where they are planning a similar style of cafe, but with more diverse offerings and greater production. The new cafe will serve breakfast and lunch, and have a counter selling baked goods, Sysko said. DiCocoa’s “has shown a lot of growth, but we would like to be baking at a larger capacity,” she said, adding that she and Pellerin also would like to get into wholesale.

Sysko also operates a greenhouse that grows produce year-round, and plans to use what she grows in the new cafe. She said they hope to open the cafe sometime in the fall. If you’d like to visit DiCocoa’s before it closes, the hours between now and July 5 will be 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays.

A taste of the Caribbean

The family-owned Caribbean Taste has just opened at 1422 Broadway in South Portland. The menu of a Jamaican specialties includes oxtails, curry goat, fried chicken and jerk chicken, all served with a choice of side, such as plantains or rice and peas. Meal prices range from $15.99 to $25.99. The restaurant is open from noon to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

A taste of Coney Island 

The Higgins Beach Inn, 34 Ocean Ave. in Scarborough, has teamed up with Feltman’s of Coney Island to sell all-beef hot dogs and other “beach lunch” food this summer at Shade Shack, a new offshoot of Shade, the inn’s restaurant.

The inn’s website says Shade Shack will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily, June through September. Orders can be placed online, and either picked up or delivered within the neighborhood.

The menu offers hot dogs eight ways, including a classic Coney Island dog, topped with house-made beef chili, diced onions and cheddar; a Cuban dog, topped with griddled ham, Swiss cheese, pickle and yellow mustard; an Island dog, topped with pineapple, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro and hot sauce; and a Cowboy dog, topped with caramelized onions, bacon, cheddar and BBQ sauce. Other menu items include lobster rolls, burgers, grilled cheese and BLTs.

Lobster love

Picture Maine Restaurant Week, but with lobster.

The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative announced Monday that the state’s first Maine Lobster Week will be held Sept. 19-25. Participating restaurants will offer multicourse, prix fixe meals featuring lobster, ranging from $45 to $65 per person. Lobster shacks, diners and food trucks also will join in, adding lobster rolls, brunch, and breakfast dishes to their a la carte menus.

Participating restaurants and menu details will be posted beginning in July on mainelobsterweek.com. Restaurants interested in signing up should reach out to Gillian Britt, [email protected], or Kara Morrison, [email protected] There is no participation fee.

Portland-area restaurants that already have signed up include Bao Bao, David’s, DiMillo’s, Eventide, EVO, The Highroller Lobster Co., The Honey Paw, Petite Jacqueline and Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea.

The organizers plan to make Maine Lobster Week an annual event.

C. Love Baking Academy launches Monday

A new program that will teach baking skills to immigrant women begins Monday, and there already is a waiting list.

Katherine Slevin, founder of the C. Love Cookie Project, a business based at The Root Cellar on Washington Avenue that raises money for organizations that work with new Mainers, hopes to hold C. Love Baking Academy at least annually or biannually. The idea is twofold: to train workers for local businesses, and to encourage the students, showing them that they can succeed in this country, whether they work for themselves or someone else.

“Ultimately, more than that, my goal is that they feel like people care and are invested in their story,” Slevin said.

Six students will attend the first round of classes, which will be held two days a week for three months. At their graduation in August, the students will receive a pastry certificate and the opportunity to make connections with local bakeries and other businesses Slevin is inviting to the ceremony.

Slevin has worked as a baker and pastry chef in Chicago, France and here in Portland, including three years at Standard Baking Co. She’s brought on a chef instructor, Amber Shahzad, who is Pakistani-American, to teach the classes, as well as a student-instructor liaison, Haley Malm, who is a local Spanish and French teacher, to help with communication. Local businesses also are chipping in: the owners of Belleville, Union Bagel, The Proper Cup and Standard, for example, will help out with instruction.

The classes cost a couple hundred dollars per student, but Slevin said the tuition for most of the students in the first session has been covered by Scholarships for Maine Immigrants, a nonprofit that pays for skills and language classes. Vermont-based King Arthur Baking has donated flour, and chefuniforms.com has provided aspiring chefs’ attire.

The fiscal sponsor of the program is the nonprofit Friends of Portland Adult Education. To donate to the new baking academy, go to friendsofpae.org/donate.

Learn from a master 

Learn how to shop, shuck and store oysters from master shucker Patrick McMurrray. Photo courtesy of Food Island Partnership

Local oyster bars often host oyster-shucking classes and other educational events, but if you’d like to learn from a master, register for an online class at 5 p.m. on June 8 that is being taught by Patrick McMurray, a world champion shucker who holds three Guinness World Records, including one for shucking 39 oysters in one minute.

The class, which is free, is sponsored by the oyster and mussel industry of Prince Edward Island. In addition to shucking, the class will cover how to shop for and store oysters, how to serve them, and how to “engage all five senses to optimize your oyster experience.”

To register, go to The Social Shell Events page at thesocialshell.com/events.

 

 


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