On a walk through my neighborhood, I passed a blue sedan whose driver was chatting with a woman standing on the street. Next to the open driver’s-side window, she shielded her eyes from the setting sun as she said goodbye to the man inside. “Remember, tonight’s your night to pick up dinner,” she said, then added, “If you show up with another bag of Italians and a bottle of Coke, Philip, I’m going to evict you.” She laughed. He did not.

Dear Philip, if you’re still my neighbor, I might be able to help.

Like you, I’ve got nothing against Italians (or Coke), but over the past few months, I’ve been keeping a diary of some of the best things I’ve tasted. I know if I were your housemate or landlord, I’d be surprised and overjoyed if you came home with a bag containing any of these four items. Oh, and if I spot your car on the street, I’ll be sure to slip a copy of this article underneath your windshield wipers.

Celery root remoulade from The Cheese Iron. Photo by Vince Maniaci and Merry Lubking

Celery root remoulade from The Cheese Iron in Scarborough ($9.99/lb.)

Normally, my family and friends know in advance what I’m likely to include in my recurring list of the best things I’ve tasted. There’s nothing I enjoy better than sharing wonderful food and drink with friends, and usually, they are the beneficiaries. But there are exceptions.

Last month, on a hunt for an oozy hunk of robiola cheese I needed for a recipe, I stopped by The Cheese Iron. I’ve never visited the shop and its maximalist collection of ingredients, wines, cheeses and sandwiches without making at least one impulse purchase. This time around, I snagged a tub of their house-made céleri rémoulade, a classic French side dish made from grated celeriac, Dijon mustard and mayonnaise. Less watery than coleslaw, its German cousin, celery root remoulade can play the part of a salad, an appetizer, or a starch – sometimes all three at once.

The Cheese Iron’s remoulade is a bit unusual, leaving out mustard and instead incorporating fresh thyme, capers and tiny flecks of chopped cornichons to balance out the creaminess of their house-made mayo. I may never look at a knobbly celeriac again without imagining it stripped and shredded in The Cheese Iron’s kitchen.

Here’s how good it is: I had intended to serve the remoulade with a roasted chicken that evening, but I was compelled to sneak a tiny taste once I was in my car. One bite led to two, and before I had even pulled out of the shop’s parking lot, the remoulade was gone. Too mortified to return for another tub, I left and made a mental note to pick up two of them when I returned. Reader, consider doing the same.

The tourtiere at Part & Parcel. Photo by Danielle O’Neill

Pork tourtière from Part & Parcel in Biddeford ($25)

If cold weather along the North Atlantic had an official dish, it would be tourtière. Originally a traditional French-Canadian savory pie filled with potatoes and ground or pulled meat, tourtière immigrated across the border long ago, and has become a long-standing New England specialty in its own right. And really, when dual-citizenship tastes this good, who’s to complain?

I’ve eaten a few memorable tourtières in Maine, including a Medieval-sounding venison-and-pheasant-filled pie at a farmstand restaurant in Fryeburg. (Beautiful, but very chewy.)

This month at Biddeford’s Part & Parcel, I discovered what might be the best tourtière I’ve tried. Baker Fionna Richardson prepares unbaked pies for customers to finish in their home ovens. Each family-sized tourtière comes wrapped, tagged with clear, simple baking instructions and, as it is bundled up for you by the cashier, nestled into the bag with a tiny container of flaky Maldon salt.

Richardson’s tourtière is a streamlined reformulation of a family recipe passed down through four generations. Hers strips away herbal seasonings like sage and rosemary in favor of unadulterated warm spices: nutmeg, clove, cinnamon. She also deploys a Rose Levy Berenbaum trick in her crust, incorporating a little cream cheese alongside ice-cold butter to guarantee the dough remains tender.

Bake this pie for an hour, and your entire home will smell like a Currier and Ives scene, and you haven’t even gotten to the best part: the eating. It’s easy to see why Richardson’s grandmother, who transcribed the recipe from her own mother decades ago, requests a pie every year at Christmas.

“Her mom was unable to read and write, and she passed the recipe to her, so to her, it’s very special,” Richardson told me. “She always tells me mine is ‘just OK,’ which is cute, because the real story is that she always continues to ask for another one the next year!”

Cardamom bun from Jackrabbit in Biddeford ($4.50)

Just a few blocks down the road in Biddeford, chef Bowman Brown has a similar story about somebody he won over with a slightly iconoclastic version of a classic dish. Brown’s new casual café and bakery, Jackrabbit, takes inspiration from the same sources as his award-winning fine-dining restaurant, Elda (which recently re-opened in a lushly appointed space upstairs). Both restaurants are nominally Nordic with a whisper of Japanese influence here and there.

Take his cardamom buns. At first glance, they look a lot like a traditional Swedish kardemummabullar, if perhaps baked darker than the tightly twisted or knotted pastries you’d find in Stockholm. But when you tear one apart, you discover underneath the sweet crust a pale yeasted dough freckled with uneven specks of ground green cardamom. The balance of crisp exterior, ductile interior and sheer intensity of flavor is extraordinary.

The secret? Brown borrows the same tangzhong technique that lends Japanese shokupan (milk bread) its remarkable lift and softness. When his dough is laminated with sugar and butter, it remains fluffy inside, even after the buns are baked to a dark brown and dunked in lemony syrup.

“We had a Swedish customer who came in when we first opened and told us we were baking them too dark and crusty,” Brown told me. “But she kept coming back, and we won her over in the end.”

Add me to the tally of fellow converts.

Makku, a popular Korean drink made from white rice and now available in Portland. Photo by Andrew Ross

Makku makgeolli from Sun Market ($12.89 for 4 cans)

I don’t have many regrets, but one of them is that I didn’t enroll in a one-day course at “Makgeolli University” in Seoul in 2011. Now long-shuttered, the business offered short classes in selecting, pairing, and even brewing South Korea’s ever-popular beverage. Foolishly, I figured I’d teach myself about the cloudy white rice drink – a sweet-tart cross between wine and beer – when I returned home to the U.S. I ended up not tasting makgeolli again until 2019.

When I saw on Sejong and Ji Park’s Instagram feed that the couple, owners of Sun Market on Congress Street in Portland, had begun carrying a domestic version of the lacto-fermented drink, I nearly dropped my smartphone. Fingers shaking, I called the shop and placed an order for a four-pack of the regular (plain) variety.

Sejong Park told me that because its alcohol content (around 6% alcohol-by-volume) falls in the limbo between beer and wine, makgeolli has historically been impossible to source in Maine. But in tandem with the recent uptick in popularity of IPA beers that clock in at around 7% ABV, it makes sense that the makgeolli logjam would break eventually.

Equally important is the multistate expansion of U.S. makgeolli brewer Makku. Founded in 2017 by native New Yorker Carol Pak, Makku produces a traditional version of makgeolli alongside a wider fruit-enriched product range that includes blueberry, passion fruit and mango flavors.

I’m sure the fruity makgeolli is great, but I’m smitten with plain Makku. When I got my hands on a can, I shook it gently to mix the white rice sediment back into the drink, then poured a frothy glass for myself and drank it as I ate a plate of fiery buldak chicken from cookbook author and YouTube celebrity Maangchi.

Makgeolli is a versatile match for plenty of other dishes – everything from beef stew to veggie burgers, ramen to (my current snacking favorite) Sichuan-spiced Spicy Peanuts ($2.39, also at Sun Market). What’s Korean for “heaven”?


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.