“You’re the cream in my coffee. You’re the salt in my stew. You will always be my necessity. I’d be lost without you.”

Many of us humans still haven’t got that mate-for-life-thing down, but at least we’ve mastered the romantic tune. This one? Chef’s kiss. So cue up the Nat King Cole (or whichever recording you like best), and this Valentine’s Day, let’s focus on the food.

We’re taking a look at a few inseparable and enduring food couples to suss out their secrets to long-lasting love, twosomes like mac ‘n’ cheese, franks & beans, pie and ice cream, coffee and cake, pancakes and syrup, PB&J, and bacon and eggs (is it really any surprise that several of these go by cute pet names or lean on ampersands?). More reliably than with all too many human pairs, the list goes on.

Bill Marshall, owner of PB&ME, takes orders from customers while parked outside at Definitive Brewing in late January. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


Yes, PB&ME food truck also serves grilled cheese, street tacos, s’mores and alternatives to classic peanut butter and jelly (a fluffernutter, for instance, and a sandwich that replaces the jelly with Nutella and pretzels). But ask owner Bill Marshall his favorite item on the menu, and it’s the classic ($7): “The peanut butter and raspberry jam. When the raspberry jam gets heated up, the aroma and taste are really good.”

OK, not quite the classic. What’s with the raspberry? Or, for that matter, jam? And heated up? When the food truck – parked Fridays and Saturdays at Definitive Brewing in Portland for the winter – was launched in 2014, the PB&J sandwiches were deep-fried, “and they were amazing,” Marshall said. Unfortunately, the truck that’s equipped with the fryers was in an accident, and until the pandemic recedes and business returns to normal levels, allowing money for truck repair, customers must make do with sandwiches grilled in butter.


No real hardship.

Marshall thinks it’s no mystery why this couple has lasted. “We had it as children, and it carries on,” he said. Case in point, an email from my colleague, sportswriter Steve Craig: “I am not a small child, but I still eat PB&J (lightly toasted, PB on one side only, elevated to jams not jellies) – and made my own for my elementary school lunch every single day.”

Relationship secrets? “Having the right bread,” Marshall said. “We use Big Sky bread, locally baked bread. The old-fashioned white, which holds up well with the butter and under the heat. People ask, ‘What’s the secret?’ It’s not really a secret. It’s the bread.

“Taking nothing away from Wonder Bread,” Marshall added. “I grew up with it for years.”

Pressed for more, he added that while local jam would be nice, the price is a bit steep for a food truck. He sticks with household names: Smucker’s and Welch’s. Also Skippy for the peanut butter as “it holds up better when you heat it.”

One more thing that keeps this couple together (literally): Carefully spreading both peanut butter and jelly to the sandwich’s edge. “It was a pet peeve of mine as a kid,” Marshall said. “My mom would make me a sandwich for lunch, and the first two bites in, there is nothing in them.”


“It’s not rocket science. It’s peanut butter and jelly,” he added, mulling over the sandwich. “The thing about it is the simplicity. You know what you are getting. There are no surprises. You are not trying to figure out how to pronounce the ingredients. The basics.”

Martin Beavers, owner of Soul Food Paradise in the Maine Mall food court, sprinkles seasoned salt atop a pan of macaroni before baking it into his an award-winning mac ‘n’ cheese. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


Ask Martin Beavers, owner of Soul Food Paradise in South Portland – a place known and loved for its mac and cheese – what makes this couple endure, and his answer is a little heretical.

“Pair together the noodle you have and you add cheese on it, it’s going to be good regardless. You can mix cheese with any type of noodles. Big zitis down to the lasagnas, whatever type of noodle that you have goes great with cheese.”

He admits he uses the classic elbows in his version, but the point stands. Beavers goes through some eight big hotel pans of macaroni and cheese on weekdays at his business in the Maine Mall food court, and sometimes nearly double that on weekends. (Two sides come with dinner for $20, or you can buy an extra mac and cheese side for $5.)

“That’s the No. 1 seller,” he said, then mimicked a line of customers putting in their orders: “Mac and cheese, mac and cheese, mac and cheese …” The dish won Best Mac & Cheese in the 2021 Portland Old Port Awards. “I make mac and cheese 24-7  now. It’s my life.”


Mac and cheese and Beavers go way back. It was his favorite food as a boy. He loved it so much, his grandmother would bake him his own little pan when he visited. Also, “I love my mother’s mac and cheese.”

Secrets? Beavers uses three types of cheese, all cheddars but of varying strengths and colors, mostly in blocks, which he prefers to pre-shredded cheese. The extra-sharp “gives you a little zing.” He doesn’t make a roux. He uses milk (at home he may add sour cream or replace the milk with cream), and he bakes his version. He boils the elbows just halfway first, because they’ll continue to cook in the oven, and you don’t want “a soupy noodle.”

Maybe most important: “I use A LOT of cheese.” Three pounds of uncooked noodles to about three pounds of cheese. “I think Americans in total, we just love cheese,” Beavers said. “What makes it special is just it being cheese. The word cheese is in the name. I’m not eating mac and cheese to taste noodle. The noodle just brings it together.”

“She’s the quiet supporting spouse,” he finished, talking about the “mac” part of the duo and playing along with a line of match-made-in-heaven questioning. “But you can’t do it without them.”

Made for each other: Moody’s Four-Berry Pie with ice cream.  Photo by Dan Beck


Of the just under 37,000 (!) slices of pie sold at Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro last year, only some 3,600, or roughly 10 percent, were orders of pie with ice cream ($7.48). These figures come from a point of sales report that third-generation Moody and current owner Dan Beck ran on a late January afternoon. It’s possible, he said, that a waitress occasionally failed to hit “a la mode,” which would trigger the figure, instead ringing up the ice cream separately. If that happened, it’d skew the numbers.


But even allowing for some small misrepresentation of the actual number of pie and ice cream eaters, that could hardly account for that vast dining majority that is mystifyingly unaware that pie needs ice cream like Holmes needs Watson, Bert needs Ernie, Burns needs Allen.

Beck gets this. Of the 14 or so varieties of pie sold at any one time at the iconic Route 1 diner, his favorite is Four Berry Pie (strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry). “That’s our core berry pie. I always push the conventional a la mode. I tell people it’s naked without it. It needs to have its ice cream.”

(Speaking personally, exceptions can be made for pies with soft or creamy fillings, such as lemon meringue, banana cream and coconut cream, all sold at Moody’s.)

As is obvious, Moody’s sells “A LOT” of pie, Beck said, and has for 95 years, since back in the day when his grandmother herself baked the pies. The diner still uses Bertha Moody’s recipe for crust. “We make everything from crust on up,” Beck said.

The diner also makes and sells doughnuts, whoopie pies and cheesecakes. “But pie is the crowning jewel.” Lest you think Beck is overstating the matter out of self-interest, ask many a Yelp user. “First and foremost, you will not find better pie in the state of Maine,” says a characteristic review. Others speak of it as the best pie in America.

Let us not forget pie’s better half. If you ask, Moody’s will top its pies with scoops of Maine-made Gifford’s ice cream – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or coffee. Just what is it about this winning combo?

“You have to have your pie warm, so it’s the perfect ‘opposites attract,’ ” Beck said. “Heat and cold with just the bite and the tang of the berries. There is nothing like it.”

How does he feel about whipped cream with pie? Could those billowy, fluffy mounds edge cold, melting ice cream out? “If there has to be a runner up, then I guess I would go with whipped cream,” Beck said. “I would say ice cream is my first date choice, but if they say no, then I’ll go with whipped cream.”

Head over heels: Franks and beans.  Shutterstock/Ken Weinrich


And now let’s hear it for the local couple, frank and beans, specifically Yellow Eye beans and red hot dogs, who cemented their love over many decades of Saturday night dinner dates – make that suppahs.

As Jessica Battilana writes in the introduction to a recipe for the dish in “Repertoire: All the Recipes You Need,” “Tradition dictates that you pair your beans with hot dogs, and that’s never wrong – salty franks and sweet baked beans are a classic and delicious combination.”

When she wrote the cookbook, Battilana lived in San Francisco; she’s since moved to Falmouth. Her recipe, she wrote, was inspired “by one of my favorites places in Maine,” Dysart’s, in Bangor.

Maine Truck Stop Baked Beans (with franks, mais oui)

From “Repertoire” by Jessica Battilana. To add franks, cut them up and stir them into the pot in the last 20 minutes of cooking to heat through. Has the relationship lost its spark? Wake things up, make it a threesome, by serving brown bread with your franks and beans.

Serves 6-8

2 cups (1 lb.) dried yellow eye or navy beans
1/2 cup molasses
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup ketchup
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1/4 lb. salt pork or pancetta, diced

Put the beans in a bowl and add cold water to cover by a few inches. Soak overnight, then drain and transfer to a large saucepan or Dutch oven and add fresh water to cover. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Bring the beans to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat so the water is simmering, and simmer until the beans are tender and the skins peel back when you blow on a spoonful, about 45 minutes to an hour. (To test, take five beans from the pot and try them all, Battilana says. If you are chewing them and wondering if the beans are done, they’re not.) Drain, reserving the bean cooking liquid, and transfer the beans to a bean pot or small Dutch oven.

In a small bowl, stir together the molasses, maple syrup, ketchup, salt, mustard powder and black pepper. Pour over the beans, then stir in the onion and salt pork. Add 2 to 3 cups of the bean cooking water to the beans (the water should just cover the beans, not swamp them – the beans should look like they are sitting in a bathtub) and stir well to mix. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the beans are completely tender, about 3 hours.

Uncover the pot, increase the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue cooking about 45 minutes more, until the cooking liquid has reduced and a crust has formed on the surface of the beans. Stir the beans and season to taste with additional salt. Depending on the dimensions of the pot you use, your beans may be more soupy or less so. If you want to thicken the beans, remove 1 cup of the cooked beans and transfer to a bowl. Mash with a potato masher, then return the mashed beans to the pot and stir to combine. If they’re too thick, add a bit more of the reserved bean cooking liquid to thin them.

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