A taste test of a central African dish served at Portland high schools for lunch last month was “overwhelmingly positive,” according to Portland Public Schools officials. Photo credit: Food Corps/Cultivating Community


Continuing a cultural initiative launched last fall in Westbrook schools, Portland’s three public high schools hope to broaden students’ palates and expand their worldviews by offering them a taste of central African cuisine.

On March 24, students from Deering, Casco Bay and Portland high schools were given the opportunity to taste-test a Central African dish of smashed kidney beans, spiced beef and cabbage slaw that school kitchen staff had prepared. Jane McLucas, food service director for Portland Public Schools, said the special taste-test event was an “overwhelming success,” with many students voting that they “loved” the new dish.

The recipe was developed to meet federal school lunch nutrition guidelines by Maine chef and school nutrition consultant Samantha Cowens-Gasbarro and Kahadija Ahmed, owner operator of the Food For All African Mobile Market. As they did in Westbrook, the two trained Portland high school cafeteria staff to cook the dish.

School officials noted that Portland hosts the state’s largest, most diverse student body, making the project particularly appropriate here. About one-third of the students come from homes where a language other than English is spoken.

“All our students should have the opportunity to enjoy a wider variety of culturally diverse menu items,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. Botana and his colleagues said they hope student enthusiasm over the African food will lead to their increased interest and participation in the school lunch program.


The project is funded by Full Plates, Full Potential, and led by McLucas and the local food justice nonprofit Cultivating Community. It is also supported by several community partners that include FoodCorps, Cumberland County Food Security Council, Good Shepherd Food Bank, and the University of Southern Maine.

Silly’s closes again

After reopening at 68 Washington Ave. in October 2020, the longtime Portland restaurant closed last month, apparently leaving the brick-and-mortar business model behind.

In a statement on Silly’s website, owner Colleen Kelley, said the lease had run out on the restaurant’s Washington Avenue location. “I will be moving Silly’s to a food truck, which I think is a better fit for me at this stage in my life,” Kelley wrote. No word is yet available on when the Silly’s food truck will begin operating, and Kelley could not be reached for comment before press time.

Silly’s first opened on Cumberland Avenue in 1988 under original owners Dierdre and Stephanie Nice. In 1997, the restaurant moved to 40 Washington Ave. Kelley purchased Silly’s in 2002.

In August 2019, Kelley closed Silly’s, along with its short-lived offshoot, Simply Vegan by Silly’s, which opened in the 68 Washington Ave. space in 2018. At the time, Kelley gave numerous reasons for the closures, including the need to care for her father and “the new hipster artisan Washington Avenue that I don’t really fit into anymore.”


Kelley reopened Silly’s in the fall of 2020 in the space occupied by the former Simply Vegan by Silly’s.

Sarada Krishnan, executive director of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance at her coffee farm in Jamaica. Krishnan will be at Coffee By Design on Diamond Street on Tuesday, April 12 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Photo courtesy of Sarada Krishnan

Coffee By Design hosts talk with female coffee experts

On April 12, Coffee By Design is hosting women coffee producers and authorities from coffee-growing regions around the world for a casual meet-and-greet at their East Bayside location at 1 Diamond St. in Portland from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The visitors, all members of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, represent coffee growers, companies and organizations in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Ethiopia, Rwanda, the Philippines and elsewhere, according to event spokesperson Gillian Britt. Sirada Krishnan, executive director of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, and Stephany Davila, a third-generation Guatemalan coffee farmer and founder of the Coffee Farmers Alliance, will be among the visitors available to speak to guests, Britt said.

Krishnan and her female coffee colleagues are attending the Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston (April 8-10) before coming to Maine. Britt said representatives of the U.S.-based coffee organization Sustainable Harvest will also be on hand for the April 12 event.

Ukraine Strong coffee from Coffee By Design, which is using the special blend to raise money for relief efforts in Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Coffee By Design

Fundraisers for Ukraine


Coffee By Design this month is also selling a new special blend, Ukraine Strong, and giving $5 from every pound sold to Partners for World Health, the Portland-based nonprofit organization that distributes medical supplies to places that need them. The coffeehouse describes its Ukraine Strong blend as a medium roast, with sweet notes of orange and chocolate. The blend is available in one-pound bags for $18.50, or two pounds for $35.

Also, this Thursday, Broken Arrow restaurant, at 545 Congress St. in Portland, will host a charity dinner with 100 percent of proceeds going to World Central Kitchen, the international hunger relief effort now focused on feeding Ukrainian war refugees. Yarmouth chef Christian Hayes flew to Ukraine last month to take part in World Central Kitchen’s work.

Broken Arrow is offering a four-course menu for $49 for the event, featuring tuna crudo with herbal aioli, winter greens, goulash and spaetzle and finishing with poached pear with mascarpone. Buy tickets to the dinner on the Broken Arrow website.

Lobster Shack to open for season

Cape Elizabeth’s Lobster Shack at Two Lights reopens this Saturday for the 2022 season. The popular restaurant’s website says it plans to offer both indoor and outdoor seating, and that its season runs through Oct. 23.

The Lobster Shack’s Facebook page announced the reopening Tuesday, noting that it will be open seven days a week from noon until 7 p.m.


Owner Katie Porch said her restaurant typically reopens for the season in late March, but pushed it back a couple of weeks this year. “We wanted to give people the best chance to sit outside,” she said, noting that the Lobster shack closed in late September last year instead of October because of COVID-19.

New brunch spot coming to Portland

A brunch-focused New England restaurant chain plans to open its first Maine location as The Friendly Toast comes to Portland later this year.

The Friendly Toast will be located in the space at 211 Fore St. formerly occupied by Sebago Brewing Company. The New Hampshire-based chain was founded in 1994 and has eight other locations in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.

The press relations manager for The Friendly Toast could not provide any more details on the new location yesterday, or a timeline of when it might open.

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