Pizza at Monte’s Fine Foods on Washington Avenue, shown in 2021, won high praise from influential pizza critic Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Monte’s Fine Foods on Washington Avenue is experiencing a run on its Roman-style pizza after receiving a glowing review from Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports.

Portnoy’s video of his review, in which he gave Monte’s pizza an 8.4 out of 10, was posted Saturday and had received more than 267,000 views as of Tuesday . Portnoy said Monte’s pizza has “great crunch” and was “out of this world.”

As a result of the video, Monte’s owner Steve Quattrucci said his shop sold out of pizza early all last weekend, and Monday as well. He estimated Monte’s has seen a 20% to 30% bump in business.

“We’ve been turning away so much business the last few days. We could have doubled or tripled our sales if we had the capacity to keep up with demand,” Quattrucci said, noting that his team has since found ways to boost production.

Monte’s sells a particular kind of Roman pizza that uses a pinsa dough, made from a blend of wheat and rice flours, along with spelt flour from Maine Grains. Quattrucci said it can take as long as 72 hours to prepare the dough – including time for cold fermentation and a par-bake for added crunch – which made it impossible to increase its output on the fly immediately after the review was released.

“I think we’ve got it under control now, but it definitely has increased demand for our product,” Quattrucci said. “I was very pleased when he took a bite (in the video) that I heard the crunch, because that is one of the signatures of this particular type of Roman-style pizza.”


Portnoy also visited Otto Pizza at 225 Congress St., though his experience there was more lackluster, according to his video review, released late Monday. Portnoy gave the Otto pizza a 7.1, calling it “decent.”

“I was expecting higher because I know these (Otto pizzerias) are all over the place, so I figured the original location would be unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a 7.1. It’s OK.”

Angela DeMille, general manager of the actual Otto flagship location at 576 Congress St., said the staffers working at Otto when Portnoy visited mistakenly told him their location was the original. One of the young staffers also can be seen on the video telling Portnoy that “Pizzaiolo is better,” referring to one of Otto’s local competitors.

“I’m a little bit disappointed and slightly embarrassed,” DeMille said. “I would be pretty upset if they were my employees, but it’s not my shop.”

DeMille said she contacted Portnoy to invite him to try the Otto’s pizza at the flagship store.

“When the pizza is made correctly and the service is on point, I think he’d give us a little bit better review,” she said. “It may have been made properly. From the video, it looked a little bit sloppy, and maybe it should have been cooked a little bit more.”



Fuzzy Udder Creamery’s Polar Vortex blue cheese recently took Best in Show at the Maine Cheese Awards. Courtesy of Fuzzy Udder Creamery

A cow’s milk blue from Fuzzy Udder Creamery in Whitefield took Best in Show at this month’s third annual Maine Cheese Awards.

Judges named 45 award winners in 11 categories at the event, held Sept. 10 as part of the Maine Cheese Guild’s annual festival in Pittsfield. Fuzzy Udder Creamery won the program’s top honor – along with first place in the blue cheese category – with Polar Vortex, a creamy, raw-milk blue aged over 60 days.

“It’s delicious. It’s not the most pungent blue cheese you’ve ever had,” said Olivia Voisine, marketing and sales director for Fuzzy Udder. “On the blue cheese scale, it’s pretty mild. We’re using high butterfat milk to make it, and that makes it more delicious.”

The goat’s-milk chevre from Fuzzy Udder also took first in the fresh goat cheese category, while the Whitefield creamery’s goat feta cheese won first in the feta category. Voisine said Fuzzy Udder uses goat’s milk from Pumpkin Vine Family Farm in Somerville and organic cow’s milk from Grace Pond Farm in Thomaston.

“Your cheese can only be as good as your milk is,” she said. “When you’re making cheese from milk that is really high quality, you’re going to have really high-quality cheese.”


Other first-place winners this year included Kennebec Cheesery, which won in the washed natural category for its Old Speck, the cheese that took Best in Show at the 2022 Maine Cheese Awards; York Hill Farm in Washington, which won the fresh cow/mixed category for McCurdy, and also in the flavored cow/mixed division with Peppercorn Duet; Noisy Acres Farm in Buxton, which took the flavored goat’s milk cheese category with its Marinated Chevre in Oil; and Springdale Farm in Waldo, which won the bloomy category for its Triple Creme.

Also, in the aged natural category, Josh Pond Farm in Whiting won first place for its Meddybemps cheese; Bangor’s Pineland Farms Dairy was named top Cheddar for its Five-Year Aged Cheddar; and Cotswold from Balfour Farms of Pittsfield won the flavored-aged category. Judges for the competition evaluated more than 100 cheeses entered from 20 Maine creameries, according to Maine Cheese Guild President Holly Aker.


Plates at Oak & Ember, which opened in Buxton in the former Buxton Common space last week. Photo by Nate Davis of DavisDigital207

Oak & Ember, the Buxton restaurant that took over the space formerly occupied by Buxton Common, opened on Thursday.

“Our opening weekend went pretty much as good as I could have hoped,” said owner Shannon Keefe, who closed on the property in July. “It was a rush to the finish line, but we pulled it off.”

Located at 1420 Long Plains Road, the farm-to-table, seasonally minded restaurant’s kitchen is headed by Kirby Sholl, former chef de cuisine at Chaval. The current menu features small plates like smoked beets with mustard cream, cornichon and dill ($15); pasta dishes like fettucine with squid ink, Spanish octopus sugo and fennel pollen ($16/$28); and grilled Iberian pork with charred radicchio, taleggio and plum ($28).


Keefe said Oak & Ember’s bar program is designed to provide an “elevated rustic” feel, offering approachable riffs on classic cocktails like Old Fashioneds and Gin Fizzes.

The restaurant can accommodate about 100 customers, including 30 on the deck. Oak & Ember is open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 4-9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 4-10 p.m.

“We’re super excited to be part of this community,” Keefe said. “We’ve had such an incredible response from people here who are so excited that there’s something in their area now. They don’t have to go into Portland.”


Old Port steakhouse The Grill Room & Bar is slated to reopen this month, after being closed since a fire damaged the building in June.

Grill Room owner Harding Lee Smith said Tuesday that he expected to reopen the venue “sometime within the next 10 days.” Harding said the fire started and was contained within The Grill Room’s duct work, and did not damage the neighboring Indian restaurant, Tandoor.


But the incident resulted in substantial water damage at The Grill Room. Harding had to have drywall replaced in the kitchen, along with insulation and electrical work.

The Grill Room team took the opportunity of being temporarily closed to make some structural improvements, and also to expand into the vacant former Swiss Time store next door. Harding expects to open The Grill Room Annex there this fall. A private dining facility for up to 50 people, it already has been outfitted with a new copper ceiling and sound system.

“We’re not in contraction like a lot of places are right now,” said Harding, who also owns The Front Room and The Corner Room, as well as Mountain Room at Sunday River in Newry. “We’re actually expanding and seeing a niche market of private dining. You try to make the best of a situation, so we’ve taken advantage of this, repaired what we need to repair, and taken it upon ourselves to do some other upgrades.”


Fresh off being given an award by StarChefs, Chef Neil Zabriskie of Regards is profiled in the September/October issue of culinary magazine Plate.

“When you come from Los Angeles and count Japan, Mexico, and Mediterranean Spain among your influences, it can be difficult to define your 50-seat restaurant,” the Plate piece begins. “But Zabriskie, who got his start at L.A.’s Water Grill, has narrowed it down to two words: coastal cooking.”


Earlier this month, StarChefs named Zabriskie one of eight Portland hospitality professionals to win the industry publication’s Coastal New England Rising Star Award.

Meanwhile, Bon Appetit released its list of Best New Restaurants in 2023, and while no Maine venues made the cut, its accompanying story on “The Absolute Best Dishes We Ate at New Restaurants This Year” included one from Twelve.

Twelve’s Milk Bread with Brown Butter and Smoked Pecans, one of 13 dishes Bon Appetit singled out for the piece, was “the most stunning moment of the meal” for the reviewer, who wrote, “To call this bread soft would be an understatement. The small loaf arrived warm, in a cast iron pan, accompanied by a nutty, smoky brown butter. It was a convincing reminder to always order the bread.”

In another story in the issue featuring “the most delightful desserts” Bon Appetit staffers had sampled at new restaurants this year, Bar Futo’s Lemon Meringue Kakigori was one of 10 dishes listed. “The real treasure was at the heart of the dish,” the reviewer noted. “Hidden under a layer of snowy ice sat a sweet but gloriously tart lemon curd. Each bite was teasingly rich; the smooth custard sung with mouth-puckering lemon before giving way to more refreshingly cold shaved ice.”

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