Morning in Portland, Maine: Coffee and Bakeries

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I already wrote a bit about visiting my friends Liz and Brian in Portland, but I’m going to post a couple more times on the food and drink aspects of the trip. First coffee and bakeries; next time restaurants and breweries. As someone who has visited Portland, Maine one single time, I consider myself an expert on their restaurant/coffee/bakery/brewery scene. My credentials are clear: I eat a lot, I love beverages, I have been to Portland, Maine one time, and I have this blog. So.

Let’s start at the beginning. The best coffee  in Portland, Maine (trust me I’m an expert) comes from Tandem Coffee Roasters on Anderson Street. My friend Liz and I came here before breakfast on my first morning and I was officially sold on Portland. The shop part of the building (which seems to be primarily dedicated to roasting) is bitty but just perfectly done–most of the room is taken up by what seems to be a hand-built, wood coffee bar; what isn’t old exposed brick is clean, minimalist white and wood; a few plants on windowsills, a few books lying around, and lots of natural light in the morning at least. I can’t speak to the espresso (though it looked good coming from a La Marzocco machine) but one sip of my morning pour-over elicited the first “OKAY, fine, I’ll live here” of the day. There were many.

The second best coffee in Portland comes from Speckled Ax on Congress Street. The coffee might actually be just as good. They had all the third wave coffee gear and snootery you could ask for, but the interior is trying a little harder and accomplishing a little less than Tandem with burnt orangey-brown walls and uncomfortable chairs. This is where you’d go to stick around and work, though, as it has over twice the space of Tandem and more than just a handful of stools at the bar. Liz and I went early my last morning, before she had to go to work and I had to catch a bus, and there were already a couple be-suited yuppies working at tables. Here’s Liz and a glimpse of Speckled Ax’s cute tin ceiling:

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Honorable mentions go out to Bard Coffee and Crema Coffee and Bakery, which seem older and were both sprawling and comfy with a 90’s/Central Perk vibe. I ducked into Crema for at least an hour after a long walk, returning from the Eastern Promenade on a drizzly day. I had a good enough cappuccino, researched lobster rolls, read a book, and was treated to pleasant live piano music that some old guy was playing in the front. I like to think he just waltzed in and started playing, but he might be a regular feature at the place.

When I travel, I love bringing home a pound or two of local coffee as a souvenir. It makes the trip seem to last longer, and the first day back at work is less painful with vacation coffee easing the way. That’s science probably, because smell is linked with memory so brewing vacation coffee makes you remember vacation. Science. Anyway, this time I bought Tandem’s El Higueron, Costa Rican, and a pound of something or other from Bard, where I stopped on my way out of town. They were a perfect combination to have available at home–the Bard being a good, solid, darker roast option (which I honestly prefer most of the time), and the Tandem Costa Rican being a fresher, frillier, more complex (and more expensive) treat. I liked the Tandem logo so much that I cut it off the bag and taped it to my storage jar like a nerd.

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But enough about coffee. Let’s talk about breakfast. First, let’s talk about bakeries. Specifically, the best bakery in Portland, Maine and probably all of Maine and maybe the Universe: Standard Baking Co. Their baked goods will cause enthusiasm and perhaps hyperbole. But I think I went every single day I was there, without exaggerating. And they do have the best pain au chocolat I’ve gotten in the states. I mean, look:

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Flakes for days. I can’t even remember everything we tried, but I impulsively ordered a spare roll just to check out their bread skills and immediately wished that I had gotten a whole loaf. The crust was crisp but tender, the crumb light but substantial and chewy. Damn. It’s clear they know what they’re doing and I kind of want an apprenticeship.

We also went to Rosemont Bakery Shop, which was delightful. I have no idea how their baked goods are, as Liz and I just popped in to the market part for a few things, but the cheese counter is worth a trip either way. We ogled and asked questions and were unable to restrain exclamations upon tasting a French double cream brie. So, we were generally obnoxious to the patient man working the counter, who chose to laugh (at) and humor us rather than be annoyed. Or maybe he was still annoyed. Either way, he offered samples. They have a good selection and offer a lot of information on the kind, source, and history of their cheese. It was another example of this Portland, Maine thing of caring a lot about quality and putting a lot of effort into doing simple things well. I’m for it.

If a donut place counts as a bakery, I also went to one of those. The Holy Donut makes potato donuts and they are so right to do so. I had never had a potato donut before and I loved them; they’re like cake donuts with a serious side. I got a cinnamon-sugar and a dark chocolate/sea salt to share with Liz and Brian when they got home from work and accidentally ate most of them. I have no regrets. Plus it’s a cute little shop across the street from Deering Oaks Park, where duck couples stroll in dewy, deep green grass.

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The only breakfast-breakfast we ate out on this trip was at Hot Suppa. I think mainly because Liz really enjoys saying Hot Suppa. Luckily, Hot Suppa makes some good food. The interior is small, which made for a long wait on a drizzly day, but a patio behind the building looked like it would double their space on a nice day. My trip was in the spring so there were fiddleheads and ramps everywhere. Living in Texas, I get none of that and loved every minute of it. Liz and I split a veggie and rice hash, which I’d say was better than it sounds, and a fiddlehead and bacon Eggs Benedict. I always want some sort of vegetable with Eggs Benedict and usually the only option is a pile of limp, soggy spinach. This was so much better than that. And their bloody mary is more than respectable, as a side note.

If my loquacity has not tipped you off, I am loving this opportunity to re-live my trip to Portland. I had only planned on one more Maine post, but didn’t want to make you sit through my entire personal Portland Zagat guide. So I apologize/you’re welcome. More Maine to come.

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