A Taste of Portland, Maine
By Bill Nestor
|Portland, Maine is noted for the iconic Portland Head Lighthouse.
Previous travels to the Portland area were too short, but a recent visit to the vibrant seaside town allowed more time for unique explorations of food, golf, beer, art, nature and history. It confirmed why I like being there so much.
Portland is a delightful destination rich in history and a diverse farm to table and sea to menu variety of dining options, style, ambiance and price, from gourmet to lobster shack.
It is a gastronomic fantasy fest limited only by appetite and endurance. There is a plethora of interesting places to eat, drink, play, explore and things to do that satisfy a broad spectrum of palates and pocketbooks.
Not far from downtown sits the picturesque Black Point Inn established in 1878. The historic seaside hotel at Prouts Neck, just south of Portland in Scarborough, was an ideal base from which to explore and experience the area’s bounties. Its location on the coastline is an inspirational setting nestled on lushly landscaped property with a scenic rocky and sandy beach coastline, and an ever-changing seascape ushering Atlantic sunrises and setting suns over the Scarborough Marsh.
|ABOVE: the picturesque Black Point Inn established in 1878. The historic seaside hotel at Prouts Neck is south of Portland in Scarborough.
BELOW: The Chart Room offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.
|A gracious staff complements the resort's unpretentious charm, historic appeal and amenities including 25 guest rooms, outdoor pool, fitness room, enchanting beaches, ocean-side cliff walk, golf, tennis, WI-FI, and formal dinner in the Point Restaurant or more casual dining in The Chart Room offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Blackpointinn.com)
Taking inspiration from the Abenaki American Indian word migis, a place to steal away to rest, the Migis Hotel Group operates the Black Point Inn and other luxury properties in Maine --The Inn at Ocean's Edge on Penobscot Bay and Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake. “We strive to create an atmosphere where individual engaging personalities of staff can maximize a guest experience,” said Innkeeper Phil Kronenthal.
|The Neck is where Winslow Homer (1836–1910), conslived and painted for 25 years. His studio, located on the cliff walk near the Black Point Inn.
Prouts Neck, a mostly seasonal summer community, incorporates a number of antique summer cottages that have been in families for generations. The Neck is where Winslow Homer (1836–1910), considered by many a most influential American artist, lived and painted for 25 years. His studio, located on the cliff walk near the Black Point Inn and recently restored by the Portland Museum of Art, is open to the public from September to December. (portlandmuseum.org/about/homerstudio/)
Prouts Neck Country Club’s 18-hole golf course with a putting green, driving range, tennis courts, pro shops and clubhouse is set on a lovely slice of land nearby. Play at the historic private club, originally established in 1907, is restricted to members and their guests. Christopher Twombly is the resident golf professional.
The routing, with Bluegrass fairways and Bent Grass greens, meanders along the shore of Saco Bay, and through marsh and woods at its seaside location. The par 70 layout plays 6,094-yards from the 69.4/127 rated back tees Play, often accompanied by wind off the water, affords a pleasant round with lovely views of the beach and ocean.
In 1924 Wayne Stiles renovated the existing nine holes and added nine more to create an 18-hole golf course. As reported in a 2008 Golf Atlas feature interview with golf historians Bob Labbance and Kevin Mendik, “It is a virtually intact Stiles course. The routing fits the existing site, is part of the landscape and includes high-ground tees and greens, signature Stiles features.” Current clearing of many trees to improve sight lines and growing conditions is taking Prouts Neck CC back to more closely resemble Stiles’ original look and feel. Stiles, a Boston landscape architect, began designing golf courses in 1916, a vocation that subsequently dominated his life’s work.
|David Geary, Portland's legendary micro-brew pioneer and owner of DL Geary Brewing.
I met David Geary, Portland's legendary micro-brew pioneer and owner of DL Geary Brewing, for a round of golf at his home course, the Purpoodock Club in Cape Elizabeth.
The historic private club that was established in 1922 occupies 187 acres. It includes an 18-hole track with a driving range, practice putting, chipping and bunker areas, men’s and women’s locker rooms and lounges, and tennis and bocce courts.
“Well-maintained tree lined fairways make strategic shot placement off the tee a must. Elevation changes and bunker complexes protecting the greens require accurate approach shots. Twelve holes are influenced by water. The undulating true and fast greens add to the challenge,” said club president Jim Harvey who joined us for the match. Purpoodock plays to 6,401 yards from back tees rated at 71.2/131. Four sets of tees accommodate members and guests of varying levels.
Larry Rowe is credited for the original 9-hole design. Geoffrey Cornish, renowned New England golf architect, carved out the back nine from rock and marsh in 1984. He also redid the entire eighteen and added 25 bunkers, prior to the Union Mutual Seniors Tournaments (pre-cursor to the Champions Tour) held at Purpoodock 1984-1986. (Purpoodock.com)
Geary plays about 70 rounds per year. His love of the game is obvious in words and deeds, even though time is shared with operating one of the most successful and oldest microbreweries in the country. Geary Ale celebrated its 25th year in 2011.
“My vision of producing world-class products on a small scale for local and regional consumption was realized in the early 1980s,” said Geary. “At the time there were less than 20 microbreweries in the country, almost all on the west coast. Today there are more than 2,000. There were no road maps back then.”
|The first pints of Geary's Pale Ale were sold and New England’s first microbrewery was officially baptized in 1986.
After research and training in Scotland and England in 1984, the first pints of Geary's Pale Ale were sold and New England’s first microbrewery was officially baptized in 1986. The yeast he brought back from England has produced 3,000 plus generations. “We’re fortunate to have good demographics. Distribution is currently in 14 states including Florida where many baby boomers have migrated to pasture.”
Expansion of the brewery is planned to increase production of the line--Pale Ale, Hampshire Special Ale, London Porter, Wee Heavy, Imperial IPA and Seasonal varieties- Summer, Autumn and Winter Ale. “It’s better to ride the horse in the direction it is going,” added Geary. (Gearybrewing.com)
Sampling the local culinary scene included dining at some of Portland's super-star restaurants. There are many quality choices in this ocean side city of 64,000 (metro population is 230,000--25% of Maine's total) where fresh and authentic cuisine is celebrated as festively as is the crispness of sea air that blows along the Maine coast.
My short list includes Emilitsa and Vignola Cinque Terre.
Emilitsa Restaurant in the arts’ district presents an attractive contemporary atmosphere. The casual bistro offers genuine Greek cuisine including a variety of authentic plates and fresh seafood showcasing traditional Greek dishes prepared with as many local, fresh, organic and natural ingredients available.
Each and every selection tasted was wonderfully prepared and delicious. Particularly enjoyable were: Appetizers-- Large gulf shrimp sautéed in a light ouzo-tomato cream sauce with feta; Trio of Greek spreads (tzatziki, taramosalata, meltizanosalata) with grilled pita; Braised rabbit rolled in layers of phyllo. Salad-- Organic roasted red and golden beets served with skorthalia (potato and garlic puree). Entrées-- Pan-roasted long island duck breast; Grass-fed grilled baby lamb chops. The wine, beer and desserts choices were equally delectable and tasty.
Vignola Cinque Terre recently evolved from two restaurants into one. Vignola had served country style Italian fare, specializing in pizza. Cinque Terre, a more formal eatery, featured upscale Italian dishes. Both use seasonal ingredients and organic, naturally grown items from local Maine farmers, suppliers and producers.
They haven't moved from the side-by-side spaces they've occupied in Portland’s historic port district and continue to focus on an authentic Italian culinary experience, but the sister restaurants have incorporated each other’s menus. The bill of fare now offers everything, Cinque Terre’s renowned pastas and Vignola’s thin-crusted pizzas, as well as a complete list of starters and entrees.
I have enjoyed an array of scrumptious gastronomic treats including a variety of flavorsome dinners--Stuffed rabbit loins, Grilled veal porterhouse, Basil crusted cod--and delicious lunches of Lamb chorizo and Basil tomato pizza; and tasting the dozens of artisan cheeses stocked from Europe, Canada and the United States with bottles of bubbly.
As one restaurant, Vignola Cinque Terre remains under the direction of Chef Lee Skawinski, widely recognized for his commitment to the Farm-to-Table movement and for his authentic, Italian inspired cuisine.
Chef Lee is actively involved in the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA); the Slow Food Movement; and Gruppo Ristoranti Italiani, a group of influential restaurateurs dedicated to elevating the perception of Italian food and wine. Co-owners Dan Kary, Michelle Mazur-Kary own and operate Grandview Farm in Greene, Maine. Produce from the farm is integrated into the preparation at Vignola Cinque Terre.
Poet William Waterway’s Love is a Many Splendored Thing captures how I feel about visiting in and around Portland, Maine. “What is love – is it fulfilling one’s defined passion during the journey –
is it a fleeting fantasy – a mirage that evaporates upon reaching its destination or is it limited only by our imagination.”
Bill Nestor writes about global travel, golf and lifestyle from his home in Vermont.