How we lunch reflects how we labor. Long ago, lunch was the most significant meal of the day, giving farmers the energy to continue working through the afternoon and into the evening. Later on, the martini lunch helped the tightly wound veterans of WWII find the courage to creatively destroy the remnants of our agrarian past and create the new corporate order. Now the dismal realities of our own careers are clearest in the moments we peer into the folds of turkey sandwiches we scarf down quietly in our cubicles. As the novelist Sam Lypsyte wrote of the modern man: “You should see him. Such a sad case with his little wrap and a few gherkins in a ketchup cup.”
Two new lunch spots in the Rosemont neighborhood — a second location for local fave The Crooked Mile and the first for panini specialist the Local Press — offer a brighter fate to folks who lunch and labor off-peninsula.
Weekdays, the downtown corporate crowd lines up at The Crooked Mile on Milk Street, a bohemian spot that the business types embraced — and for good reason. The staff barely turns over, which contributes to the food’s admirable consistency, and its sidewalk tables, with morning shade and leafy cobblestoned view, are among the best seats in town.
While the staff at the new Crooked Mile outpost is comprised of familiar faces from Milk Street, who are cranking out the same menu of reasonably priced and high-quality sandwiches, there are some notable differences between the two eateries. Despite its location away from Portland’s downtown office buildings, the Brighton Avenue location feels more businesslike. There are just three tables (along with a few leather chairs and a window counter); a solitary coffee sipper might feel self-conscious lingering once the lunch crowd starts piling in. There is no WiFi — a sure sign they want you to move along.
If you do stay to eat, you notice they have done a nice job renovating the space. The coffee is from Carrabassett and it’s pretty good. The house roast is best, deeper than the dark, with a good chocolatey flavor. The breakfast sandwich reflects its microwave origins, but is not bad.
Lunch offerings are better, served on good bread when not wrapped. A chicken salad made with breast meat is livened up by sweet-tart cranberries, a tart balsamic, and very green greens. A generous schmear of fresh pesto elevates the turkey sandwich. (Devotees should note that the second Crooked Mile does not serve soup, one of the strengths of the original shop.)
Around the corner on Woodford Street, the Local Press projects a more laid-back demeanor. The eclectic little space is appealing, and its few sidewalk tables may remind you a bit of the original Crooked Mile. Owner Casey Sheehan takes pride in the house soup, called the “Rundown Stew.” Its combination of mild curry, coconut milk, and root vegetables is reminiscent of a Thai tom kha. Caution: The soup, served scaldingly hot, warrants slow savoring.
Local Press’s forte is its selection of excellent panini sandwiches made on slices of flat, crusty wheat loaf. The Islander included enough dark funky mushrooms to stand up to the flavors of a creamy goat cheese and sharp olive tapenade. Many of the sandwiches, whether hot or cold, include some combination of ham and prosciutto. The Goodfella sandwich matched those meats nicely with fresh mozzarella, sweet roasted red peppers, and a refreshing zing of hot pepper relish.