West End meals

Take a Fresh Approach to Twenty$pot
By TODD RICHARD  |  October 10, 2007
Fresh Approach Market

The West End of Portland is often considered highbrow, high-rent, and full of high expectations. I learned this only after relocating there from the Boston area. My “temporary” apartment kept me in the there for a year and a half, and I drifted around nearby for the next several years. But this area of Portland is horribly misunderstood. While pockets of pretension certainly exist, casualness and comfortability easily maintains the balance.

Brackett Street, the street at the heart of the West End, is home to the Fresh Approach Market. For a year, I lived just a few doors down and, while there, made almost daily visits to Fresh Approach for fresh veggies and fruits, pantry staples, and odds and ends. I hadn’t been back since I moved away; little had changed when I stopped by recently, and that suits the regulars just fine.

The presentation is humble, but there is a surprising amount of food and groceries under this roof. The market’s claims to fame are its produce selection and its deli case; the meats include store-made sausages. Also of note is the shelf of bulk dried herbs and spices, priced by the ounce. It’s one of those nice touches that lets you buy a small bit for a special recipe, and pay just pennies.

For food sharing a similar aesthetic of simple yet savory, we can look to chowder. When done properly, chowders require little fuss and few ingredients, but yield bushels of comfort and satisfaction. In the meat case at Fresh Approach, fresh haddock sells for just $7.99 a pound. A piece weighing in at roughly three-quarters of a pound will do just fine for a little chowder. The red potatoes will add a little color to the meal, and a half-dozen of medium-sized ones should be just right. A few ears of fresh corn, still readily available, will help make a terrific chowder. A little red bell pepper for color would be great, and a slightly bruised one has been marked down to sell quickly. Sold! While there is no cream in the dairy section, half-and-half should work fine, and a generous amount of butter can easily make up the difference without being too different.

To prepare the chowder, start with roughly three cups seasoned water. Chop the potatoes in to half-inch or three-quarter-inch chunks. Place in a large pot and add water until the potatoes are just covered. Boil the potatoes until they are cooked al dente, about 10 minutes. Turn the temperature down to a low simmer. Place the fish on top of the potatoes, cover, and poach the fish until cooked through. Place several pats of cold butter, about three-quarters of a stick, on top of the fish. Add diced red pepper, corn kernels, and scallions (another as-is purchase) that have been sauteed in a bit of olive oil. Add a cup of half-and-half and season with salt and pepper. Once warmed through, ladle into bowls and serve immediately. Watch the heat throughout this whole process! If the chowder gets too warm, you run the risk of the butter and half-and-half “breaking” or separating, which should be avoided at all costs. But even if your chowder breaks, you know you’ve not broken the bank trying it out.

155 Brackett St, Portland | 207.774.3297
TOTAL $14.23
butter $1 stick
corn $0.59 ea
scallions $0.30
half-and-half pint $1.99
parsley $1.49
potatoes $1.24
haddock $5.79
red pepper $1.24

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Todd Richard: tmr@maine.rr.com

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