On the hot plate

Portland's food gods smile on 2008
By BRIAN DUFF  |  December 26, 2007

TONGUE TORTURE: Epicures and gluttons shall repent, or at least regret.

To forecast food trends for Portland in 2008 is to prophesy the nation’s in 2009. One knows this because when Food & Wine magazine released its predictions of the “hottest” trends for restaurants in 2008 it read like a checklist for the last year or two here in Maine.

For example, you cannot throw a rock in this town anymore without splashing the gravy from someone’s poutine (the gravy and cheese-covered fries available at Uncle Billy’s, Duckfat, and The Frog and Turtle). Sure enough, poutine is third on F&W’s list. Chicken liver, often on the menu at Local 188, comes in at number six. Arrows, MC Perkins Cove, Cinque Terre, and Vignola all anticipate number five, in which “chefs use produce from their farms.” Pom recently opened a noodle bar — fourth on the list.

Number two is a “Belgian bistro boom” and we already have the essence of one in the form of Duckfat. Belgian bistros are judged on the quality of their fries. A favorite joke in France is, “How do you drive a Belgian crazy? Put him in a circular room and tell him there is a French fry in the corner.” It is hard to find fries better than Duckfat’s. The number one hottest food trend according to Food & Wine: “Iconoclast chefs hit the streets in trucks.” Seriously. Of course this summer Erik Dejarlais (of Bandol and the forthcoming Evangeline) was reportedly seen around the beaches selling pig offal to tourists out the back of an Econoline Van — so we came pretty close.

In 2008 Portland, and thus in 2009 America, will witness several food smackdowns. The first is a THAI SMACKDOWN — occasioned here by the near-simultaneous opening, within a few blocks, of new locations of Scarborough’s Chaba Thai, South Portland’s Pom’s, and Green Elephant (from the owners of Bangkok Thai). This battle promises to be tough. Buddhists can be brutal — ask anyone fleeced by a Japanese priest to prepay for a $20,000 funeral or face Buddhist hell (which features tongue torture for epicures and gluttons).

There will be a HEAD-CHEESE SMACKDOWN. Ever since Bandol closed it has been hard to get head cheese in this town. In fact I don’t think I have tasted this pungent meat-specked gelatin since I accidentally ate the entire jarred winter supply of the mayor of Mugla, a small Muslim village just north of the Greek border. He thought it would be rude to stop offering it and I thought it would be rude to stop eating. With Desjarlais opening his new Evangeline soon I look forward to dishes made from heads, feet and intestines. Now Bresca’s Krista Kern has beat him to it by putting head cheese on her menu as a starter. Luckily for Evangeline, it is nearly impossible to resist ordering Kern’s wonderful egg-and-kale starter instead.

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