As we enter Portland's busy season, there are several comings-and-goings (we'll focus on the comings and less on the goings) to keep track of as we plan our summer outings and evenings on the town. Do these changes indicate a local economy on its way toward revitalization? Business-types, real-estate mavens, and all the rest of us sure hope so.
The biggest recent venue news was the announcement of a much-anticipated fall re-opening of the STATE THEATRE, which has been closed since 2006 and which will open its doors again thanks to a partnership between independent music promoters The Bowery Presents (from NYC) and Alex Crothers (from Higher Ground in Vermont). Last month, these folks signed a deal with Stone Coast Properties to reopen the venue and continue the upgrades and renovation started by the owners. Lauren Wayne, formerly of Live Nation, will be general manager and in charge of booking. Already the Facebook requests have started rolling in, begging for visits from acts like Belle and Sebastian, LCD Soundsystem, moe., Paramore, Queensryche, and Bob Dylan (just to name a few).
Another large-scale development is the opening of HAVANA SOUTH, a new Latin-inspired eatery on Wharf Street. Stretching from where Cake and The Iguana used to sit, to Union Street (the old site of CHIANG MAI — which relocated to Loco Pollo's old digs on Washington Avenue), Havana South is a huge (8000 square feet!) and ambitious project. There's talk of opening a butcher shop at the side entrance; the restaurant will create about 60 new jobs. Like another large-scale dining destination in Portland (Grace, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary next month), Havana South owners Michael Boland and Cassady Pappas, who also run successful restaurants in Bar Harbor, have filled their space with antique pieces and unique building materials. We're eager to try the Fanesca Soup (a traditional Ecuadorian dish prepared with salt cod and quail egg) and the seafood-and-chorizo-stuffed paella. Check out the menu at havanamaine.com.
Establishments moving around town include BUBBLE MAINEIA, catering to those who are into the whole "bubble tea" (with milk and tapioca pearls) craze and serving noodle and rice dishes alongside. The drinkery has moved into the old Morrison's Chowder House space, next to Bagel Works. KATAHDIN is open in its new location, on Forest Avenue next door to Portland Stage Company, where Geo's Patisserie used to be. Brian Duff gave the restaurant's new incarnation a thumbs-up in a June 11 Phoenix review.
New arrivals: THE LOCAL SPROUTS CAFÉ is serving up breakfast, lunch, dinner, and beverages at 645 Congress Street, below the new apartment complex that used to be a University of Southern Maine dorm. The food is organic and the décor is eclectic; for breakfast, the tofu-veggie scramble is a healthy and delicious choice. Less healthy but just as yummy is the Smiling Cow ice cream being served at HARBOR SCOOPS — the new ice-cream shop located at the corner of Washington and Cumberland avenues in the East End. It is owned by Mike Roylos, who is using the shop's kitchen to make his Spartan Grill food, which is now served from the soon-to-be-called VICTORY CAFÉ (old Zarra's) in Monument Square. Speaking of cold summer treats, although you can no longer get your MAPLE'S ORGANIC gelato fix in town, the local gelateria is celebrating a grand opening this weekend at their new store in South Portland (on Gary Maietta Parkway off outer Highland Avenue), where customers will be able to watch employees make gelato and sorbetto by hand (new, seasonally inspired flavors like Strawberry Rhubarb and Blueberry Cobbler are already making our mouths water).