Summer in the Portland area can be hectic with its abundance of busy restaurants, outdoor markets, and a short growing season. But as the weather cools, kids go back to school, and the summer tourists head home we can take a deep breath and leisurely appreciate what autumn has to offer. Chefs are looking forward to working with ingredients from the fall harvest and leaf peepers and locals can take advantage of the restaurants that opened late summer.
SLICING AND DICING Mitchell Gerow of the East Ender preps melons for fall dishes.
ZEN CHINESE BISTRO opened August 20 in the location formerly occupied by District at 45 Danforth Street. Owned by sisters Tina and Laura Cigri and executive chef Yuan Deng, the restaurant is open daily. The sisters also own Mediterranean Grill in Freeport; the Chinese menu here includes vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, as well as local seafood.
KUSHIYA BENKAY, sister restaurant of Benkay on India Street, also opened for business in August. It's located at 653 Congress Street — the space previously occupied by Gogi. The restaurant serves an assortment of traditional and creative Japanese food, including not just sushi but kushikatsu (breaded and deep-fried meat and vegetable skewers) and yakitori (grilled meat and vegetable skewers). Kushiya Benkay is open daily, with late-night hours to 2 am Thursday through Saturday.
For those who crave a smoothie, a salad, or a glass of wine and dessert, ROOST HOUSE OF JUICE is open at 11 Free Street. Owners Kathleen Flanagan and Jeanette Richelson want to promote local farmers, artists and businesses. Grab a bite on the go or sit and relax; open Tuesday through Saturday.
There are new coffee shops and breweries popping up in the East Bayside neighborhood. BUNKER BREWING COMPANY and TANDEM COFFEE ROASTERS opened recently and are both located at 122 Anderson Street. Bunker is a small-batch brewery run by Jay Villani (of Local 188 and Sonny's) and Chresten Sorensen, who bakes for the restaurants. Tandem, which we reviewed last week, is owned by Kathleen and Will Pratt who came to Maine with their employee Vien Dobui from Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco. (Don't miss out on the malted iced coffee!)
Other bar/restaurants to keep an eye out for in the coming months include IN'FINITI at 200 Commercial Street; OUTLIERS EATERY at 231 York Street; and GATHER at 189 Main Street in Yarmouth. In'finiti is expected to open sometime this fall as a distillery and bar operated by the owners of Novare Res Bier Cafe. Outliers will occupy the space that was once Popeye's Ice House and has a projected late fall or early winter opening date. Gather in Yarmouth will be an affordable, family friendly, farm-fresh restaurant. Construction is moving quickly and the opening is expected by late September.
Last word on fall ingredients? Chefs Pete Sueltenfuss of GRACE on Chestnut Street and Mitchell Gerow of the EAST ENDER on Middle Street are looking forward to preparing lamb, pork, and veal this fall. Sueltenfuss says he likes to get a whole animal, break it down, and use as much as possible for menu items. For Gerow, fall is his favorite time of year to braise, confit, and slow-roast meats. He uses melons, squash, and pumpkins to create ravioli, spaetzle, and cassoulet; any excess fruits and vegetables are canned and incorporated into the fall and winter menus, he says. And on a crisp fall night, customers can enjoy a campfire martini with smoked apple infused vodka.
Autumn is a time for harvest dinners, apple picking, hearty soups, cider, and mulled wine. Now is the time to get out and experience this exciting season of change!