Linked cuisine

Portland's food scene steps online
By BRIAN DUFF  |  December 19, 2007
OBSESSION: Portland Food Map's taxonomy.

A year ago the Portland online food community was stuck in the Golden age. That’s John Golden, a well-pedigreed food writer who posted a blog on the MaineToday Web site. Golden usually wrote about weekend visits to the same half-dozen restaurants. Comments generally began by telling Golden to try other places and be less bitchy, and then the commentators turned on each other. But digging through them was at least a way to find out about openings, closings, and other restaurant news.

Things have changed a lot in twelve months. The proliferation of blogs and Web sites about food in Portland in the last year has been remarkable. The best of the bunch is the Portland Food Map, which in its six months has become Portland’s most essential food site. On it every single local restaurant and food business in Portland is listed, categorized, sub-categorized, color-coded, linked to existing write-ups, and often blurbed and number-rated. Closings are noted and openings are anticipated. Near-daily updates link to new reviews and articles of interest. It is easy to navigate and features a sort of local food google that limits searches to some 250 Web sites that Anestes Fontiades has identified as having useful information on food in Maine. Among other benefits, this filters out all the Oregon stuff.

It is hard to imagine a more benevolent leader for our online food community than PFM administrator Fotiades. His approach is comprehensive, even methodical, but is liberally seasoned with an enthusiasm for good food. Fotiades takes seriously that his site is focused on businesses to which people have dedicated their lives and staked their livelihood. Thus in rating, blurbing, and choosing where to link he takes an approach that is responsible even as it's frank. When he has had a bad experience somewhere he often notes that others have good things to say. When a false rumor spread recently that Hugo’s and Duckfat were moving to Boston, Fotiades stopped in and asked about it.

Fotiades often links to sites run by other local food enthusiasts. He likes the reviews on Type A Diversions where thirtysomething Erin writes thorough summaries of her meals, often at the top-tier spots that used to bring Golden back again and again. She is picky about her sushi and is also a big advocate of Pom's Thai.

Thanks to their various leaders the new sites like Type AFrom Way AwayThe Breakfast Club, and Accidental Vegetables are participatory without the messy democracy of a chowhound or egullet — more Chavez’s Venezuela than Paris Commune. That helps lend each site a distinctive tone that you can learn to love or hate, and trust or dismiss. Maybe the funniest thing these sites produced was The Breakfast Club’s writeup of Becky’s, but when it comes to personality the largest might be the mysterious proprietor of Portland Psst.

Whereas the PFM is comprehensive and responsible, Psst is completely obsessive and a touch unhinged. She seems to read everything, overhears a lot, and keeps up on fine-art food photography. She knows when a Maine farmer writes the New York Times and she knows when chefs hook up at parties. She is a master of the contemporary art of intriguing link-labeling (sample: “Harbor Fish Market was not about to fall into the ocean”).

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