Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In the "You Learn Something New Every Day Department:" B&M Baked Beans

All this time, all these years, I've been driving by the Burnham & Morrill building that you can see to the right of the Washington Ave. exit on 295 in Portland. I knew that they made B&M Baked Beans there, but what I DIDN'T know was that B&M Baked beans are a Maine institution, made here and only here. I'm not a big fan of baked beans in general, but these are a staple around here, and now I know why. Another product that they make is brown bread. I don't really like it either, but I never knew where it came from. Turns out, it's often a can. Who knew? Well I'm sure lots of people did, but I didn't.

Friday, February 17, 2006

One of My New Favorite Lunch Places: Simones World Famous Hot Dogs

Yes, red hot dogs are a Maine thing and honestly, I have never seen them outside of Maine. Years and years ago, when I was a kid, I seem to remember that the same banned red food coloring that was once used in M&Ms was used to give these hot dogs their bright red coloring. You'll sometimes hear them called "cancer dogs" by locals. This of course isn't true anymore (about red hot dogs or red M&Ms, and it might have just been an urban legend to being with). All I'm sure of is that they are darned good eating. The red dog is slightly longer and definitely thinner than a Kosher dog and the casing has a nice "snap" to it which is unlike the softer casing of say, a Fenway frank, and to me is a little spicier than other dogs.

So, as I was driving down Lisbon Street the other day, I happened to notice Simones (pronounced Sim-O-ness) World Famous Hot Dogs on Chestnut Street, which jarred the memory that someone had mentioned that it was a place worth checking out. Today I went and was made very happy.

First let me say that hot dogs aren't something I eat every day. They are usually confined to consumption at baseball games. I do however make exceptions when they are good. And the Simones dogs are definitely good.

The dogs I got at Simones were placed in soft Country Kitchen hot dog buns (Country Kitchen, another Maine institution, is actually more or less right next door), slathered in ketchup and mustard, which is the way I like 'em, and wrapped in wax paper. These little guys were quite tasty. As to the decor of the place? Well it doesn't really matter, but it's diner set-up with a long dining counter that stretches from one end to the other. The menu features (of course) hot dogs, and many other lunch and even breakfast items. A definite "good lunch place" vibe permeated the place.

Overall : 5 out of 5 Dogs (Rockin'!)

Simones World Famous Hot Dogs
99 Chestnut St., Lewiston
Open Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Saturday, 7 a.m. - 2 p.m.

You can read another take on the place here.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sooooo Much Italian Food

For some reason, probably because it seems to be the epitome of "World Cuisine" around here, there is a proliferation of Italian restaurants. They range from so-so to good, with none of them being exactly spectacular. In addition to the 3 stand-bys I've been to, there is also a new one, with a Wine bar, called Espo's that I'm eager to try, so I can't speak of that one yet.

At any rate, at the lower end of the scale we have Marco's in Lewiston. Now Marco's has actually been around for a very long time, and just recently reopened after a fire gutted their previous location downtown. Rather than rebuilding in the downtown location, they chose to open in an industrial park. The new location is a lot bigger, and has plenty of parking. The interior design is open, but not anything special, which is fine. The food however, was unspectacular. It wasn't bad, but it was really pedestrian. The portions were HUGE, but I'm not looking for that. I'm actually kind of getting sick of this American move to quantity = quality. Give me a nicely sized single chicken breast, with a great sauce or topping, and an interesting side and I'm happy. The portion at Marco's consisted of two large-ish heavily breaded chicken breasts, with a piece of fairly fatty prosciutto between them on top of mushrooms, all in a heavy sauce. The Italian potatoes weren't bad, nor were the carrots, but it was really too much and it just didn't pack a lot of flavor or freshness. Like I said to my dining companion, it's safe Italian for people who have lived here many years. Granted Macro's is newly opened, and it could improve, but the current food seems to me to be just like it was in their previous incarnation, so I'm not sure that will change much.

Overall: 2 out of 5 red wine glasses (needs improvement)

Taking a definite step up, food wise, is Graziano's Casa Mia Restaurant in Lisbon. With a boxing theme and a kind of worn, shady lounge area, here the food was more reasonably portioned (still too much though) and just... better. The dishes at Graziano's have more flavor. The last time I was there, I had this Italian sausage and zitti dish in a marinara sauce and it was quite good. The bread they provided was also pretty good. Not artisan or anything, but I wouldn't really expect that. The selections on the menu were nothing to write home about, pretty standard fare, but I haven't been unhappy with anything I've had. The decor, well it's like early 70's threadbare, with boxing pictures adorning the walls. You don't go here for the decor. Seriously, I remember eating there as a child many, many years ago, and I think the place is pretty much the same now as it was then. Parking can be a bit "odd" but it's more or less plentiful. Overall, it's got a good "local vibe" going, and the food and prices aren't too bad.

Overall: 3 out of 5 red wine glasses (not bad)

Finally, we have DaVinci's Eatery in the Lewiston Bate's Mill. I love the location, and decor is pretty cool, considering it's in an old textile mill, but they use that to their advantage. The food here is fresh and has a lot of flavor, and in addition to standard Italian fare, you can get decent brick oven pizza. They still serve over-large portions, but they also feature "smaller" entrees, with is a nice touch. My last time there, I had a pretty standard Chicken Parm dish, but the sauce was fresh, and the mozzarella was smooth and tasty. Options for what kind of pasta you want is also a nice touch. Beware if you click through to their web site though, as annoying, loud "God Father" music plays and restarts with every page you load. (Seriously, any web developer who builds a web site that plays unnecessary music you can't even control should be taken out behind the woodshed and shot). The two downsides to DaVinci's current location is size, and parking. First, be prepared to wait at peak times, like Cambridge wait, an hour or more, but you can call for reservations. Second, you probably want to park in one of the free garages across the canal from the restaurant, as parking at the restaurant itself is thin.

Overall: 3 out of 5 red wine glasses (not bad)

I have yet to try Espo's which is a newly opened Trattoria and wine bar at the end of Lisbon Street. This is run by the same people who own Esposito's in Portland, and I've heard good things about that place.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Back in Maine, 6 months later

My 6 month "anniversary" of being back in the state of Maine was recently passed. The Winters here were always the toughest things for me when I lived here before (though really, I didn't find Boston Winters MUCH milder) and I really need to start vacationing somewhere WARM during this season. This winter, however has been freakishly warm. We have yet to have a really good snowstorm, by that I mean 1 foot plus of snow. In my previous 3 years just outside of Boston, we had 2+ feet of snow at least 3 times, with one snowfall totaling nearly 3 feet (I kid you not). I expected to get dumped on here at least once, but significant snowfall just hasn't happened (not that I'm complaining, mind you). Figures, I'm back in a place where I have a garage and don't have to shovel and... no snow (again, not that I'm complaining). Now that we're well past the Winter Solstice, and we've gained over an hour of daylight, I am certainly looking forward to Spring, longer days, putting the TT top down, etc.