It's been a while! 7 months to be exact. Oops! 2019 has been one heck of a year. Between transitioning careers, reaching 2k on Instagram and some exciting foodie opportunities I've been granted, it's been a year of such growth and change! It goes without saying that it wouldn't have been possible without the enthusiasm and support of all my Franimals. Thank you to everyone who has shared my blog via social media, word of mouth, etc. It really has been such an unexpected little project that is slowly snowballing into something much bigger and I can't wait to share more content, updates, and surprises with you in 2020! So thank you again for being on board with all of my foodscapades and I can't wait to share more with you in the coming year and beyond!
That being said, I can't let 2019 come and go without sharing some of my personal food highlights from the year! I've broken this list up into 3 different categories: Restaurant highlights, meal highlights, and dish highlights. Restaurant highlights are restaurants I visited more than once this year and kept coming back to and was impressed by. Meal highlights are meals that involved multiple courses that I considered to be top-notch. And dish highlights just talk about one specific dish or snack that I was obsessed with this year. I guess you could say my picks really brought a lot to the table. :D ...*cough* Let's kick it off with those bigger highlights, starting with...
Call me biased, because I'm sure by now you all know how much I love Mami and all the scrumptious delectations that Austin, Hana, and their crew sling on a daily basis. But I want to call them out specifically because, in my opinion, they have continuously brought new and inventive food to their menu throughout the year and introduced, at least most of us, to dishes we never would've tried anywhere else in Maine. Mentaiko pasta, salmon oyakodon, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki with crazy toppings such as fried soft-shell crab and kimchi, crazy successful ramen nights...I could go on. But ever since the beginning days of the Mami truck cruising from venue to venue, Austin and his team have consistently tried new things, made sure every single one of them was outstanding, and I'm sure had fun doing it. So cheers to Mami now and in the years to come for all your hard work, high-quality authentic food and good spirits! I cant wait to see what the new year brings...Seriously, I can't wait. MORE. FOOD.
I know what you're thinking. Pretty unassuming, pretty new...What's the big whoop in my book? In the same vein of restaurants that are bringing new and unexplored dishes to the peninsula, Bánh Appétit has done a fantastic job of just that. While I will always miss Ten Ten Pie, I think Bánh Appétit is a worthy successor to take over this space. From Bánh Xèo to Che Dau Trang to the ever-rotating prepared hot dishes available daily, like Mami, Tuyet Le and co. aren't afraid to (gently) introduce us Mainers to dishes from across the pond that we may not have thought to try, or even had the opportunity to try without traveling. The prices are reasonable, the quality is high, and the commitment is visible in the efforts they've made to keep things fresh, affordable and accessible. I know I'll be stopping in next time there's a funky new dish on the specials menu, and so should you!
Last and certainly not least, what was cemented as my favorite restaurant in Portland for 2019...Crown Jewel! I haven't been shy about spreading the love for this adorable island getaway on Great Diamond Island, and I certainly never will be. They really doubled down in their second year in operation and proved that they're worth their salt. Their commitment to sustainability with their compostable dishware and use local ingredients is a standout in the restaurant industry here in Southern Maine (though certainly not the only exception), on top of staying true to that commitment when transporting all these goods to the island every day. And the topping on this bright pink cake is the atmosphere: my god, the atmosphere. From the glistening, towering bar to the tropical throw cushions at every table to the shining neon flamingo that watches over us all, their aesthetic is tight to a fault and really makes you feel like you're on a tropical getaway in the middle of Maine, especially on a hot summer's day. So when their season kicks back up again in June/July, book yourself a ticket at the Casco Bay ferry terminal, bring some roaders and wear your Sunday best, because this experience is worth every dime. (And try the Crown Punch, you won't regret it!)
Turamali was a newcomer on the scene in 2019 as a Mexican pop-up restaurant that hosted monthly pop-ups at a number of places including Evo, Lio, and BLVL. Thoughtfully curated, multi-course meals that brought together authentic Mexican fare and fresh ingredients made for a special meal that was worth every penny. And their limited availablity as a result of being a pop-up made them even more alluring to get a hold of. I hope to see Turamali hosting more delicious pop-up meals in 2020!
When my friend Sarah (207Foodie) told me that Izakaya Minato's 7-course omakase dinner was the best, most delicious deal in town, I was curious. I had been to Izakaya a number of times and enjoyed myself with their uni spoons and legendary JFC, but I never considered the omakase dinner. For $30, you will find yourself with 6-7, full-sized dishes brought out to you over the course of a couple of hours. Between the JFC, minato age dofu and a number of other dishes, I quickly understood why this was Portland's best deal of a meal. If you have a free night, pop in and try it for yourself. If you find yourself weeping in joy by the time the homemade ice cream comes out, don't worry: that means you are still sane and have great taste.
Named Dine Out Maine's/Portland Press Herald's Best New Restaurant of 2019, The Garrison came onto the scene in mid-2019 much to the anticipation of foodies all over Maine. Nestled over the Royal River with large windows overlooking the rushing current and tungsten lighting giving the interior a cozy, warm glow, I believed the hype when I bit into my pan-seared monkfish. The quality was unparalleled and the flavor made you want to take 5 minutes just to savor each chew. With fresh, local ingredients, the dishes here clearly have a lot of love and boast a commitment to locally-sourced ingredients that is on par with my restaurant highlight, Crown Jewel. I came here on my birthday but you certainly don't have to wait for a special occasion to make a reservation and start off your 2020 with one of the best meals around.
I like to think of Cheevitdee as a bit of a sleeper hit: you've heard of it, but never tried it. You've heard nothing but good things, but you haven't had much experience with truly authentic Thai. But when you do finally make that leap and give it a try, it quickly becomes one of your favorite places in town. What woke me up to what I was missing was their newly unveiled brunch menu that debuted in the summer of 2019. It features 6 different 'brunch sets', each of which is a different combo of traditional breakfast dishes from Thailand ranging from jok (a savory rice porridge) to pathongko (a fried Thai donut). I ordered set #1, which included kai kata, shrimp + pork shumai and the aforementioned pathongko. I don't think I've ever gobbled a brunch so fast, and stared at my friend's brunch set #2 of pork jok with such envy. If you're curious about Cheevitdee but want to get your toes a little wet first, I think their scrumptious brunch is a great place to start.
Hot Pot Nights
Sichuan Kitchen, like a few other places on my list, helped introduce me to some new Asian dishes that weren't available in Maine for a long time. I heard about their hot pot nights on Instagram and I was immediately curious. Like Korean BBQ, it is a cook-your-own meal with a variety of meats and veggies for your delectation, cooked as much or as little as you like, this time in boiling soups. I already knew I liked this concept so when I went to try it with some friends, my suspicions proved correct. This is a great meal to share with a large group of friends and is a great bargain at $30 a hot pot. It is especially nice on a cold winter's night with a big glass of beer on the side. (In my opinion...) So if you're in the market to try something new and warm up as the nights get colder this winter, I couldn't think of a better place to saddle up and hunker down with friends.
Congdon’s Donut Grilled Cheese
from Food for Thought, Ogunquit
This dish can be described in one word: WOW. Just looking at it you can get a sense of the gravity of what you're about to eat. It's a grilled cheese...between two glazed donuts...ON A HOOK HANGING OVER TOMATO SOUP. I think this one's pretty self-explanatory. My only advice is: come hungry and cancel your meals for the rest of the day.
Shaved Rib Eye Cheesesteak
from Rebel Cheesesteaks, Portland
I thought I knew cheesesteaks. Turns out, I'm an idiot and don't know beans because Rebel Cheesesteaks showed me the true way. Top their local shaved rib eye cheesesteak off with caramelized onions and a fried egg and you're ready to ascend this mortal coil. You ain't got no more shit to do down here. (Except eat more cheesesteaks so maybe stick around)
Korean BBQ Meatloaf Biscuit Sandwich
from Figgy's Takeout and Catering, Portland
This was my most popular post of 2019 with a whopping 201 likes (listen that's impressive for ME) And for a good reason. Look at the way that Korean BBQ sauce drips down my hand. Look at how it's roughly the size of a softball and I can barely hold it. Look at those crispy onion rings. This was probably one of, if not the, best thing I ate all year. Figgy's doesn't need to be on Chopped to prove their worth, this sandwich did that in like 15 minutes. Maybe 10, I blacked out it was so good.
from Kuno, Portland
Remember how I said I looked at my friend's jok/congee at Cheevitdee with absolute envy. Well I finally took the plunge when Kuno offered congee as a brunch option at the Recovery Brunch event at Goodfire Brewing. I wasn't hungover but I was hungry for some of that savory porridge goodness. And if you saw my latest Instagram stories where I cooked it for myself in the instant pot, I was hooked. That first bite of congee was nothing short of heaven. Paired with some shrimp shumai on the side, I ran off with my treasure like a dragon hoarding gold and slobbered it up in my car like the absolute animal I am. Next time they have congee on the menu, do yourself the biggest favor you could do yourself and GET SOME.
Here are a few extra treats that I wanted to share that definitely stuck in my mind for a long time! (In no particular order)
3) Bánh mì kep kem from Cong Tu Bot
4) Chinese Take-Out Fries from Arcadia National Bar
5) Croque Madame (with a duck egg) from Isa
6) Dim Sum Brunch from Bao Bao Dumpling House
And there you have it! Frannie's comprehensive Best Of list for 2019! I feel like I ate so much but I know there's still so much more I need to try! So many new places that have opened that I haven't tried yet that are begging to be sampled, and so many more to come! 2020 is definitely looking like a big year for Portland, and it will definitely be a big one for me. There are some changes coming to my blog as well as some even bigger surprises that I can't wait to share with you all. Thank you again for joining me this year, have a safe and responsible night (if you've plowed yourself out of the driveway yet!) and have a wonderful start to your New Year!