This winter season, travel to Portland, Maine and discover a New England city packed with some incredible restaurants, bakeries, and gourmet shops. A truly well rounded trip for the food traveler, I’m sharing my top picks in this coastal city.
The winter season for us equals vacation time, since we normally work the rest of the year at a restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard, so this cold weather season we planned a couple of trips to explore New England, starting with Portland, Maine. Partnering up with The Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, we planned a 3-day itinerary that would take us around Portland, exploring their lighthouses, restaurants, and more.
Start the day by heading to Scratch Baking Co. located in South Portland, just a quick ride from the hotel. Here you’ll walk into a land of the freshest, most delicious bagels outside of New York City. It’s a small neighborhood bakery that really showcases some of the best ingredients in their baked goods, such as King Arthur and Aurora Mills flours, local Maine eggs, and real butter. The Maine Sea Salt Bagel was our favorite – chewy, dense, salty heaven. Since this was the day we would be exploring lighthouses, I grabbed one of their brownies for the walk. They also serve sandwiches, salads, and soups, as well as have a small market case of “things that go with bread” such as cheese, condiments, cured meats, and wine.
From there, we took our goods to go and decided to walk to our first lighthouse, Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. The only caisson-style light station in the United States that visitors can walk to, it’s located on the breakwater at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, a brisk 20 minute walk that was even more enjoyable with our snacks.
Up next, the Portland Breakwater Lighthouse was close enough for us to walk to as well – that’s the thing with Maine. So many lighthouses abound, they’re quite close by to each other! This particular lighthouse was built in 1875 and is one of Maine’s most elegant structures. Modeled on an ancient Greek monument, it was built with plates of cast iron but nicknamed “Bug Light” due to its small size.
For our last lighthouse, we decided to go big or go home by taking a ride to Portland Head Light and Fort Williams Park. This was hands down our favorite, just because of the location and vantage photography views and shots we got. Decorated for the holiday season, the wreath looked quite perfect. Construction started in 1787 and the area is great for hiking during the warmer seasons. If anything, we now know Portland, Maine is known for their lighthouses – we only hit three of the 65 lighthouses in the state of Maine!
After a couple hours of lighthouse exploring, head back to your hotel, The Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, for some time to unwind and relax before a late lunch. Located in the heart of the vibrant Arts District in downtown Portland and steps away from the the Portland Museum of Art, it’s ideal for exploring the city on foot. Previously known as The Eastland Park Hotel, it opened its doors in 1927 as the largest hotel in New England, welcoming famous dignitaries and celebrities through the years. So historic even Aviator Charles Lindbergh stayed in it after returning from the solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean!
Location isn’t the only reason to stay at the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel in Portland, Maine – their 24-hour WestinWORKOUT® Fitness Studio and Gear Lending with New Balance®. For just $5, you can call the front desk, let them know your size, and they’ll bring freshly laundered top, bottom, and New Balance sneakers for your use – beats having to lug your own sneakers in your suitcase! Another reason is to dine at the popular rooftop lounge, Top of the East where you can see panoramic views of Portland and Casco Bay. They serve up some very creative cocktails and small bites – worth a visit!
Top of the East was a great late night treat, as it was steps away from our room – we had some lobster sliders and they’re a must have! View more of their offerings from these Top of the East events hosted in the past months: Flickr and Yelp.
For lunch on a cold day in Portland, Maine, head on over to The Honey Paw. We rushed in after visiting the lighthouses on a really cold day, so the welcoming bar was the perfect spot to settle in for lunch. The menu consists of steaming hot broths, savory wontons, wok-fried spicy noodles, loaded rice bowls, and so much more.
We started with some radish kimchi and wok-charred Brussels sprouts. If you hate Brussels sprouts, order these. They are roasted to a crisp and tossed with maple, shrimp, nuoc cham, mint, and crushed peanuts. It’s a bombshell for your mouth! For our entrees, Dan Dan Noodles and Bibimbap – both perfect for warming up on a cold day.
A walk around downtown Portland had us stumble upon Vena’s Fizz House. They describe themselves as “liquid alchemists”, hosts to an apothecary of 200 plus liquids from around the world. Whether it’s bitters, tonics, shrubs, spirits, and garnishes, among other things, this is the place to stock up your home bar. They’re also a bar with something for everyone, as well as a kitchen that serves up vegan treats, creative fondues, to go bowls, and baked goods.
Going to Portland, you also have to hit the most traditional spots and DiMillo’s is definitely an iconic restaurant in the area. Established in 1954, since then it has been serving some of the freshest seafood and once you sit down and order, you’ll understand why it’s been so popular. They definitely don’t try to be creative or modern – they stick to fresh seafood and simple preparations, like the Maine Lobster below drenched in melted butter. I ordered this with a side of rice and it was just the most comforting meal ever – the rice soaked up the buttery lobster just right! A quick squeeze of lemon really brightened it all and brought it all together. DiMillo’s might seem too traditional for the foodie travel, maybe a bit on the vintage side, but I assure you – it’s worth the visit.
The great thing about Portland, Maine is just the fact that you can walk around the downtown city area and discover so many amazing shops, like a favorite that stood out: k colette. This is a shop that specializes in artisan-made goods for you and your home – everything from gorgeous soaps to soft blankets, wooden cutting boards and cookbooks, among other curated items. I picked up a gorgeous soy candle – but wanted 99.9% of the store!
And from upscale homewares to probably the most local fish market in Portland, Maine, the Harbor Fish Market. It’s a no frills seafood shop selling the freshest catch of the day, among other local goods. Quick tip: want to buy Maine sea salt? Purchase it at a fish market and you won’t pay the gourmet market prices! Plus, sea salt is the best travel souvenir to bring home.
Buying fresh fish makes no sense when traveling or staying at a hotel, but this market also carries a variety of smoked seafood spreads and pates, which would make a perfect little hotel bed picnic last night, so I recommend you pick some items up, along with crackers and a fresh lemon!
After all that walking, you might be hungry but not hungry enough to have a meal so I recommend you stop by Central Provisions and grab a seat at the chef’s bar. Quick note, if you’ve spent most of the morning and early afternoon walking, lunch at Central Provisions is only until 2pm. We walked in around 1:45pm and it was still pretty crowded, so we grabbed a seat without remorse! Here we had a couple of things, including what’s pictured below: brandade croquettes with a bright lemon aioli. They were fried to perfection and so creamy on the inside! Central Provisions is a small plates restaurant, of the style of Spanish tapas, so it’s a fun spot for a quick bite or a leisurely dinner of endless small dishes. Whichever way you go, it’s bound to delight.
Since you’re having small bites, roll that into a small dinner food crawl and head over to Duck Fat, the one restaurant every single person I asked recommended before visiting Portland, Maine. Mind you, it’s not fancy. This is a small sandwich shop that does what it does really well: classic Belgian fries made with local Maine potatoes fried in duck fat, panini, soups, salads, charcuterie, natural sodas, and milkshakes. The ambiance is awesome, the servers and staff are so cool I wanna be their friends and the food is just on point. Obviously, get the fries. But along with the fries, get a panini – we ordered the Overnight Duck Confit Panini that had pickled Maine apple, shaved fermented kohlrabi, and an herb mayo. It was seriously divine! Sadly, I wasn’t smart and skipped the milkshakes, but all the more reason to return to Portland!
As our trip winds down and we’re back into our hotel room one last night, it’s my night to pack up what I’ve bought and organize for our trip to the next city. It’s also the time I decide if we are going to have time to have breakfast in bed – and with my planning skills (which basically mean I rarely leave a hotel before noon), we do. The Westin’s Eat Well Menu is the perfect way to fuel a long travel day, plus it’s a way to relax and indulge one last time. It’s a menu that showcases superfoods, freshly made green juices, and whole grains. Unlike typical in-room dining, care and thought is really put into the execution of the menu.
Although breakfast in bed at a Westin is always a double-edged sword because those Heavenly® Beds are just that…heavenly. Last year I tried to recreate plush hotel beds at home, but I love how the brand has a store where you can recreate these Heavenly® beds in your own home by ordering every piece online!
And that’s it for Portland, Maine! Until next time, make sure to start planning your travel adventures. If you need any ideas on where to go – check out my travel section! Safe travels my friends and thanks for reading.
Disclaimer: We were guests to the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, who covered our stay and travel. Meals and other expenses were are own, as are the opinions expresses on this blog. Thank you for supporting the brands and businesses that make Cooking with Books happen!