Scratch Bakery: A little slice of amazing.

Scratch Bakery: A little slice of amazing.

I have been on the search for a bakery to fall in love with for sometime. The type of place where you know people just labor over sheets and sheets of pastry. The type of place where there are neat little piles of pastry scattered over a countertop. A place where everything looks as though it was hand-made. There is something about a place where the pastry case plays a limited role that just sings to me. I feel like I am in another country. A divine jaunt into a French countryside where croissants rule and brioche is wildly available. Walking into Scratch Baking Co. hit all of these elements. The moment I opened the door and took a giant whiff of the air, I knew, I had found something really special. And obviously, I’m not the only one, as the place was packed. This place isn’t a secret. The word is out. On-line, reviews were everywhere, they spoke of one of a kind bagels and truly wonderful coffee. Just looking at the website made me die to take a gander in real life, but the reviews from real folks, none of which were bad, really sealed the deal for me. I needed to go. I needed to see. I needed to eat.

Yes, you guessed it. I broke my no sugar rule. I HAD TO. I mean, I had to. I just had to.

The kids, husband and I took a drive over Saturday morning. It was about a half an hour from my house, long way you say? No, not even, I would drive to the ends of the earth for this place. As busy as it was inside, we were lucky enough to score a front and center parking space and there was definitely more to spare. Upon first glance inside, after the kids stormed the place, I noticed there were only a couple of bagels left. My heart sank a little. Oh no, I thought, this is what I came for, but no worries, they were full again within seconds. Like an answer to a magnificent prayer, this lovely lady came in this white apron and filled the bins right back up. Even after this divine occurrence, I actually ended up ditching the bagels because once I caught wind of everything else, those little rounds just couldn’t compare in my eyes. There were so many options and I felt like I was pulled in a bazillion directions, I mean, kids were screaming, people were moving, my husband looked confused. But then, I saw them, the gorgeous plate filled with “Bear Claws” (almond croissants) which looked unlike anything I have ever seen in Maine.

So I bought two, one for Miles and one for me. My husband got a slice of lemon poppy something bread. Emma chose a chocolate croissant and for the road to Massachusetts later on, I purchased a loaf of their vegan banana bread. Most likely, if left to my own free will I would have bought: ten loaves of bread, sixteen bagels and one hundred of their little luscious chocolate cakes. But in this one instance, toddler tantrums did come in handy because little Miles got me out of there before I could do any real damage. I sort of ignored the lady at the cash register because of this ridiculous melt down that was in fact occurring but I did notice her completely warm smile, adorning offer of an extra bag and willingness to not judge my obnoxious two-year old. That to me, is worth a million bucks. Thanks check out lady, you were super nice. 🙂

The food lived up to the hype. That bear claw was the best thing I have eaten in a long time and after almost 9 miles logged in the books running the night before, I felt as though it was amply deserved. I savored every bite of the crispy but not too crunchy exterior. I licked up every morsel of almond paste that ran perfectly throughout. And I thoroughly savored every single bit of chewy, moist interior that just complemented the exterior perfectly. Miles sat happy for three whole minutes. Emma didn’t speak for five minutes. Josh and I argued about not getting coffee but who cares, it didn’t take away from my bit of happy. Later on, while visiting with my mother in Boston, we enjoyed the banana bread with coffee which was perfectly done.

It’s a place I will escape to often. It’s a place I will dream about at night. Bakeries like this one are hard to come by and I couldn’t be happier I stumbled upon it. When you care about the craft, it shows, and these people obviously care a lot.

Scratch Baking Co.

416 Preble St.

South Portland, ME

207-799-0668

The Grateful Bread: I am NOT grateful.

wp500c746d_06

In my afternoon adventures today, I stumbled into The Grateful Bread, a cafe and bakery right in the heart of Windham. This establishment has been here for about a year, however, I never go. I was burnt the first few weeks of opening and vowed never to return. I gave them a really decent shot at first out of sheer desperation. I mean there literally is nothing else around here. We have a Dunkin’ Donuts but the intelligence of the staff is equivalent to a piece of poop. I mean some mornings I feel as though I should drive up and say: “just give me whatever you feel like today”, because that’s what I end up with. Anyways, in my first few visits at The Grateful Bread I purchased: stale muffins on numerous occasions, iced coffee with literally no ice, iced coffee that was just hot coffee poured over ice, the wrong breakfast, almost an hour at the door on Sunday waiting to be acknowledged with not so much as even a smile and half hour waits for something like a latte. It got to be too much. I felt like I was dating a boy who was just not that into me, so I had to make the choice to walk away. And I did. And I haven’t looked back. Until today. I really wanted a latte and so I decided just to give it one last try. Perhaps things have changed. Maybe the growing pains have been worked out. Or maybe, just maybe they fired their entire staff.

Nope, when I walked in I was greeted by the same gentleman that always greeted me. And he greets me in a way that makes me feel like I should be so lucky as to get to dine at such a fair establishment. He’s too casual, too cool, too much of “I don’t actually give a shit.” He’s always knee-deep in conversation with some hapless young lady and every time I try to correct him about the way he is making my beverage, he stares at me like: “Really lady?” But here is the thing, guy whose name I don’t know, you don’t make my shit right: EVER. And if I wanted to take four dollars and throw it into thin air, I would just go and throw it into thin air. I’m not asking for the world here people. This is a tale of a very simple lady asking for a very simple thing: Large iced non-fat latte. They have all the tools to do it right. Why can’t they just do it right? Today I received a whole milk, virtually no coffee,  literally two melted ice cubes latte. I basically paid four bucks for a cup of milk. Isn’t there someone who owns this place that can teach these overpaid teenagers how to make a coffee right??? Let me get back there, I’ll do it. And for free.

Let’s move on to the cupcakes, which I bought three of, actually I wouldn’t even refer to them as cupcakes. I purchased three hockey pucks that were doused in sugar and some color. Hard to the touch. Crunchy to the taste. Stale. Gross. $2.50 a piece and just entirely a waste of money. I actually didn’t buy the cupcakes to eat. After spotting the condition of my iced latte (I should just call it iced milk, that’s not actually iced), curiosity got the best of me and I decided I had to know: do they taste as yucky as they look? Verdicts in folks, they do. To boot, I found the place to be dirty, not well-kept, the pastry cases were empty and everything that was in them looked lost. I have noticed the decline of cars in the parking lot over the past few months so I have to wonder, has everyone else in Windham finally caught on? It was a nice pipe dream, but this place is just a total disappointment.

I just want to know, does anyone who works there have the qualifications to be running a bakery? And if they do, did their life instructor leave out the always taste your food rule?

Now many people may be reading this and thinking, what a complete douche. If you feel that way, fine. Doesn’t bother me one bit. This is my first time writing anything negative about a food establishment and it won’t be the norm on this blog but today I just reached my sick and tired point. I work too damn hard to waste my money on a place that claims to be good and just does not care. It’s absolutely ridiculous. If you are going to invest your money in opening a bakery, do it right, please, or leave it to people who know what they are doing. If I was ever-blessed with the opportunity of having my own bakery, people would swoon at the pastry cases. They would drool over the cake stands filled to the brim. They would lavish in the organic, locally sourced ingredients that were put together to create beautiful music. Everything would look pretty, clean and neat all the time. And I would treat every customer like they were my first. It would feel like Paris with thoughtful luxuries throughout the store: fresh flowers, gorgeous napkins and intricate teacups. People would feel like they were treating themselves beyond their means even though the prices would be completely reasonable. Baking is love. Coffee is lust. And if you are going to make bold promises, you better deliver.

Also, I hate their logo. So much.

If someone would just give me a good cup of coffee, I would not be so angry. Promise.

Hugs and kisses people. Sleep tight.

 

The East Ender

I met the owners of this restaurant when I was cooking beside them at the “20 Mile Meal.” I had it in my head that somehow participating in this event would be great for my then baking business but I joined the event at the very last-minute and was completely over my head. The saving grace that day was my ability to sort of smile my way through anything. I mean, my savory food is basic, tasty, but basic, and when they told me I couldn’t do pastry, I almost died. My real “shit my pants” moment however, was when this pair showed up because their little pulled pork slider just about blew my pants off. I’m a staunch, my food can’t touch advocate. I’ve been getting better at this by the way, years of therapy (just kidding) have helped me off the ledge and into the it’s alright if my corn touches my mashed potatoes realm. But, when Mitch put one of his pulled pork sliders in front of me, with all these different components (touching), I shoved the whole thing in my mouth without question. I fell in love at that very moment. Deep, miraculous love. A month later, when I finished Harvest on the Harbor, I begged my husband to take me to the East Ender because I had been dreaming of this little pork nugget, ever since. And, this was all before I discovered what Mitch and Meg are all about. Little did I know, there was so much more to fall in love with.

First and foremost, you all know how I feel about being connected with ingredients. Farm to table is it for me. I don’t need all the fancy stuff. Just give me some good meat, prepared well with some amazing veggies. Mitch, whom I consider myself ridiculously lucky to be friends with on Facebook (because I sneak a peek at all his *amazing* food), is not afraid to get his hands dirty. He might be one of the most, if not the most, hands on chef in Portland. From what I can gather he believes in working with farmers, butchering animals from the very beginning (still alive) to the very end and uses every part of that animal when possible. I’ve seen pictures of his cured meats that make me want to drop everything I am doing and run to stick my tongue on the stuff he has hanging in his restaurant (although obviously I would never, well, maybe never). And although Mitch gets down and dirty killing animals and cooking everything from scratch, you would never really know it because his plates of food are so dramatic and beautiful. It’s like: milk man during the day and wall street man at night. His two personalities meld well. There is an authenticity to his food that is really lovely.

On New Year’s Eve I went there for dinner and Meg was at the door with a big smile as usual. There is something so comforting about the way she greats people at the door. Warm. Hospitable. Genuine. The menu was out of my comfort zone. There were lots of ingredients I was unfamiliar with but I felt at ease there. My anxiety flag didn’t flare up. As each dish came to my table, I tasted with open arms. And I truly enjoyed the experience. Not only was the food fantastic but the atmosphere is wonderful too. It’s low-key. A nice fire-place in the lounge downstairs or a fantastic bar with additional seating upstairs. You pick. They are both great environments to enjoy food.

This is an adventurous restaurant but it’s a relatable restaurant. Everything is comforting either in aesthetic or on the menu. But don’t discount the skills and craftsmanship it takes to get what comes on your plate.

I advise you all go and have a meal here. Or even just a couple of cocktails (menu has flare bitches) with some small bites. I would say, great first date restaurant or a place for someone you want to romance in a casual way.

*P.S. I borrowed the photo above from facebook, hopefully Mitch doesn’t mind. 🙂

East Ender

47 Middle Street

Portland, ME

207-879-7669

My favorites:

*Broccoli Fritters
Creamy cheddar, pimento mayo
*Hanger Steak
Bacon bourbon butter, sea salt and vinegar fries, seared rainbow chard
*Pulled Pork Shoulder
Cayenne sauce

Farm to table gets a make-over

voltbarn

I strongly dislike pretentious food. It makes me feel icky. And it irritates me when people use it as a tool to make themselves feel sophisticated. I like fresh, farm fresh, to be exact, food. However, on a recent trip to Maryland, my undying affection for Mr. Bryan Voltaggio gave me this nagging desire to go to VOLT, his restaurant located in Frederick, Maryland. Now, I know nothing about this man other than what I saw on Top Chef and from what I gathered on Top Chef, his cooking seemed completely out of my league. But I liked his personality and I liked his opinions about food so once I landed, I looked at his website and was completely surprised and delighted by what I found.

VOLT is a compromise between high-end cuisine and farm to table ethics. Frederick, as my friend Caitlin was telling me, is a farming community. And, on the website for VOLT it’s clear that the core of Bryan’s food preparation is centered around this community. I was thrilled. Thank goodness. I was worried I might have to eat a meal containing all the things I hate more than anything in this world. His menu seemed to favor components that are based on the season, rather than scattering it with fancy items just for the sake of it. You can only choose from two options: four courses or seven courses. The seven course is fixed but within the four you can choose from multiple dishes. It’s $80 for the four and $95 for the seven. Pricey. Yes. definitely. But life is short so I said, fuck it, and made a reservation for two.

Upon arrival, I was surprised at the exterior. It’s set in an old Victorian mansion. Upon walking in I was also surprised. It was modern, yet comfortable. It felt easy. The rooms are separated so that each one, kind of has its own thing going on. Caitlin and I were sat at a table that was nestled in the corner and a perfect size for the two of us. There were tons of staff milling about. A lovely lady who came and took our order, but, I wouldn’t really call her a waitress. There was the Master of Wine, as he called himself, LJ, who was completely dashing and wonderful. He decanted our 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape and told us lovely stories about his wedding. There was the man whose job was solely to introduce the bread basket and a bunch of other folks serving water, serving food, etc. We were never alone, that’s for sure (in a good way). Someone was always checking in to make sure we were absolutely perfect. And we were, exchanging eloquent conversation immediately.

We both chose the four course, but we opted to add the cheese plate, a $12 upgrade. In hindsight, we could have skipped that because we were literally stuffed by the end. I ordered the following:

beets goat cheese, coffee, sherry, navel orange

ravioli maroon carrot, cocoa nib, black trumpet mushroom

beef australian crescent potato, cheddar, spinach, bacon

chocolate, caramel, chocolate, peanut

I was concerned at the sound of these dishes that I may not like what I ordered. I was concerned they would come and be weird-looking with ingredients I was slightly unfamiliar with and refused to eat. I was definitely worried that this may be too much out of my comfort zone even with the promise of farm to table. And when the amuse arrived and I heard the word foie gras, I almost bolted for the door, given that I have an ethical distaste for the stuff. Thankfully, Caitlin talked me off the ledge and we stuffed the amuse in our mouths, ethics aside and watched as someone came running over the second they saw our noses scrunch up. It was good but the thought of its ingredients was enough to invite a discerning facial expression, which apparently, everyone saw.

Anyways, the courses came well-timed and by the very first one I knew everything was going to be alright. I hate beets, but I loved them in this dish. They were cooked well and went wonderfully with the whipped goat cheese. The coffee resembled dirt and added a depth to the dish I didn’t expect. I scraped it clean, anxious for the next one, which was equally as delicious. Ravioli’s have never ever, been done so well. The portions were also perfect, in fact, far more generous than I would have imagined. Everything was beautifully placed on the plates, so much so, that I became one of those people, taking pictures of everything. The bread that they offered was heavenly, I chose a piece of brioche with bacon, Caitlin had something with parmesan. The main course was life changing and the dessert was more than I could have ever wanted and then some. The whole time, our wine guy kept stopping over, pouring for us and making the dinner very entertaining. I really loved his personality and he added something to the dinner that to me, was priceless. I really enjoyed his anecdotes, as well as his French accent, which could have been real, when he presented our bottle.

Then, when we couldn’t eat anymore, they presented us with 8 mini desserts from macarons to madelines as a thank you for dining with them. They looked amazing but I couldn’t eat them, I was too full. And then, as a goodbye present, they provided us both with a coffee cake, wrapped up in the cutest bundle. WHAT!?! I thought, this never happens. Usually, I leave a dinner this fancy needing a burger. No, no, my friends, quite the opposite, I was fat and happy. Ready to roll myself home.

We had sat there for three hours and it flew by like a flash. We had such a wonderful time, that the concept of time was lost on us. Going to VOLT, was a fantastic experience, one that I will never forget. It’s simply divine to see that success does not breed assholes and that somethings can be exactly how you imagine them. Nothing fell short here. I enjoyed it all. It was worth every moment and every penny. Perhaps some of that had to do with the company I shared, as I have been desperate for my friends recently, seeing as though they all live so far away, but I think everything in this place complimented my evening so well. It’s a night that will go down in the history books.

Even though I didn’t get to touch Mr. Bryan.

Love you Josh. 😉

The Corner Room is beautiful italian bliss.

I’m Italian.

Most, if not all of you know this about me. I know some people say that in reference to their way back relatives with no real idea of what it means. But I say it with pride and ownership, having been raised in a fairly traditional household with a Nana who still holds true to all of the things she loved about her parents, who were from the old country. Nana use to swear at me in Italian when I was younger, because I was a little shit, and made the best food, I have ever tasted, in my life. She still does, I just don’t get to taste it as often. Our holidays, when my family was speaking (Italians are also extremely hard-headed and sometimes stupid) were huge gatherings filled with food, children and very loud noises. We would have lamb on Easter, fight over artichokes at Christmas and everyone would swoon over Nana’s pasta with meatballs. (NO OREGANO!) There is something about this old woman who I love dearly and even though we never stood barefoot in the kitchen while cooking for hours together (she had no patience for that), I learned most of what I know from her and my mother. I have taken her to Italian restaurants in the past which have made her pissed and she has been extremely rude to the wait staff because of it. But I think that I have found the place that would make her heart melt, as if her own parents were standing alive in front of her once again.

Last Friday, Josh and I, finally were able to have a night out together. And thank God, because we were about to kill one another. Having a two-year old can be a very complex time and we were feeling especially stressed out. We talked about going to The Front Room again, because I loved it so much but then we decided on The Grill Room, however on our way we bumped into The Corner Room and stopped to look at the menu. Now, before I go any farther, all of these restaurants are owned by the same gentleman: Chef Lee Harding Smith. And although I gave him tremendous credit for his two restaurants that I ate at and loved, I was unsure about this one. I mean, could he master authentic Italian after being great at so many other things? I wasn’t sure. Lots of people boast it but then don’t follow through. I looked over the menu in a tedious fashion, really trying to decide if I would want to eat here. Most Italian restaurants are disappointing and make me furious. I didn’t want to waste our night out. But when someone walked in front of us, opened the front door and I saw inside. I instantly knew, this was the place.

It was relaxed but well done. There was fresh cheese hanging from the antipasti bar. There were huge knives hanging above the bar. And a line of cookbooks, clearly used and abused, but so charming, lining the way to the bathroom. The hostess escorted us to our seats, which were at the antipasti bar and there in front of us, was Chef Lee Harding Smith, slicing tomatoes, looking cool and relaxed, flying under the radar. I saw before me, fresh prosciutto being sliced to order, a big plate filled with beautiful heirloom tomatoes, more cheese, and just fantastic food all around. He was warm and welcoming and summoned the manager to help us select a bottle of wine. Now I am pretty familiar with my Italian wine, I know what I like and I know what I don’t like. The one area I am not especially familiar with is Sicilian wine but I really love everything I have tried from there. I wanted to stay within that region. She came over to us, and I don’t remember her name because I was just too overwhelmed by everything around me, and seemed to instantly pick up on what we wanted. She recited the names of these bottles so beautifully that I wanted to ask her to read them to me all night. We chose the one she recommended and it was utterly fantastic. Light, refreshing, it cleared our palettes after every sip. It was wonderful. That immediate attentiveness drew me in and I knew it was going to be a great meal.

To start we had the antipasti, a board filled with house made ricotta, mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, salami, olives, etc. It was an amazing spread. The ricotta melted in my mouth like sweet cream and I literally wanted to lick the board. With that, we ordered the caprese salad, also with house made mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil, with bountiful, authentic olive oil drizzled over it. Several times, our server told us that the items we were eating were from their farm which tickled my farm to table fancy immediately. It let me see that this Chef was more than just a great man with big ideas, but someone who knew what really mattered when it came to serving wholesome food. The menu is set up in traditional style with the primi and the secondi, although you can choose a full order of pasta and skip the meat. I wanted to do it all, so I did. I ordered the Bolognese, which I never ever ever do, because never ever is it ever good anywhere I go. But I just had a feeling that this was going to be it. Traditional Bolognese is not hamburger thrown in some sauce which is ridiculously disgusting but a mixture of sausage, pancetta, etc. You should taste several meats working together harmoniously. When it arrived, I knew it was for real. I could tell by the color of the meat. It smelled divine. And I scooped up every bite with a sense of joy like no other. All I could think of was Nana and how she would love this. It was the lightest, brightest, most delicious Bolognese I had ever tasted in my life (other than Nana’s, obviously). Then, just about the time I was about to roll off of the stool into a food coma, came my meat course. I had chosen chicken parmigiana. Now, I know I could have been more adventurous but here is the thing, I judge all Italian restaurants on this one dish. How they cook the chicken, how their sauce tastes, tells me a lot about who they are and what they are doing. Josh ordered the Cornish hen I believe with polenta mashed and green beans.  Anyways, everything was fantastic. The sauce was as sauce should taste. It was like eating fresh tomatoes. The chicken was crispy and perfectly cooked. There was just the right amount of cheese. I mean, it was heaven.

While eating all of this perfection, I had the opportunity of watching all these glorious things being prepared before me. I don’t even know that Josh and I had much of a conversation, we were so amazed by what we saw before us. To be able to sit and eat right in front of the Chef that crafted the three places I love the most, was glorious. I can say in full confidence, this is my new place to eat. And as soon as I get a chance, I will be taking Nana here to share this gem. She will love it. It will make her feel at home.

Italy has seemed like a trip we have prepared for, forever. But eating here, made me really excited for it. It was like a preview into my vacation, which is happening in like two short weeks.

It’s rare that someone can strike gold three times in a row, but this Chef, has done just that. His food is simple but complex, delicious, delightful, attainable and lovely. And beyond that, his wait staff is perfect and his managers are spot on. It was the best date night I could have asked for. Far exceeding my expectations.

It made me feel like I was in Nana’s kitchen.