I’ve certainly posted more than my share about the joys of Portland, Oregon. Here’s more Portland travel news, but this time from the Portland that’s not found on the upper left of the map of the United States.
Our family went to Maine recently for a short vacation, which included an overnight in Portland. What a terrific small city! Interesting neighborhoods, nice waterfront, lots of great food and drink options, and what the kids these days call good vibes. For coffee, the city punches well above its weight with a concentration of excellent roasters and cafés. I was able to squeeze in visits to three cafés, two operated by roasters and one independent shop serving beans from yet another well-reputed local roaster.
We stayed at an Airbnb in the East Bayside neighborhood, and the location could not have been more perfect. Within easy walking distance were cafés, bars, brewpubs, and interesting food. We weren’t there long enough to even scratch the surface, but experienced a few places and all were all top-notch.
First stop was Coffee by Design‘s Diamond Street roastery and café. A large industrial space made warm by colorful paint, art, and wood, with a big, round coffee bar in the middle. The staff could not have been friendlier or more thoughtful, the coffee was excellent, and there was a good-sized crowd of patrons for a weekday afternoon.
I’ve had coffee made with beans from Portland’s Tandem Coffee Roasters, notably at The Coffee Pedaler in New Haven. Tandem’s roastery and café is also in East Bayside, around the corner from Coffee by Design; we visited the bakery and café in the West End after a visit to South Portland’s Bug Light. I misheard the name at first and thought it was called Bud Light, which of course makes no sense but I’m aging and not as sharp as I used to be, in any case it lived up to its billing from a friend who hails from Portland as “the cutest lighthouse you’ll ever see”.
Tandem didn’t disappoint, the coffee was great. The bakery location is a repurposed gas station and garage, which means easy on-site parking, lots of room, indoor and outdoor seating, and lots of light through big windows.
While I was waiting for our order, actor/producer/national treasure John Michael Higgins and his wife came in. If you don’t recognize the name you should know the face, because he is in about everything made in the past 35 years. We ended up standing next to each other as we waited for our orders. I said hello, he could not have been more gracious or nicer.
The city and area have many breweries and brewpubs, Allagash Brewing Company probably the most well-known. We didn’t get to any of them, unfortunately, but I did stop at the Portland Zoo. Not an animal sanctuary, but one of Portland’s favorite bars. It positions itself as Beer, Music, Soccer.
There’s not much to see from the street, but walk in and you’ll find two sheds (one formerly the adjoining house’s garage), which border two sides of a small, gravel courtyard with picnic tables. One shed is the bar, the other is a multifunctional space used for music performances, DJs, indoor seating, food pop-ups, and has a big-screen tv. Great set up, I really liked it.
The morning we left we grabbed breakfast sandwiches at Ramona’s, a Philadelphia-style hoagie and sandwich shop a short walk from our Airbnb. They are the real deal, just look at the menu. Our food was terrific. Our egg sandwiches included broccoli rabe that more than matches up with the greens found in DeNic’s roast pork sandwich in Philly’s Reading Terminal Market – I’m sorry we weren’t at Ramona’s later in the day to try their version of the roast pork and see how it compares. The key to every great Philadelphia sandwich or hoagie is the roll, and the ones here are first rate.
After breakfast we popped across the street to Moonday Coffee, formerly a mobile cart operation. Moonday recently opened a very narrow micro café, sharing space with Thicket Jewelry. The space is well designed and has big windows, which together help it feel cozy and welcoming without being claustrophobic.
We were taken excellent care of by David, who runs the coffee business and makes drinks on a light blue La Marzocco mini. The beans are from Speckled Ax, a local roaster with an excellent reputation – I’m sorry I didn’t have enough time to also visit their café, which is a block away from Coffee by Design’s downtown shop and a short walk from the Tandem bakery and café.
Moonday and Thicket are located in The Black Box, a beautiful modern building constructed from repurposed shipping containers. A collection of five spaces, each 40 feet long and 8 feet wide, The Black Box is an incubator for entrepreneurs offering unique local F&B and retail. Some previous tenants have graduated to brick and mortar locations nearby.
I wish we’d had more time to explore the city, and its restaurants in particular, but I’m sure we’ll be back again for more.