Drinking Beer in Portland, Maine

Portland, Oregon may boast popular breweries like Rogue and Deschutes, but Portland, Maine has quite a few breweries of their own.

Maine Beer Company
525 US-1, Freeport, ME 04032
Hours: M-Sat 11-7; Sun 11-5

Located in Freeport, ME near the giant L.L. Bean headquarters, Maine Beer Company boasts what I consider probably the best quality beer of the breweries in the area.  Offering a $10 flight of four or $18 for a flight of eight, this brewery is pretty no-nonsense when it comes to naming their beers (e.g. Four of their beers are called Beer I, Beer II, Beer III, and Beer IV).  While the $18 may seem a little steep, their pours are very generous and the beers are very strong, so you’ll be feeling nice and good by the end of it.

giphy

They have a wonderful seating area outside next to the giant solar panels that power the place and offer pretty good pretzels from a local bakery called When Pigs Fly that would’ve been better if they found a way to serve them hot.

Allagash Brewing Company
50 Industrial Way, Portland, ME 04103
Hours: 11-6

Allagash is probably the most popular company to come out of Maine since most people know of their Allagash White.  It’s located technically in Portland, but resides in an office park outside the city; you’ll think you’re lost until you roll right up to it.  Allagash offers a free tasting of a flight of four that they choose for you.  Their beers are very good, though I could have done without the sour one, and Allagash’s tasting area/patio probably offers the most “fun” since there are games such as Cornhole, playing cards, Jenga, etc. available for the patrons.

Shipyard Brewing Company
86 Newbury St, Portland, ME 04101
Hours: M-Sat 11-5; Sun 12-4

Shipyard is the least well known nationally of the Portland breweries we visited, but it is a local New England favorite.  Their brewery is located in the city itself, and their tasting room feels more like a tourist gift shop than a brewery.  That being said, in addition to all the souvenirs you can buy, they offer a free tasting in the back tasting room and unlike Allagash, you can pick which four you’d like to try.  Their beers are unspectacular, but solid.  They could up their glass game a bit though as the tastings were served in dixie cups.  All that being said, the server was the friendliest of the three breweries we visited, and I did come away with an awesome Shipyard beer bucket.

Duckfat
43 Middle St, Portland, ME 04101
Hours: Sun-Thur 11-9; Fri & Sat 11-10

Get this. Just get it.
Get this. Just get it.

On a somewhat related note, Shipyard is a block away from Duckfat, a local Portland favorite eatery.  All I need to say is this:  Get the Poutine fully loaded with duck and egg.  That is all.

giphy (1)

 

Quick Hits: Malibu Cafe

Malibu Cafe
327 Latigo Canyon Road
Malibu, CA 90265

Monday: Closed; Tuesday-Saturday: 11:30 AM – 10 PM; Sunday: 10 AM – 9 PM

Malibu Cafe is one of the more unique brunch locations I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.  Located on the Calamigos Ranch, this venue is a bit off the beaten path so you’ll need to plan a bit to get there unless you live in the Malibu/Thousand Oaks area.   The restaurant is mainly all outdoors and looks very much like an adult playground.  Besides the numerous tables for dining there are activities set up such as a giant chess board, outdoor bowling alley, giant Jenga, Cornhole, paddle boats and rowboats, and of course several bars.

This place is a perfect afternoon spot for big groups if the weather is nice out (and let’s be real, SoCal weather is pretty much always nice).  I’ve been told at night the garden lighting in all the trees light up and make for a really cute bistro feel.  The food overall was pretty good, the Mac and Cheese balls were fantastic, but the service could use a little work.  The waiters were very polite and personable, but they took a long time to get us basic things like napkins, water and our check (in their defense they said the credit card machine was down).  Luckily, we wanted to just hang out outside and enjoy the weather anyways so it wasn’t as much of a bother.

Quick Hits: Chaia

Chaia
3207 Grace Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007
Hours: M-W 11-8, Sat 10-8, Sun 11-6

When I first heard the idea of a vegetarian taco shop in Georgetown, my immediate reaction was one that any meat eating person would have: That doesn’t sound good.

I was wrong.

Chaia’s tacos are in fact very good.  Using some interesting combinations of hearty vegetables, the tacos have a ton of flavor and you won’t be left feeling hungry afterwards.  There aren’t a whole lot of options, but the three that I tried were all quite good (all with corn tortillas).  I put them in order of my favorite here:

  • Creamy Kale + Potato with pepperjack, poblano crema, green sauce + pickled onions
  • Winter Squash with caramelized onion, ricotta salata, chipotle yogurt + mint
  • Mushroom with feta, red sauce + cilantro

Do I still think tacos with meat are better?  Yes.  However, my view of what typically makes good taco filling has been significantly altered and I can honestly say that I’ll be going back.

Quick Hits: The Pantry

Like I said earlier, the food in Amsterdam isn’t exactly world famous cuisine.  They seem to have imported a lot from other countries; for example, there are a ton of hamburger places in Amsterdam.  That being said, we still wanted to find a place that had local cuisine.  Lonely Planet rarely misses, but in this one case they weren’t up to par.

For good local fare, I would not go with their recommendation of Bistro Bij ons, which is near the Anne Frank House.  I’ll just make a long story short, the service wasn’t good.  They weren’t mean or anything.  Just very, very inattentive.   They never took our food order, but when the bill came, they tried to charge us for food.  And it wasn’t like the place was packed.  It was me, my friend and a couple – that’s it.  The waitress was apologetic, but it’s not worth wasting your time going there.

Where should you go?  The Pantry.

The Pantry had fantastic service, a really cool eating in someone’s dining room feel, and good, hearty food for the chilly Amsterdam weather.  The place is small, so there’s a solid chance you’ll need to wait a little while.  We ordered some Bitterballen beef croquettes as an appetizer and we each ordered something off the “Traditional Dutch Dishes” menu as an entree.  I ordered the “combination” menu which consists of three different types of mashed potatoes (a carrot/onion/beef, a kale, and a sauerkraut) with either a meatball or a sausage.  It’s definitely worth trying.

 

New Orleans: Quick Hits – Activities

Obviously on a work trip I spent most of the days in a conference room.  However, there was still time to explore some of New Orleans and here are a few of the activities that we partook in.

Swamp Tours: Cajun Encounters vs. Airboat Adventures

A swamp tour to see the alligators of the bayou is pretty much a must-do if you’re in New Orleans.  There are several different tour groups, and I’m here to compare two of them for you.  I would recommend both, but there are differences in the experiences depending on which group you go with.  Both options are about 30-45 minute bus rides away from the French Quarter, and for the options that I took the pricing was around $75 on average.

We’ll begin with Airboat Adventures.  For the thrill-seeking, roller coaster loving types, Airboat Adventures offers a high-octane zip through the swamp.  The unique parts of Airboat Adventures?

  • Obviously racing through the swamp on a tin barge with a giant propeller fan furiously working behind you.
  • Our crazy-ass driver actually jumped into the water with the alligators and fed them while swimming amongst the animals.
  • A baby gator is passed around the boat for some pretty awesome selfies.

One thing to note: if you don’t like loud noise, this may not be for you.  They give you solid headphones to wear, but it’s still pretty loud regardless.

Cajun Encounters is a bit more of a mellow trip through the swamp.  I would recommend paying the $70 because although there are cheaper options, the $70 gets you a ride on a smaller boat fitting 10 people that can go into the smaller canals and river ways.  The unique parts of Cajun Encounters?

  • You do probably see more alligators on Cajun Encounters than you would on Airboat Adventures.
  • As I mentioned, going through the small canals of the swamp offers some fantastic photo opportunities.
  • You do get to see wild boars (see video below).  These animals come right up to the boats for food and are absolutely adorable/enormous.  We just happened to luckily enough (or unlucky to some of the other passengers) almost witness an alligator attack a baby wild boar.  The boat captains intervened and used the boats to shoo away the predatory alligators, but the commotion did get a lot of hearts racing.

You can’t go wrong either way, you just need to decide for yourself what kind of adventure you’d like.

New Orleans School of Cooking

This was one of the highlights of the trip.  Our department head graciously booked us all for a hands-on cooking class as a team builder activity and it was a hell of a lot of fun.  Beer and wine were included, so the libations made it quite an event.  Our chef instructor was young, enthusiastic, and had a contagious passion for cooking southern food.  We were split up into four groups, each group being in charge of one of the menu items (you can change the menu depending on your dietary restrictions): Gumbo, Stuffed Mushrooms, Jambalaya, and Bananas Foster. Obviously being such a big group, not everyone got to do everything, but I would suspect if you visit, you’ll be more hands-on in making each part of the menu.  I was part of the Gumbo team, and specifically helped out in making the roux for the soup.  I had never made gumbo before, let alone roux, so it was a great learning experience.  After the cooking, we all sat and feasted on our creations, and although the food wasn’t super-duper restaurant quality, we loved it because we made it.

The Garden District

An easy cab or trolley ride away from the French Quarter, this is the area to go to if you want to see some ridiculously nice mansions.  The area between Magazine Street and St. Charles Ave holds some of the most impressive houses in such a small area that I’ve ever seen.  Guided tours are available, though just walking around and admiring the architecture was enough for me.  Magazine Street offers some cool little boutique shops and restaurants to meander in and out of as well.  Also located in the Garden District is the Lafayette Cemetery that’s worth strolling into for half an hour to see the traditional tombs and wall vaults made famous in movies and popular culture.  Across from Lafayette Cemetery is the famous Commander’s Palace restaurant, which we didn’t actually eat at, but heard from others in our group that it’s excellent.

New Orleans Ghost Tour

Don’t do this drunk.  I’m serious.  Not because it’s too scary or anything like that.  It’s just that this walking ghost tour doesn’t mix well with inebriated people.  Our tour guide Jack was having an awfully hard time keeping people’s attention and he clearly was getting frustrated by it.  His stories were good, but they were far too long and complicated for a group that had clearly had a few drinks in them.  And you don’t get to go into any of the buildings he was talking about.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t recommend it, but do it earlier in the night and/or on the night off from the bars.

Frenchman Art Market

Located in the heart of the Frenchman Street area, this outdoor market is a great place to find some creative, local art for sale.  Most of the crafts range from jewelry to furniture, and clothing to paintings and have an unsurprisingly hipster look to them.  Nonetheless, it’s a cool place to take a stroll and pick up a souvenir or two.

New Orleans: Quick Hits – Food

I’ve just recently returned from a work trip to New Orleans, LA and needless to say it was quite a week.  New Orleans is everything you’d expect from the Mardi Gras capital of the world.  With the open alcohol beverage laws in the city, New Orleans can easily cause a few rough mornings.  Bourbon Street in particular is as wild as its reputation and I’ll say this right off the bat: It’s not for everyone.  Bourbon Street on a weekend night is probably as filthy drunk of an area that I’ve ever seen – it’s neither a compliment nor an insult; it’s the truth.  Unless you’re in you’re early-twenties with a fondness for frozen drinks that are really sweet and loaded with the shittiest alcohol, I doubt that you’ll want to spend too much time there.  But I do recommend you walk down it at least once to experience the chaos (and the smell you’ll quickly want to forget).

Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street

Since this was a work trip, most everything was taken care of by the company, so I can’t give you too many specifics on pricing.  But I’ll give you my quick thoughts on a several restaurants and activities in the next few posts.  We’ll start with food in this post.

Cafe Du Monde 

The signature cafe of New Orleans, this eatery is open 24 hours a day and tourists and locals flock there for their coffee and signature beignets.  For me personally, I think it’s “eh”.  You kind of HAVE to go there because it’s such a historical place.  But at the end of the day to me it was just a too doughy fried dough and coffee.  It’s not bad, it’s just not worth the hype.  It also doesnt’t help that it’s usually muggy and hot in New Orleans, which isn’t exactly the climate conducive to me wanting to eat a hot donut and coffee.

Wanted to love it, but only liked it.
Wanted to love it, but only liked it.

Cafe Amelie

This is a weird review because we didn’t eat there.  Why didn’t we eat there?  Because it was closed when we arrived.  Why did we go when it was closed?  Oh, it’s because we had a confirmed reservation.  So yeah, we were a little shocked/pissed/amused/confused when we saw the place empty and a sign saying that it was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  A useful bit of knowledge that they probably could have told us when we made the reservation AND when we called again to confirm we were good to go.  The patio from outside the gates looked nice though.

Three Muses

Probably my favorite of all the places we ate, Three Muses is located on Frenchman Street just east of the French Quarter.  I would highly recommend going out there if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bourbon Street.  Frenchman Street is still pretty crazy, but it’s a bit more of an older crowd (late-20s, early-30’s) with more venues that lean toward hipster with live jazz music than fratty dance party.  On a weekend night, it’s best to make a reservation at Three Muses (and at any Frenchman Street restaurant in fact) because the place is not very large.  Our group of 6 just happened to be lucky enough to show up when another party of 6 who had a reservation was late.  The hostess ended up seating us because the other group wasn’t on time (they’ll give you a 15-minute grace period).  When we were there, a female jazz singer and her trio of instrumentalists were performing music that sounded like it was out of the Roaring 20s; it was a fun, lively atmosphere.  The food comes in small sharing portions so it’s best to get a few.  My personal recommendations are the Mac and Cheese, Bulgogi, and Tempura Shrimp.  My co-worker also said the lamb sliders that I never got around to tasting were excellent.  As far as their cocktails, you should have a cool, refreshing “Earl Grey Gardens” with dinner and a “The Other Redhead” as an after-dinner libation.

Oceana

Works as a good lunch place on Bourbon Street to get a real good shrimp po’ boy or seafood dish.  It felt kind of like a chain, though it wasn’t, so don’t expect anything here to blow you away.  Keep it as a lunch option and not dinner because it’s solid, not spectacular.  The french fries there randomly were really good though.

Domenica Restaurant

Domenica was the restaurant our work group went to for our first dinner and I very much enjoyed it.   I wouldn’t say you should put this at the top of your least or even to make it a target to rush to, but if you do end up there I think you’ll enjoy it as well.  I had the Tagliatelle made up of slow cooked rabbit & porcini mushroom ragu (much to the chagrin of my co-worker who couldn’t stop picturing me eating a bunny) and it was delicious.  The Salumi & Formaggi platter they put together for us was spot on and I sampled the Red Snapper which was a popular choice amongst my co-workers.  The surprise favorite dish though was the Roasted Cauliflower w/ seas salt and whipped feta.  Definitely get that as an appetizer.

Evangeline

If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said Evangeline was a must-do.  But after going there this second time around, I would say not a must-do, but a recommend.  I want to say that the restaurant was having a bit of an off day, but that’s still not an excuse.  Anyone who ordered beer got beer that was pretty warm (not very welcome in the heat of summer), and our waitress while very nice, seemed a bit stoned.  At one point, my co-worker asked simply for yellow mustard and the waitress returned empty handed apologetically saying “We’ve run out”.   What restaurant runs out of yellow mustard??  The food was fine though, and the patio is really nice with the Christmas tree lights strung up.

The patio is nice, but if it's really muggy, stick with the A/C inside.
The patio is nice, but if it’s really muggy, stick with the A/C inside.

The Ruby Slipper Cafe

We came here for brunch, and I’ll say off the bat that they did not leave a good first impression.  I was running late, so I didn’t see it, but apparently my friends who put our name down on the wait list were treated pretty rudely.  That being said, we still stayed and personally, I’m kinda glad we did despite the bitchiness people encountered.  I tried their Eggs Cochon, which is their signature dish, and it was awesome.  I’m not sure why I was skeptical of a dish that had pulled pork, poached eggs, and hollandaise and cheese over a buttermilk biscuit, but it was really good.

Eggs Cochon
Eggs Cochon

 

Quick Hits – Toki Underground, Washington, D.C.

I’m not usually the biggest noodle soup fan, and that applies to Pho, Ramen, whatever.  It tends to never give me that satisfying full feeling after I’m done.  Toki Underground changed that.

Located on the growing H Street corridor in Washington, D.C., Toki Underground’s entrance is kind of hidden.  Look for The Pug dive bar and the door to Toki Undergound will be on the left.  Despite the name, the restaurant is located upstairs.  It’s not large so there will be a wait; leave them your cell number and they’ll send a text when your seat is ready while you wait with a hipster beer downstairs in The Pug.

When we were seated, our waiter thoroughly explained all the items on the menu and gave us an overview of how each ramen was different (along with his personal favorites).  I went for the Taipei Curry Chicken Ramen, and my friend got the Red Miso Ramen.  Both were excellent.  I preferred the broth in my Taipei Curry Chicken as it was a bit creamier than her Red Miso, which was a little saltier with that miso taste.  The pork belly however in hers was a little better than the chicken (though the chicken was still very good and I devoured it happily).

As for the cocktails, you gotta try the Toki Monster if you’re a whiskey person.  It’s essentially their version of an Old Fashioned, however they give you a little pork belly skewer to pair the libation with and it is a banging combination of delicious.  I definitely plan on going back to try the other items on their menu.  Toki Underground — well worth a visit.

Taipei Curry Chicken Ramen
Taipei Curry Chicken Ramen