First things first. This is a guide for Portland, Maine, the largest “city” in the state. Portland is a small, but charming seaside city with lots of history and a sophisticated culinary scene. I headed up to Portland while I was in Maine to spend a day meeting up with some old friends and exploring the city.
My first stop was the Mercury Inn, a new inn run by Tim Karu and his husband. The couple purchased the Inn last year, and hired Tim’s sister Tyler to handle the interior design. The finished product is a comfortable space that balances rustic charm with modern nautical touches. Two details that I loved were the custom pillows from SeaBags on every guest bed, and the cleats that are used as dresser pulls.
What makes The Mercury Inn feel welcoming is the fact that the owners live on site. When Time took me on a tour, he really welcomed me to his home. Guests at the Inn benefit from Tim’s knowledge of the area as he recommends restaurants and things to do in Portland and beyond.
The small seven room inn is known for their breakfasts. The breakfast menu emphasizes foods that are seasonal, which means guests can expect to see dishes with strawberries and blueberries in the summer. Room rates are very reasonable, ranging from $149-$259 a night, and the location is right in downtown Portland. If you want to truly experience Maine through a local’s eyes, this is the place to stay.
Next we walked up the street to Vinland, David Levi’s much buzzed about new restaurant that was opened with help from Kickstarter. The restaurant’s aim is to create local seasonal food, and they take this very seriously- opting not to use ingredients like olive oil since it can’t be locally sourced. My visit to Vinland was also a chance to catch up with Ryan Quigley, a friend from high school who is Vinland’s Sous Chef.
I ordered the wildly creative smokey cider cocktail. I feel bad even calling this a cocktail because it is so much more than that. First apples were smoked, and then juiced. The apple pulp was used to make an apple leather stirrer. The house made smoked cider then becomes the base for the gin cocktail. The bartender prepares all of the bitters and mixes himself, while this is a massive undertaking, it makes the cocktail list at Vinland truly one of a kind.
Then we snacked on beet chips with a yogurt, radish, and flower topping. I could have eaten these all night long. I loved the dehydrated beet chips and tart homemade yogurt, and the slightly bitter radish. The flower looked beautiful, but served mostly as decoration – not that that is a bad thing.
Lastly we had an order of
cookies delightful little bites of heaven prepared by Kate Whittemore. These thin crispy buckwheat lavender cookies are filled with a slightly sweet yogurt and the balance of flavors and texture was perfection. The yogurt was cool, creamy, and slightly tart, and the cookies were delicate both in flavor and in texture. It is no surprise that Vinland’s cookies have enjoyed a bit of press.
Just across the street from Vinland is Otto, which was the last stop on our tour of Portland. Otto is one of my father’s favorite pizzerias and it is known for their unique pizzas. Enzo, located just next door is a wine bar. Don’t worry, both locations serve wine and pizza.
The menu at Otto doesn’t change much, considering that it is painted on the wall. This means I can always count on getting my favorite pizzas.
I started things off with a slice of the mashed potato, bacon, and scallion pizza. This is a great slice. Some of the pizzas are available by the slice, while some are just sold by the pie.
Then I moved on to my personal favorite Otto pizza, the butternut squash, herbed ricotta, and cranberry. Butternut squash and goat cheese are two of my all-time favorite pizza toppings – but they tend to be hard to find. This pizza is a great combination of sweet and savory.
Otto has two locations in Portland (plus one in Boston) and is a great spot for a casual meal. The Mercury Inn, Vinland, and Otto are all within walking distance from each other and are near other attractions like the Portland Museum of Art.
If you are heading to Maine, Portland is definitely worth a visit. The city is accessible via plane, train, and boat, and is just a 30 minute drive from the Kennebunks.
Feel free to chime in with your recommendations in the comments!