PORTLAND, Maine – The city’s food scene features an often head-spinning number of eateries and specialty food shops, coming and going at whirlwind speeds. Many red hot restaurants open, burn bright for a short time, then wink out in a puff of smoke and broken dreams.
The pandemic only intensified this ever-present truth of Portland’s kaleidoscopic, evolving dining spectacle.
But there are still some Forest City food stalwarts which never seem to change. It feels like they’ve always been with us and it’s hard to imagine the city without them.
It’s probably time to give them a round of applause for sticking it out and filling our bellies, for all these years.
Here are a few.
Portland Farmers’ Market, founded 1768
The market isn’t a restaurant or grocery store but it’s still a place to get some fresh food, grown or raised not far from here.
Now held every Saturday and Wednesday in Deering Oaks Park during the warmer months, Portlanders voted to establish this public market before the birth of our current nation. Back then, it was the only place butchers could legally sell fresh meat to the 136 families calling the city home.
For a while, in the 1830s, the market shared a downtown building with city hall. By 1976, over 30 vendors and farmers were selling goods in the “Golden Triangle,” an undeveloped lot where One City Center now stands.
In 2011, the first winter version of the market operated through the cold months of the year. This year, the summer market returns to the park on April 27.
Schlotterbeck & Foss, 1866
Also not technically an eatery, this company began operating the year the Great Fire burned down a large part of the city.
First opened as a prescription apothecary shop, founders Augustus G. Schlotterbeck and Charles S. Foss had moved into flavor extracts by the dawn of the 20th century. These days, the company is headquartered in Westbrook, making seafood, meat and poultry marinades, as well as salsa and salad dressing. The products are distributed nationally and can be found at Whole Foods in Portland.
Naples, Italy, natives Giovanni and Michelina Amato opened the first location of their now-ubiquitous southern Maine food institution on India Street. According to legend, the couple even invented the term “Italian” sandwich with their ham, American cheese, oil and veggie-laden creations, sold to waterfront dock workers.
Long-time employee Dominic Reali bought the business in 1972. Now, more than 40 Amato’s sandwich shops dot Maine’s landscape.
Micucci’s Grocery, 1949
Also on India Street, Emilio “Leo” and Iris “Dottie” Micucci first opened this haven of Italian tastiness as a delivery warehouse. As their reputation grew, people began trying to buy food straight from their wholesale stash and the retail store was born.
These days, the wholesale operation on Riverside Street is a separate business, mainly serving local restaurants. But the original India Street grocery store is still there, serving up Italian delicacies including wine, cheese, pasta, oil and fresh baked goods.
To find it, just walk into the neighborhood and follow your nose.
Pat’s Meat Market, 1951
This Deering Center landmark was founded by Patrick Vacchario. His family got its start in the butchery business in 1917 when his father opened the Sanitary Meat market on the corner of India and Middle Streets.
A February 1955 newspaper advertisement for Pat’s touts porterhouse steaks for $ 0.49 a pound and two pounds of lard for $ 0.33. The ad also reads, “Trading with Pat keeps your wallet fat.”
The market has been bought and sold many times over the years – and the prices have gone up – but it still purveys fresh food and meat at 484 Stevens Avenue where Pat started his business more than 60 years ago.
Red’s Dairy Freeze, 1952
Leonard “Red” Bolling originally opened this SoPo cinder block-built staple as a Tastee Freeze franchise. In 1965, Bolling decided to go out on his own, dropping the parent company and renaming his seasonal ice cream business after himself.
These days, Red’s annual unannounced springtime opening is treated like a minor holiday in the neighborhood with news spreading on social media and lines reaching across the parking lot.
Moran’s Market, 1956
Bernard Larsen and his brother-in-law Thomas Moran opened this market together on outer Forest Avenue. Moran died just a few years later but the store still bears his name in tribute. Larsen’s children now own and operate the business, famous for its hot and hearty lunch buffet.
Tony’s Donut Shop, 1965
Antonio “Tony” Fourneir founded this temple of confectionery delights just across the street from where it stands now, on the corner of Congress and Bolton Street. He’d already been running a bakery in Westbrook since 1950.
Pizza Villa, 1965
Founded by Mike Regios, an immigrant from Greece, and run for years by his sons, this Portland pizza joint is famous for making just one size of pizza – so, when you go in, don’t try and order a large or a small .
Regios originally started the restaurant on Congress Street as supplemental income to his tailor shop.
Harbor Fish Market, 1966
Ben Alfiero Sr. established this dockside market on Customs House Wharf and eventually passed it to his three sons Nick, Ben and Mike. Ben died in 2015 but the market is still in the family. To this day, fish is hoisted off local boats in the back and put on ice for customers in the front.
Old Port oldies
The city’s harborside commercial district saw (and continues to see) a restaurant boom starting in the 1970s as the state and city poured redevelopment money into its cobblestoned streets. Some of the venerable Old Port’s modern-day survivors include Amigo’s, opened in 1972, the Old Port Tavern, founded in 1973, Dock Fore, invented in 1980, and DiMillo’s, first floated in 1982.
There are other long-standing food and drink purveyors scattered across Portland. Here’s a few more: Forest Gardens, 1936, Anania’s market, 1963, Bubba’s Sulky Lounge, 1975, Tortilla Flat 1978, The Great Lost Bear, 1979, Bruno’s 1981, Geno’s Rock Club, 1983, Rosie’s and Blackstones, 1987, Gritty McDuff’s, 1988 and Becky’s Diner, 1991.