SideDish Does Maine: Fore Street in Portland

On July 18, my friend Evan and I began a journey from Boston to Bar Harbor, Maine. We didn’t get on the road until 6:00 p.m. so we decided to stop off in Portland and try to crash the doors of Fore Street, the famous restaurant in Portland’s Old Port District opened in 1996 by Sam Hayward. The place is always packed, especially in the summer, but somehow we had one of those magical moments — you approach the  hostess and admit you don’t have a reservation and all of the parties waiting are large and you are a two-top and there happens to be a reso for two that didn’t show and within 2 minutes of opening the door you are seated. Whew! Spontaneity is the spice of life.

Do the bunny hop. Jump!

Hayward is considered the chef who provided enlightenment to the “cuisine” of Maine which, before he arrived on the scene in the early 70s, consisted of lobster, fried clams, lobsters, fried clams, and blueberry pie. He rallied the farmers (fill-in-a-Cinderella-chef-story here) and fast-forward to July 18, 2010– Hayward now oversees a mini-empire of local eateries in Portland which includes Street & Company, Standard Baking Company, Scales at the Public Market, and Two Fat Cats.

Open kitchen with wood burning oven, grill, and turnspit.

I’ll be brief as I was technically on vacation and not taking notes or asking questions. Fore Street is a groovy place. Lots of brick, dark woods, darker lighting (hence blurry photos), and A completely open kitchen where, if you are lucky enough to snag a booth close to it, you have a ringside seat to the action. Along the brick wall behind the wooden bread and salad making tables is the line which includes  a wood burning oven and a turnspit that rotates slowly over flaming logs. Stage left there is a temperature controlled vegetable storage cellar. The whole scene makes hip San Francisco eateries look like Dallas strip mall diners.  The vibe is all about the food.

Temperature controlled vegetable cellar in open kitchen

That said, all of the items we ordered didn’t add up to the best meal of my life, but my entrée, a half of farm-raised Maine rabbit cooked on the turnspit, was a taste sensation I will never forget. Like a oversized farm raised chicken, the rabbit was the thickest and juicy with a slight char to the skin from the exposure to the open flame. “Some of the meat is hard get at,” said our server. “So go ahead and pick it up with your hands. You won’t turn any heads here.” I did. I gnawed on poor Thumper like I was sitting at a banquet in honor of King Henry VIII.

Turnspit roasted marinated Maine farm rabbit.

The rest of the meal was certainly better than your average restaurant but Evan’s wood-grilled Atlantic swordfish was overcooked and dry (he doesn’t agree). Anywhoo, Maine can keep their tiny, tasteless wild blueberries even if they are served with lemon curd and crème fresh. They don’t hold a candle to the Texas variety.

Fresh Maine blueberries with lemon curd and local heavy cream.

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