My husband and I ventured out for a couple of fully vaccinated, socially distanced days to one of our favorite destinations: Portland, Maine. We took time off so that we could go on a Thursday and a Friday in May—while pandemic restrictions were still in effect. Outdoor dining was our plan.
Things have changed since The Before Times.
We had a great visit by making reservations in advance, being okay with early dinners, and staying flexible. A 90-minute limit on seating was the rule everywhere we went. Maine relaxes its pandemic guidelines beginning May 24, so future experiences could well be different.
More and more places appeared to be working to add outdoor dining. I would check with your chosen restaurant to see what arrangements they offer. Proper patios, tables on street-side platforms, barriers that create seating in the street, tents in parking lots—it’s all happening. Portland Food Map is helpful but wasn’t current on the many changes.
Thursday afternoon: We chose Rising Tide Brewing Company in Portland for a late lunch and beer tasting.
We were seated outdoors by a server who took a phone number for contact tracing purposes. Service was friendly and kind.
We ordered lobster rolls. They were okay but you can find better elsewhere. Next time we’d choose the wood-fired pizza.
We very much enjoyed our Rising Tide beers in a 10-ounce pour. Normally we opt for a beer flight but we didn’t see that option.
A pleasant experience overall and we felt very comfortable.
Thursday dinner: We reserved ahead for Little Giant in Portland’s West End.
Outdoor dining only when we went. Reserving ahead is a must. You’ll need a credit card to secure your booking.
Ours was a 6 PM table on the back semi-enclosed patio. This was our first dinner out in 14 months so we indulged!
We started with oysters with a float of chive oil. Also a hunk of sourdough bread with garlic confit for dipping.
My main was peekytoe crab on top of black rice with cubanelle, horseradish, and lemongrass. The crab was cold and the rice was warm with an interesting spicy kick. Somehow the dish managed to be light and comfort foodish at the same time.
My husband chose halibut poached in olive oil. The menu described this dish as being served with ramps but it came with a grilled lettuce instead. Springtime on a plate.
Only two dessert options here. Of course we picked the decadent one. Torrijas! The outside was perfectly carmelized and the inside was richly custardy. Ice cream on top.
Let’s just say it was a good thing we had a long walk to and from the restaurant.
Friday daytime: Only coffee for breakfast (because Thursday).
We took the scenic drive up Route 1 to Freeport before visiting the Maine Beer Company for lunch.
We had a choice of outdoor or indoor seating and opted for outdoors. You can reserve a table up to 3 days in advance, which seems like a good plan if you want to be sure of a table outdoors. We provided a phone number for contact tracing. Ordering happens inside.
Maine Beer Company no longer offers beer flights Thursdays-Sundays to streamline service. We went with 10-ounce pours of Post Ride Snack (session IPA) and Thank You 2021 (IPA).
We shared an excellent chile chorizo pizza from the pared down pizza menu. Toppings are mozzarella, chorizo, pickled Fresno peppers, and chimichurri. I liked this better without the chorizo—will be riffing on this pizza at home.
Afterward we drove to Wolfe’s Neck State Park in Freeport for an easy trail walk and a gorgeous view of Casco Bay.
Friday dinner: Though 4 PM is very early for dinner, being able to dine on the magical patio at Chaval in Portland’s West End was worth it to us.
Outdoor dining at Chaval is by reservation, either on the patio or plastic-enclosed individual greenhouses. Indoor dining was not open when we went.
Chaval’s menu seemed as extensive as in pre-pandemic days, in contrast to the streamlined choices elsewhere. We shared a plate of asparagus a la plancha, dressed with pickled carrot, sorrel, and housemade iberico jamón XO sauce.
Both of us fell to the charms of the evening’s fried chicken sandwich special. Chicken thighs were brined in a dill pickle brine, breaded, and dressed in Barcelona honey. The sandwich was served on a peppery brioche bun, so tasty that I even ate the entire bun (I don’t usually).
This was everything we could want in a chicken sandwich. The frites with the sandwich were perfect. Worth every calorie.
Servers take your entire meal order from snacks through main dishes to make sure there’s enough time for you to enjoy your courses within 90 minutes. The servers did their absolute best to make us feel that nothing was rushed.
After this feast we were once again glad for a long walk back to our lodging.
Saturday breakfast: We needed to hit the road to pick up our dog from boarding, so we had just enough time for a quick stop at The Holy Donut. We decided to try the Scarborough location en route because the Park Avenue location had a long line of customers when we drove by the day before.
Scarborough has a drive-through but there was no one waiting at the shop’s door where you can also walk up to place your order outside. You can also order online for pickup, using the Toast app.
Check out these beauties: sweet potato coffee cake, vegan salted chocolate caramel, chocolate sea salt, maple bacon, and two sweet potato ginger glazed (one of my faves). We ate two doughnuts immediately in the car. Brought the rest home to share.
We’ll probably make a return trip in the fall after summer vacations and before leaf-peeping.
Planning ahead seems key to a happy adventure in 2021. Many people appeared eager to be out and about at last.