A weekend of beer, biking, farm-to-table food and a fabulous friend from my Oregon adolescence. You guessed it, I spent it in Portland.
No, the one where I was born.
No, the original one.
Yes, in Maine.
I’m in Boston for work this week and decided to fly in early after chatting with my friend Heather about having a long-overdue ladies trip. Heather moved to New Hampshire just over five years ago and soon after I swamped the third coast for the west. Needless to say, we don’t see each other often.
After some research, I discovered how easy and cheap it is to get from Boston to Portland and booked a ticket on Amtrak’s Downeaster. I found a delightful two-bedroom AirBnB a quick walk from the train station and we were good to go.
I arrived into Logan after a Virgin America red-eye just before 8 a.m. on Saturday. Thanks to the magic of melatonin (and red wine) I managed to sleep the entire 5+ hour flight. Not quite bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but at least coherent, I made my way to Boston North Station (and got a free T ride as their machines malfunctioned), grabbing coffee and a pumpkin donut from one of the approximately 10 million Dunkin Donuts I passed in the short sojourn. Once on the train I conked out fairly quickly again, eventually awakening to an awe-inspiring autumnal ride through a real-life Bob Ross painting.
Day 1: Beer
Heather got held up at her son’s soccer game and then stuck in leaf traffic (#NewEnglandProblems), but luckily rail work waylaid my train a bit, so I only had a little over an hour to kill once “landing.” Unfortunately my “Auntie” Willow couldn’t meet up for lunch, but she gave me a nice recommendation within walking distance of the train station and, coincidentally, just up the street from our accommodations.
Once I got to Dogfish Café, I realized how hungry I felt. Do you ever have those moments though where you’re starving, but nothing on the menu appeals to you? I’m actually glad this happened, because I ended up getting the soup of the day — roasted carrot and tomato with oyster crackers, of course. Absolutely hit the spot. I washed it down with a Shipyard Pumpkinhead, thus beginning my craft brew journey.
Heather met up just before 2 p.m., while I and we checked ourselves into the AirBnB. Our host couldn’t make it for check-in, but texted me about a block party going on in the East Bayside neighborhood involving a couple of breweries. Since we had tickets to the Allagash Brewery tour at 4 p.m., we figured this would be a good way to kill the time in between.
I’d heard about Portland, Maine’s emerging microbrewery scene, but really didn’t grasp until we started exploring just how many there are. It definitely gives the other Portland a run for its money. There’s also a whole distillery scene going on as well – we didn’t even touch that one.
We cabbed to Bunker Hill Brewery, which apparently is a nano-brewery, meaning it’s essentially an industrial garage with brewing equipment, a handmade bar, and a DJ dropping mellow beats in the middle of the floor. We waited in a sizeable line of block party goers (or just Saturday enjoyers) then ordered our brews. I got the Bunktoberfest, which was okay, but Heather’s Brown truly would be worth seeking out. We sat outside in the unseasonably toasty sunshine (I didn’t plan to bust out the SF Bike Coalition t-shirt I’d packed, but glad I had it) and caught up on life since we’d seen each other in Portland #2 last summer.
With a little extra time, we walked up the street to Rising Tide Brewing and ordered their flight of the day with 4 oz. tastings. I really enjoyed these beers! The flight consisted of Ishmael (Red Ale), D’Atomne (Saison and my favorite of the four), Armada (Brown), and Daymark (American Pale Ale). By the end we were chugging and impatiently waiting for our cab, which got so lost we had to flag one instead. We met a group of New York dudes playing cornhole, in part due to my t-shirt, since one of them grew up in the Bay Area. SFBC shirt for the win!
Despite several obstacles, including a train stop, we made it to Allagash just in time for the tour, likely disappointing the folks on the wait list. The facility was much bigger than I expected and still under construction for an even bigger operation! After a little bit of delay losing the tour group after a bathroom stop, we found them just in time for the fun part…the tasting! On tap we tried Allagash White (always enjoyable), the Saison, the Tripel and the Hugh Malone Belgian IPA (which I really loved). We definitely were reaching nap time around this point, but I bought a Fluxus & Nancy as souvenirs. Can’t wait to try ’em!
Nap time definitely was in order, but unfortunately for me, that meant oversleeping until Heather woke me up at 9:15 p.m. WHOOPS! Fortunately we made it to downtown Portland in time to make it to Duckfat, which the Allagash tour guide, Sarah, confirmed we should try. Thank goodness we did, though we certainly felt like we were in “our” Portland. Ridiculously tasty and creative food, for an unbelievable price. We split their famous poutine and though a little on the lukewarm side, the duckfat fries lived up to their crispy, flavorful reputation. Opting to offset that caloric bomb, I ordered the turnip and beet salad and soup of the day, a curried carrot and duck confit concoction, which may be part of my execution meal if my life goes down a dark path. So, so good. And of course I tried another microbrew, Bissel Brother Brewing Company’s The Substance, a perfect IPA recommendation from our waiter.
Since we napped so long, we had energy to walk around a bit. We headed to the waterfront, spotting more breweries and distilleries for another trip, and passing hoards of revelers spilling out of bars and packing the streets. Live music floated out of almost every venue. I pulled up my Draft Mag beer bars spreadsheet (nerd alert) and we found our way to Novare Res, a sprawling cellar and biergarten. Thanks to the knowledgeable barkeep I tried and greatly appreciated Maine Beer Company‘s Lunch IPA.
We wandered back out into the Old Port and the throngs of folks having a grand old time. Following the sounds of a blues band, we found ourselves at Bull Feeney’s, an upstairs Irish bar with great people watching. We don’t know what we actually heard on the street because the band ended up playing a lot of 90s grunge covers, so Heather and I relived our youth while sipping on a Baxter Brewing Stowaway IPA and checking out the Maine nightlife scene. We also got a free Clif Bar from a kid who won a box of them at a snowboarding event earlier that evening.
We hailed a cab just before 1 a.m. and despite our driver going a roundabout way and the questionable health of the vehicle, we made it home and hit the hay.
Day 2: Bikes
For some reason I woke up 6:45 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. Finally, around 8 a.m. Heather and I decided to head out on our run. We ran up the massive hill past Maine Medical (my actual birthplace), through the Western Promenade and looped through neighborhoods to Longfellow Square, where we turned around after a running selfie. On the way back we learned from a cyclist that there was a 5k happening at 9:30 to support the local school, but we called our route at 3.3 miles, hit the showers and packed up.
By 9:30 we were on our way to breakfast. Not having time (we needed to go back to the house in time for 11 am. check out) to wait at Yelp’s highly recommended, Hot Suppa, we headed next door to Local 188. My mushroom & greens scramble was just okay, but I can’t push the housemade Apple Cider Donuts enough. Oh my goodness. Deep-friend New Englandness.
After loading up Heather’s truck, we parked at the train station, set up her bike and rented me one from the Zagster Bikeshare. For $20 I could have kept the bike for up to 24 hours, great to know for any future visits. I would recommend Amtrak/Zagster add luggage storage at the station though, because I wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy this fun if Heather’s car hadn’t been there.
Being that this was Heather’s first time in Portland, we couldn’t let the trip finish without seeing Portland Head Light. We rode through the western neighborhoods and looped down to the Casco Bay Bridge, which had nice wide bike lanes on both sides. We wove our way through South Portland and to my “original” hometown of Cape Elizabeth. I spotted our childhood stop, The Cookie Jar bakery, and Heather and I parked the bikes so I could grab a Whoopie Pie and New Yorker to snack on later.
We next detoured down Glen Ave. and found my first home, #6. A block later, we parked the bikes and walked down to the little beach where my parents would take me as a baby. It works out, more-or-less, to be my twelfth beach of the year, a perfect way to wrap up that #34by35 goal.
Finally, after a gorgeous orange, red and gold-filled ride down Shore Rd. we found the entrance to Fort Williams Park and rode up and over the hill to Portland Head. We walked around the lighthouse, meandered up to the viewpoint, and grabbed a Lobster Roll and local root beer from Maine Root Company at the Bite into Maine food truck. Yum. Yum. Yum.
Sadly our time ran short and we needed to ride back so Heather could get on the road and I could make my train. I’m so glad we decided to do this, so I could rediscover my first home and log some solid bonding time with one of my oldest friends. Can’t wait to come back here, hopefully without almost 15 years passing between visits.