Last month, Bon Appetit Magazine named Portland, Maine, the 2018 Restaurant City of the Year. Restaurant Editor-at-Large Andrew Knowlton has long been a big fan of Portland as a food city (he went to college and got married in Maine) and in his recent article (on August 7) touting the city’s food scene, he lists some of his favorite spots, many of which I’ve happily enjoyed. While I of course hope Portsmouth, New Hampshire someday makes the City of the Year cut, I’m happy Portland, small as it is (population around 66K), is being recognized more and more.
While I certainly love many Boston restaurants, when I wanted to get out of Portsmouth to a larger city, Portland was usually my choice. It’s easy to get to, walkable and there are so many great bars and restaurants. One of my favorite bar stops was always Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, opened in September 2013 by husband and wife team, Andrew and Briana Volk. Little Giant followed in 2017 and Knowlton mentions both in his article. Now I can take their food and drink with me to Austin because The Volks have just published their first book, Northern Hospitality with the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club — a celebration of cocktails, cooking, and coming together (Quarto Publishing Group, August, 2018) and it’s a true reflection of their wonderful restaurant where hospitality is foremost and food and drink get equal billing. Indeed, the chapters in their lovely book are organized by theme like Winter Warmers or The Sea and Salty Air so dishes and drinks interplay in equal, complimentary ways.
Whenever I sat at the bar at Portland Hunt + Alpine Club I felt like I was part of the family. Sure, it’s a cliche, but one that fits. I’d walk in, sidle up and even if I didn’t know the bartender that day or anyone sitting nearby, I’d immediately become part of the conversation thanks to their dedication to relaxed, welcoming hospitality. It’s just one thing that makes that place great but there are some other factors that got me there, too, like our shared love of aquavit and dishes like Swedish meatballs with spaetzle, which are included this beautiful book.
Not only are there easy and tasty dishes here, many inspired by Briana Volk’s Finnish background, but plenty of their cocktail recipes, too, including a whole chapter dedicated to that aquavit. I have three kinds of aquavit at home and I tried them all out in the Norseman, made with brown butter washed aquavit and bitters. So good. You’ll also find an homage to one of Maine’s favorite spirits, Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy. I made their Espresso Martini from the book using coffee concentrate, Plantation white rum and Allen’s and it’s now in my repertoire. I sipped it with the Clams with Absinthe and Bottarga and their Pork Liver Mousse, returning to that bar from 2000 miles away.
Here, find four recipes, one for their Green Eyes, a frothy gin drink and one for the Mexico, Maine, made with that Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy. I’ve enjoyed both the clam dish and the smoked smoked trout deviled eggs at home and they turned out wonderfully. The soft pretzel recipe was a big hit in my house, too. You’ll also find tips on food pairings, apres ski advice and a glossary of cocktail terms which come in handy, so pick wherever books are sold and do go visit them to experience their Northern Hospitality in person.
Inspired by the salty ocean that’s just steps from our door, the mix of Chartreuse and gin along with the texture of the egg whites in this drink makes it a sister of the sea. To say it’s popular would be an understatement; it’s easily one of the most ordered and photographed drinks we have. (One wedding reception chose to host at Hunt + Alpine because they loved this drink so much!) It is also one of our favorite ways to introduce Chartreuse to our guests. While the spirit is bitter, in this drink it is well balanced by the other ingredients.
Yield: 1 Drink
Glass: Chilled Double Old Fashioned
1 1/2 ounces gin (we use London dry)
3/4 ounce Green Chartreuse
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce rich simple syrup
1/2 ounce egg white
Lime wheel and cocktail cherry, for garnish
Combine the gin, Chartreuse, lime juice, syrup, and egg white in a mixing tin.
Fill the tin with ice, cap, and shake hard for 30 to 45 seconds.
Uncap the tin and fine strain the contents into the empty top of the tin. When you’re finished straining, dump all the spent ice from the bottom, transfer the liquid back to the tin, cap, and shake without ice for 10 seconds. This further emulsifies the ingredients to ensure that the drink doesn’t separate when served.
Pour the twice-shaken drink into a chilled double old fashioned glass. Fill with fresh ice, garnish with the lime wheel and cherry, and serve.
Did you know there’s actually a town in Maine called Mexico? This cocktail is what came to our minds as we envisioned a marriage of Mexico and Maine. It’s based on the strong flavors of Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy (see page 164) and mezcal. Thus, you have the iconic spirits of Maine and Mexico! The tequila and agave help balance out the bitterness that can result from Allen’s, and they stick with the theme. We’ve found this is a drink that’s made for cold weather. It’s a friend of fried food and won’t ever say no to a campfire.
Yield: 1 drink l glass: chilled double old fashioned
1 1/2 ounces El Jimador Blanco
1/2 ounce mezcal (we use Del Maguey Vida)
1/2 ounce Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy
1 teaspoon agave syrup
6 dashes coffee bitters (there are many great ones on the market, but we use Coastal Root, made right here in Portland)
Orange peel, for garnish
Add the El Jimador, mezcal, Allen’s, agave, and bitters to a well-chilled double old fashioned glass.
Add a large ice cube, and then stir for 20 to 30 seconds. Garnish with an expressed orange peel.
SMOKED TROUT DEVILED EGGS
Deviled eggs have been one of our favorite party snacks for years, and we’ve encountered innumerable variations on them. When we opened Hunt + Alpine, we knew we wanted an upscale Scandinavian version of the classic. We have a great relationship with a fish purveyor less than a mile down the road. They smoke their own trout, among other fish, and we knew immediately that we wanted to use that in our deviled eggs. Over the years, we’ve departed from just offering the smoked trout deviled eggs and now have a rotating selection of equally delicious options, but these still hold a special place in our heart, and we’re always happy to eat a couple of these with a cocktail.
Yield: 24 pieces
1 pound smoked trout
1/2 cup finely diced shallots
1 cup crème fraîche
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 lemons, zested
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 dozen eggs
Clean the skin (if you’ve purchased a side of smoked trout) and shred the smoked trout.
Combine the shredded trout, shallots, creme fraiche, dill, chives, parsley, cilantro, lemon zest, white pepper, lemon juice, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir gently to combine. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator while continuing with the recipe.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. There should be enough water to cover the eggs once they are placed in the pot. Once the water reaches a boil, carefully add the eggs and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the eggs for 11 minutes. After 11 minutes, remove the eggs and immediately transfer them to an ice bath to stop the cooking.
Peel the eggs under running water, then slice each egg in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks and fill the empty egg whites with the smoked trout filling.
Our favorite way to serve these is to spread Brown-Butter Mayonnaise on a serving plate, place the eggs on top, then shave the leftover egg yolks over the top and sprinkle our Pickled Red Onions (page 114)over the whole plate. Feel free to experiment!
CLAMS WITH ABSINTHE AND BOTTARGA
This recipe embodies so much of what we value in our food. It has a strong sense of place and represents local seafood very well. Yet it’s an easy dish to learn and requires minimum cleanup as well. With no sacrifice to flavor, you’ll dirty only one pan! We think it’s best when served with a dark beer and some warm, crusty bread to sop up the buttery broth.
Yield: 2 servings
1/2 pound manila clams
3 tablespoons cold water 1 1/2 teaspoons sriracha
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Pinch ground pink pepper
Approximately 1 tablespoon grated Bottarga (cured fish roe), for garnish
3 pumps absinthe from an atomizer
Wash the clams well, making sure to remove any dirt or grit.
In a medium-size pan, add the clams, water, lemon twist, and sriracha. Cook over high heat until the mixture begins to boil.
Add the butter and watch the pot. As the clams begin to open, remove each one from the pan with tongs and place it in your serving dish. After all the clams have cooked and been transferred to the serving dish, pour the sauce over the clams.
Sprinkle with the pink pepper and bottarga. Mist the clams three times with the absinthe and serve.
Recipes courtesy Northern Hospitality with The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club
— Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Austin, Texas. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.