An April 2005 trip
to Portland by zabelle
Quote: Historic preservation has turned a rundown seaport in a beautiful jewel of a city. Cobblestone streets, the unmistakable smell of the sea and lobster... does it get better than this?
You can begin your visit in the old port, or as we did, with a visit to the Portland Art Museum. They have an amazingly deep collection of Impressionist paintings, as well as sculptures, by Degas and Rodin.
Staying at the Holiday Inn on the Bay puts this just around the corner. Another place worth a visit that is close by is the Maine Historical Society. If you have roots in Maine, or even if you don't, it's worth a stop to check out their collection.
Portland has plenty of culture as well. Portland Stage Company offers productions from September to May. In April, when we were there, they were offering "Woman in Black," one of the scariest plays I have ever seen; it makes the hair on your neck stand on end. See www.portlandstage.com
For sports fans, the semi-pro Portland Pirates Ice Hockey Team were playing at home twice while we were in town at the Cumberland Country Civic Center. Ticket prices ranged from to . After all home games, the team does a meet-and-greet at The Stadium Sports Bar.
Pick up a copy of the Visitors Guide put out by the convention and visitor center. It is full of information about Portland and environs. It lists not only retailers, but also festivals and special events. From July to September, there are free outdoor music series on Fridays at noon in Portland’s Post Office Park. Thursday evening at Monument Square, there are free concerts between 5 and 8pm. This is just a taste of what Portland has to offer. On Friday evenings from 5 to 9pm, the Portland Art Museum is free, and every day they offer a 10% AAA discount - just ask for it. The Visitor Center is located at 245 Commercial St.
Parking is a major headache in downtown Portland, especially in the Old Port area. Many of the hotels also have a hefty charge for parking in their lots (not, however, the Holiday Inn on the Bay). The Old Port is a great walking area, and unless you are staying out at the jetport or in the area around the Maine Mall, you will be able to park your car and leave it.
The city of Portland has a forgiveness ticketing system. People receiving a green ticket in the downtown area related to parking at an expired meter, overtime parking, or parking in more than one space have the first green ticket every 6 months from January to June and July to December automatically waived by the city.
Our room had an entrance hall, after which you entered the main room. We had a dining niche with a wooden table and chairs,
a sofa, chair and ottoman, dresser, coffee table, and large TV on a rolling stand. There was a fridge and microwave in our dining area. The coffee maker was located in the bathroom, just in case you get the urge for a cup while showering!
This was a very good-size room. We had two double beds, each with three pillows. I appreciated the fact that one of them was feather.
The whole exterior wall was windows. There were at least five lamps in the room, but somehow it still seemed a little dim. We had a few housekeeping issues our first day there, but they were handled very quickly by the front desk. I give the front desk high marks for their efficiency, but housekeeping needs a little work.
This is a conference hotel, and there was a large crowd of people attending. What totally surprised me was the desk staff’s refusal check if our room was available when we arrived at 11:30am. Our first meeting wasn’t until 1:30pm, so we had hoped to ditch our luggage. They did store it for us, but I don’t understand why they couldn’t at least check; anyway, they wouldn’t.
A real plus is that there is no charge for parking in the hotel garage. Be aware that if the hotel is full there may not be enough parking. I suggest arriving early but not before 4pm check-in time.
The hotel has a beautiful lounge and a reasonably priced restaurant. After you overindulge, there is an exercise room, sauna, and indoor pool. Room service is available. There is a concierge and valet service. The lobby also has a selection of local maps and brochures. There is a small store in case you’ve forgot something.
If you are a Priority Club member, make sure you bring your card.
You will receive a welcome bag that includes potato chips, water, Tic-Tacs, lotto ticket, three cocktail coupons, and three coffee or tea coupons. All this and priority club points--you gotta love it.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 10, 2005
Holiday Inn By The Bay
88 SPRING ST
Portland, Maine 04111
Restaurant | "Becky's on Hobson Wharf"
While we were waiting, I watched a bowl of fresh fruit being delivered and decided right then and there that it looked too good to pass up. It comes in two sizes, large and small, and can be augmented with non-fat yogurt and granola. I went for the full treatment, but in the small size. It’s a good thing I picked small, because it was a very big serving. There is a short wait to get the fruit since it is prepared to order.
It included bananas, cantaloupe, apple, grapes, honeydew, strawberries, and blueberries. This was covered with the granola and the yogurt. It was so fresh and delicious that I would go back there again just to have a bowl. I ordered oatmeal toast to go with it and one blueberry pancake. (It’s Maine, after all, and I couldn’t go without tasting Rachael’s suggestions). I ended up bringing the pancake home and having it for dinner, but not because it wasn’t good--I was just too full.
Cindy had the hash and cheese omelet.
The hash didn’t appear to be homemade, but there was no claim on the menu that it was. The homefries were a mixed bag, some were tender and some appeared to be only partially cooked. One thing I particularly liked was that the omelet was not brown, I am a fanatic about that which is one reason I didn’t order one. They have an interesting selection of toast offered, including the oatmeal that I ordered and Italian bread toast. They even offer French toast made from raisin or Italian bread. For real maple syrup, add $1.50.
This is a typical diner décor: some booths and a few tables and stools at the counter. There is a case of delicious-looking desserts right near the cash register, and there are homemade jams for sale on the wall. Our waitress was very friendly, if a bit ditsy. We ended up having to go to the counter to get our coffee cups refilled. For my part, I so loved the fruit bowl that I would forgive them anything, and I can’t wait to go back. I leave it to you to decide.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 11, 2005
Becky’s on Hobson Wharf
390 Commercial St.
The exterior is very understated, with a black awning and the word restaurant, no hint of the treasure that is within. The building itself was formerly a bus station, and the brick walls, exposed pipes, and vents give it a bright and casual feel. One wall has a pretty oak bar where an excellent variety of martinis and brews can be had. We opted for the later; both of us trying the shipyard export. It is a dark golden ale with a smooth but strong taste. It is very interesting, so it is worth having more than one. The first night, we started with a spiked coffee, mine with Grand Marnier and Cindy’s with Frangelica.
They were as pretty as they were heart-warming. Try not to fill up on the foccacia and olive oil, as it is outstanding.
I can’t recommend the mussels here enough. They are string grown and the tenderest and cleanest mussels I have ever eaten. They are served in a butter broth with citrus and fennel.
The fennel is an inspired choice, and the crunch and the distinctive licorice taste was amazing.
I ordered the roast duck breast with Oregon blackberry puree. Frankly, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There were tender slices of duck straddled a bed of whipped garlic mashed potatoes with a layer of sweet greens on top. There were two whole blackberries gracing the side of the plate, and the piece de resistance the blackberry puree.
I finished it off with a slice of pear and a caramel tart on a pecan cookie crust. Divine is an overused but wholly appropriate description. Imagine slices of tender pear drizzled with caramel sitting on a crust of pecan sandies.
For the second dinner, I chose the mussels again, followed by a bowl of fish chowder and a salad of baby spinach with Fuji apples, pecans, Gorgonzola croutons, and sherry vinaigrette. The chowder was rich but not thick; it had plenty of fish and potatoes, a very satisfying concoction. The salad was perfect, and the crouton was a Melba toast of sorts with Gorgonzola spread on it.
Cindy had the pan-roasted Dayboat scallops with Thai basil, coconut milk, and ginger. Yum. For dessert, she had the ginger molasses cake with whipped cream. It was a very sophisticated take on gingerbread. Service was flawless. It was pricey but worth every penny.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 11, 2005
106 High St.
Restaurant | "Port of Call Restaurant"
The restaurant offers a breakfast buffet in addition to a regular menu. For lunch there was also a buffet with sandwiches. Dinner is off the menu. We had both breakfast and dinner in the restaurant.
Breakfast was surprisingly good. I had scrambled eggs, bacon, and rye toast. The toast was marbled rye and a real winner. Their specialty is a cinnamon roll made into French toast. It looks fabulous. The prices are very reasonable for a hotel restaurant.
For dinner, I had cream of broccoli soup and a Thai chicken salad. The broccoli soup was very satisfying and the salad, romaine, carrots, and wonton stripes with a spicy peanut dressing, was great. The chicken, on the other hand, was dry as a bone. Cindy ordered the fried scallop dinner, and she gave them a big thumb’s up. A hot loaf of bread was served with our meal.
The most popular meal in the restaurant appeared to be the pork osso busso, as people all around us were ordering it. This is Maine, so lobster was offered in a couple of form, in a stew and in a salad. We didn’t have dessert, but I have to admit I was tempted by the fried cheesecake with blueberry melba sauce - how good does that sound?
At breakfast, our service was excellent; at dinner, our server was grossly overworked, and even though there were only a minimal number of people in the restaurant, we had a 20-minute wait for a table due to understaffing. There were two conferences in the hotel, so why they would be understaffed was a mystery to everyone who was waiting for a table.
The decor is attractive and the food acceptable. They offer room service as well. For a hotel restaurant, this one is an okay alternative if you don’t want to leave the hotel to eat.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 11, 2005
Port of Call Restaurant at Holiday Inn
88 Spring St
Portland, Maine 04101
Anyway, since I am neither a hockey nor a baseball fan, this is not what drew me to this bar. Actually, hunger and desperation were the draw, but it was a lucky find. Zac, our waiter, was more than happy to acquaint us with which brews were on tap and which were available in bottles, as well as describe which appetizers were most likely to please.
We chose a Sam Adams and a Corona, respectively, and a Homerun to share. No, not all of their food has sports-related names, but a few do, like the "Green Monster," a spinach tortilla filled with marinated chicken breast, romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, and Parmesan cheese. They offer twelve-inch pizzas, burgers, appetizers, salads, wraps, and they even have a kid’s menu. The Homerun is a sampling of mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, beer-battered onion rings, Buffalo wings, jalapeno poppers, and potato skins.
It was plenty for two to share and was served with a honey-mustard sauce, sour cream, bleu cheese, and marinara sauce. All the items were good; the chicken tenders and the onion rings were the winners in my book, and the honey mustard sauce was delicious, a perfect melding of sweet and pungent. If you want enough for three or four, get the "Grand Slam".
The Stadium has a beautiful oak bar that has at least 20 seats.
There are three big-screen TVs and loads of smaller ones. On the lower level, you can play golf. On the street level, there are pool and air hockey tables, as well as video games. Local radio station 93.1 broadcasts live from the bar on Wednesday evenings. The special on Wednesdays is 93-cent wraps. There are also weekly drink specials. On this particular Friday, they had Shipyard drafts for $1.75.
The Stadium Restaurant and Sports Bar
504 Congress St
Portland, Maine 04101
Attraction | "Portland Art Museum"
Charles Shipman Payson offered the museum his collection of Winslow Homer Paintings in 1976. Realizing that the museum was inadequate to house them, he also donated 8 million dollars toward the building of an addition. The building designed by Henry Nichols Cobb of I.M. Pei & Partners was completed in 1983. This led to more major gifts and long-term loans, and today what you have is a small but really world-class museum.
What I particularly liked about this museum is the way they present their collection, especially the Sweat Galleries, where you will find two paintings by John Singer Sargent. My favorite, by Adelaide Chase, is a painting of Maria Frances Whitten Pomeroy as a young girl in 1914. I smiled as I looked at it--she had the pouty look of a child who had been forced to pose for a painting in a frilly dress when she would rather be just about anywhere else. Certainly a snapshot in time. Maria’s frilly white dress makes a perfect foil for the white peonies in the painting by Anna Hardy, which was placed to one side of it, and the Tiffany glass vase to the other side.
The furniture gallery is also beautifully presented, with larger pieces making the base for their collection of clocks, mirrors, candelabra, and paintings. Each setting appears as a small piece of a room.
On the second floor, prepare to be wowed by the depth of their Impressionist paintings and sculpture: Renoir, Degas, Rodin, Monet, Courbet, Cezanne, Pizarro, Gauguin Hassam, and two Mary Cassatts.
I fell in love with this museum as soon as we walked in the door. It has an open feeling that is also very welcoming. If you are a AAA members, be sure to ask for your discount when you pay for your entrance ticket. If you visit on Friday evening between 5 and 9pm, entrance is free.
If you happen to arrive at mealtime or just want a delicious snack, there is a very pretty café on the lower level. They have a nice selection of soups, sandwiches, salads, and sweets. You can enjoy your repast surround by their extraordinary glass collection.
Don’t overlook the McLellan Mansion; it is devoid of furniture, but that just makes it easier to appreciate the fantastic federal architecture. Pay special attention to the floating staircase.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 10, 2005
Portland Museum of Art
7 Congress Square
Portland, Maine 04101