I knew Portland was going to live up to its reputation when I boarded the small plane from Newark Airport surrounded by 20-somethings in serious hiking gear—Nalgene bottles, hiking sandals, and Patagonia fleeces were prevalent. The quick, easy flight was filled with oh-so-kind people, and before I knew it I was through the airport and nestled in at the Press Hotel, located right in downtown Portland adjacent the some 200 or so restaurants that populate this charming seaside New England town.
We were headed to Portland as my boyfriend’s mother was premiering a play, which is a great excuse to check out a new part of the world. As we both studied journalism, we were thrilled to check in to the Press Hotel, a journalism-inspired, boutique property that’s built in the former headquarters of the Portland Press Herald. (RIP, newspapers—though, luckily for Portland residents, the Press Herald is still in print. ) There are newsroom references throughout, including typewriters on the wall in the lobby, and quotes on the hallways as you walk to your room. Appropriately, the restaurants is titled Union and the bar, Inkwell. I was charmed—and hungry and exhausted after a busy week.
After checking into our cozy room, we saddled up at the bright and airy restaurant, Union, starved, stressed, and ready for wine. (This seems to be my permanent state these days.) I ordered a glass of Rosé and expected to find a standard menu. Instead, I was instantly impressed with the elevated options for the small plates at Union restaurant, which varied from oil cured sardines to veal carpaccio and a golden lentil soup with Cabot cheddar!
I ordered a selection of appetizers, starting with the flash-seared tuna with citrus ponzu, garlic oil, tear drop chilies, and a shaved purple cabbage slaw. The tuna was that beautiful, fatty fresh flesh—absolutely beautiful cuts of fish, perfectly seared on the outside. Another standout appetizer on the table was the grilled goat cheese with rosemary, garlic, and citrus. Grilled garlic cloves and citrus chunks complemented the patty of charred, creamy goat cheese perfectly, along with hot grilled ciabatta rounds for dipping. I went from grouchy and starving to satisfied and blissful, and I could not wait for Sunday’s brunch at the same restaurant.
On Sunday, we rolled out of bed well-rested, but painfully full from the day before, when we visited a total of ten different restaurants in an effort to eat and drink our way through Portland’s exceptional dining scene in a 36-hour period. Get my list of the top places to eat in Portland, and read my brunch review of Hot Suppa —both coming this week.
As we entered the restaurant, we passed by the open kitchen plating beautiful dishes of French toast with the sweet smell wafting into our nostrils, “we’ll be ordering that,” I said to no one in particular.
Brunch at Union Restaurant is a wonderful experience—the space is light, airy, and beautiful, and was filled with all sorts of people enjoying time with their loved ones—from families to brunch dates to a solo bruncher who was having the best time treating himself. I was charmed. The wait staff is friendly and accommodating—our coffee and water arrived quickly.
I was pleased to discover juices on the menu, and I ordered a much-needed and appropriately titled Kick Starter Cleanse, with apple cider vinegar, ginger, turmeric, honey, lemon, and cayenne. It was divine—and filled with everything you need for a serious cleanse.
We’ve been on a shakshuka kick, so we ordered the asparagus shakshuka—an option we’ve never seen. The dish was beautiful and classic —a massive skillet with eggs with runny, yolky baked eggs in a classic tomato sauce with toasted slices of ciabatta.
When in Maine, order the lobster—so I went for the Benedict upgrade from the classic Canadian ham. It was a great call, as this was a beautiful Benny, with perfect Hollandaise and oh-so-fresh lobster. It was beautifully presented and served with massive home fries, full of flavor but also served with ketchup.
The Pan Perdou was just as delicious as it was beautiful —enormous blocks of fluffy vanilla brioche bread, flavored with vanilla and cinnamon, toasted on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The plate was drenched in Maple syrup, loaded with fresh blueberries and sliced strawberries, and topped with a dollop of melting butter.
This was an absolutely decadent brunch experience to wrap up a spectacular 72 hours of eating in one of America’s best and most exciting food cities. I can’t wait to share my top Portland restaurants—come back tomorrow to see the rest!
The Bitches say: A+. An upscale brunch option in an otherwise casual dining city. The expansive menu offered options from healthy to decadent, but all were satisfying. The ambiance and service were lovely, and this is a great place for both a regular or a special occasion brunch. Be sure to stay at Press Hotel, given its great food and convenient location, should you find yourself in Portland.
119 Exchange Street.