If you were from Northern New England you will know that some people don't use the word dinner except when referring to a fancy restaurant or perhaps at a night wedding at anyplace that isn't the town recreation center or VFW. Instead we prefer the term supper, and if further you are from Maine which is to say a Maine-iack, you will have no furtha use for the R at the end of the word and simply say Suppa. The same thing that makes us Northern New Englanders endearing is the same reason Stephen King makes so damned much money on his books...we're a little on the touched side.
We like to think we are from God's country, and this would be true is God came from a land of maple syrup swilling, squirrel worshiping circus freaks. Although we do come in handy when you get your H2 Hummer and BMW X5 SUV's stuck on your way to the ski slopes...Isn't that right flatlander?! Here's a place that's also handy to know next time you're passing through Portland Maine. After you've had to pay a kings ransom in tolls past the combination Six Flags and Mall of America of Liquor Stores on the ten mile highway through hell in New Hampshire, and driving through the gauntlet of unmarked police speed traps they lovingly call the Maine Turnpike.
The Cat and I went to Portland Maine for a couple days to chill out and get away from it all. By get away from it all, I mean go to a place that is at least one zip code digit away from my town to any hotel that realizes its February in Northern New England and charges accordingly. This trip also requires a hotel staff that is generally tolerant of my traveling companion’s penchant for mischief, and turns a blind eye when he deposits something other than a cigarette butt into the receptacle outside the hotel that is filled with cat litter.
Despite our differences with regards to food (my casual to his more refined tastes), and drink, (I’m a Jameson man to his dirty martinis) we managed to find a place that fits both our palates and more importantly, my price range. I had heard of this place at one of my favorite restaurants the night before and the next morning we had corned beef hash there that was amazing. I remembered thinking I couldn’t wait to go there for dinner which they just started serving. The next night, we did just that…
The slant that Hot Suppa takes on its dinner menu is a southern menu incorporating local products, leading to Northeast meats Southeast. When you think about it, the two locations have a lot in common. Abundant seafood, good availability of great produce plus an amazing array of nylon meshed baseball caps and pickup trucks with forty-four inch mud tires. Sorry southeast, you don’t have the corner on rednecks, we just don’t call them that here…we call them woodchucks.
After studying the menu I decided I’d have the fried green tomato appetizer. This was a traditional cornbread coated thick cut fried green tomato but these were served with chilled lightly smoked Maine bay scallops and slightly spicy remoulade with a lemon wedge. I used to get a similar dish in Alabama that was served with a lump crab and spicy hollandaise which I loved, this Hot Suppa version was every bit as good. The combination of crispy hot green tomato paired well with the chilled and lightly smoked bay scallop’s spicy sauce and a hit of acid in the lemon. The only thing I may have done different was perhaps add a bit of pickled onion or shallot in lieu of the lemon or lemon with a sprinkling of lemon zest on top of the tomato, but then again I’d also like a backrub as I eat and perhaps a pedicure so I guess I’m picking gnat crap out of pepper here.
The Cat went with fried oysters served on a salad of baby spinach, red onion and bleu cheese vinaigrette. This salad was also very well done. The vinaigrette was not heavy handed as most places tend to do, and really rounded the sweetness of the oysters and onion. I wouldn’t have changed anything. It would be interesting to see this dish with wilted spinach and deep fried capers. It would also be interesting to see a flock of pigeons fly out of my butt dragging barbed wire, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t necessary.
Next came entrees, I desperately wanted the BBQ but as I wanted to be able to get up from the table and move at a pace in keeping with something other than a banana slug, I opted for the Cast Iron fried Chicken, which came with one side. I had chosen the maple braised collard greens as my one side and then I had to order an additional side of hand cut fries as well. This was the one sticking point I had with the menu. I would have liked to have chosen my sides and had at least two of the twelve. It would be great if it could be an upscale play on what southerners call a “meat n’ three.”
The chicken was excellent with a seriously tasty and crunchy crust. I like my fried chicken to have a lot more spice than this did, but with an economy sized bottle of Sriracha on the table, problem solved. The collards were cooked wonderfully although I didn’t get much in the way of maple flavor, which was fine with me as I like pepper vinegar with my mustard greens, beet greens or collard greens. It might also be the Acadian in me that craves all things drowning in vinegar if not creton. The hand cut fries couldn’t be better, as they were simply very well done.
The Cat opted for the BBQ Shrimp and Grits as his entrée, and after several threats of violence and “grave consequences,” (I believe were the exact words) I managed to snag a taste of that as well. The butter was nicely browned, and the shrimp carried just the right amount of heat that I would hesitate to call BBQ, but rather… heaven. The grits had been cooked well and complimented the spicy shrimp with their smooth creaminess. The shrimp were medium in size and plentiful. This was something The Cat kept lamenting while looking over the menu taking a tortuous amount of time figuring out what to order.
All in all The Cat loved everything as did I. They had a bread pudding with a bourbon sauce that I would have snipped every whisker on the Cat’s face to get a taste of, but had absolutely no room for. I stood at the bar afterwards talking with Alec who is one of the owners. How in the name of red hot dogs, did two brothers from Gorham, ME come up with a southern inspired menu? He said his brother went to college in Tennessee, he’d go down to visit several times and they were just digging the regional foods. Eventually they went on a bit of a road trip through the southeast finding out the local flavors and favorites. The rest is, as I’ve never heard anybody say… history. They had been doing breakfast and lunch until only recently, when they finally had everything in place to do a proper dinner service.
The restaurant has garnered attention from several magazines including Bon Appetit as well as newspapers and the like… and now they have their PIÈCE DE RÉSISTANCE… Moi…Lucky them! On a serious note the food is good, seriously good. I plan on going back and trying everything they have on the menu and after I get done with that, I’m gonna start all over again. It’s a super little place with excellent service and staff, and the prices are so reasonable as to allow you a great night on the town without me having to wake up with no eyebrow hair and a reverse Mohawk because the cat did in the name of scientific research. I’m not sure how you make money on that but I’m sure The Cat wouldn’t have done that just for a laugh… on second thought.
Get up and find your way to Hot Suppa after you finish shaving the rest of your head and letting some of that eyebrow hair grow back out, so you don’t end up looking like the banjo boy from “Deliverance." Suppa is the word they use in northern New England for dinner; Hot Suppa is the word I use for a great happy hour and a fantastic dinner. When you get there tell Alec that Pav said hey... and The Cat says he’s sorry about “the incident.”