In my first installment chronicling our annual trip to Maine, I’m going to start with one of three new food discoveries made during our vacation (It’s amazing that you can visit a place for years and still make new discoveries, right? Maine is full of them.)
Now this may be a bold statement, but I’m willing to argue that the best bagel sandwich on the eastern seaboard, if not beyond, can be found in a small cottage located in South Portland, Maine. Before you start lining up your rebuttals, let me just say that I’m a very harsh critic when it comes to bagels. Most “bagels”—the ones found in supermarket bins and cafeteria breakfast lines— are just bread shaped in a circle with a hole in it. How do I know this? Because one of the best bagelries (made up word) EVER is in my hometown: Sonny’s Bagels in South Orange, NJ. The bagels there are so perfect that when they’re hot and fresh, you eat them as they are, no cream cheese, etc. needed. I learned from loitering by the bare-bones Sonny’s counter, that if the dough is not boiled before it’s baked—preferably by a sweaty dude holding a paddle with immense patience and upper body strength—then it’s not a bagel.
The problem with being exposed to the perfect bagel at a tender age is that I hardly ever order or enjoy them now, because they’re never as good as Sonny’s. But what we had on our first day in Maine at the small but locally celebrated 158 Pickett Street Cafe was not only a real bagel— it was a deluxe reinvention.
To find it you first need to weave through the back streets of South Portland (maybe we are the only ones who needed to weave, I’m sure locals don’t weave), turning down a side street near the water and ending up across the street from Southern Maine Community College (whose campus has to be be in one of the most picturesque spots ever for a community college). You open the screen door to what resembles a surfer’s shack, and to the right there’s a small kitchen fronted by a counter with a rack displaying the day’s bagels…
Right away you know you’ve found the real deal: Just look at the crust, the misshapen orbs formed by hand and not machine (apparently the dough comes from some magically made starter), and then there’s this…
Have you ever seen an “everything” bagel that literally was coated with EVERYTHING? No haphazard sprinkle of salt and poppy seeds, at 158 they also pack on sunflower, sesame, and fennel seeds and coat the bagel like armor. Amazing.
And then there are the sandwiches. I ordered the smoked salmon, which came with a lovely little pile of herbs, capers and onions on top ( I realize I’m getting twee here but it really was a beautifully arranged bagel). Just look at that bite-shot above?
We also had a bagel topped with egg, prosciutto, and pesto that was pretty much life-changing. I would even consider moving to Portland for this bagel. So would these two below, who found the Tiki-themed public bathroom so fantastic, they decided to lock themselves inside (traveling with kids can be lots of fun).
Next up…more delicious finds from this year’s Maine sojourn!