The Good Morning Burger from XO Burgers & Wings, a new takeout-and-delivery-only restaurant from Big Tree Hospitality. Photo by Zack Bowen

Hugo’s, the fine dining restaurant at 88 Middle St., is known for mind-blowing dishes such as lamb loin papered in lamb bacon served with charred, local baby cabbage and a miso-and-butter-layered millefeuille of potato and celery root. A decade ago, I took my niece there, and in a recent phone call she brought up an oxtail dish we enjoyed. It was, she said, still the most perfect bite she’s ever eaten.

Hugo’s has been closed since March because of the pandemic, but the kitchen will soon be busy again. Only this time, it will be making burgers, wings and similar casual fare until it’s safe to open Hugo’s again.

Big Tree Hospitality, the restaurant group that owns Hugo’s, announced last week that it is opening XO Burgers & Wings at Hugo’s and the Eventide Fenway in Boston in early December. They will both be ghost restaurants, offering delivery and takeout only.

The opening menu offers the Good Morning Burger, which comes with red onion jam, an egg, hash browns, and hot sauce; the XO Burger, with XO sauce, banana peppers, and hot sauce; Chili Crisp Wings; a Grilled Caesar; and Red Hot Puffs made with Frank’s RedHot hot sauce.

Big Tree describes the venture as “our idea of the perfect neighborhood joint” and “crushable Americana that pledges allegiance to the snackability index.” That means food touched by high-end culinary technique and lots of house-made ingredients, such as a buffalo sauce fermented with koji and made with fresh chilis and house-made yogurt.

Something tells me this place is going to be busy.

PORTLAND RESTAURANTS GET GRANTS FOR WINTER

Nine Portland food businesses, including restaurants, bars and a coffee roaster, will share $50,000 in grants intended to help them get through the winter.

Anoche, Chaval, Cocktail Mary, Coffee By Design, eighteen twenty wines, LB Kitchen, Maine Oyster Company, Solo Italiano and Tu Casa will get $5,000 to $6,000 each. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston made money available to its member institutions to provide COVID-related support to small businesses. Norway Savings Bank (which is a member institution) received $100,000. It, in turn, granted $50,000 of that to Coastal Enterprises Inc. to distribute to restaurants in its portfolio. CEI is a community development financial institution that provides loans and advice to small business owners in Maine.

Chaval is using the money to build four heated pods next to the restaurant where small parties can dine together. The others are putting up awnings, installing air purification systems, and purchasing other equipment and supplies with an eye on safe wintertime eating.

Businesses that received a grant had to meet certain eligibility criteria: the owner worked with CEI in the past five years; the business is a restaurant, bar or coffee shop in Portland and had indoor seating before the pandemic started; and the business has lost at least 25 percent in revenue since March 2020 compared to 2019.

THE WORLD COMES TO LUKE’S

Tuna oka made with Maine bluefin tuna, a new item on the Luke’s Lobster menu starting Friday. Photo courtesy of Luke’s Lobster

Luke’s Lobster – whose production facility staff includes employees from Cambodia, El Salvador, Angola and Sudan – is introducing a new rotating menu item under the moniker “New Maine Food.”

Each dish will feature a Maine ingredient in a recipe from another culture – including family recipes from Luke’s employees – and remain on the menu for four weeks. The first one, appearing Friday, will be tuna oka made with Maine bluefin tuna. The recipe comes from Denny Fiaalii, who is from Samoa and unloads boats at Portland Pier.

Future selections include a Cambodian scallop num pang from Chenda Chamreoun, who started as a lobster picker and is now a leader of Luke’s quality assurance team, and a Salvadoran lobster pupusa from Carlos Ayala, assistant supervisor on the production floor.

A portion of the sales will be donated to the nonprofit Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center.

“One of the best things about working in our facility in Saco used to be lunch break, when you could walk in the break room and smell dishes from all over the map being reheated, and then see folks mingling, sharing their food and trying new dishes,” Ben Conniff, co-founder of Luke’s, said in a statement about the project. “COVID took all that away from us, as we now eat our lunches alone, outside or in our cars. We sorely miss the feeling of community that those moments and that food brought to us all.”

DRINKING AND DINING IN A BUBBLE

Rising Tide Brewing Co. at 103 Fox St. announced last week that its large outdoor patio will remain open throughout the winter with the help of heated bubble tents.

The clear PVC tents, expected to be up the first week in December, will be placed over eight picnic tables and seat one party at a time. The tents are heated with forced hot air from a large natural gas heater the brewery purchased this fall, according to co-owner Heather Sanborn.

If the idea of eating and drinking in a bubble doesn’t appeal, the brewery plans to keep open its dozen open-air seating areas heated with propane fire pits and tower fire pits.

Sanborn also announced that the brewery will continue its partnership with Fire & Co., the catering company that has been operating a mobile woodfired oven on the patio since June.

AW, NUTS

Six-foot-tall nutcrackers like this one will adorn the streets of Kennebunkport during this year’s Christmas Prelude celebration. Courtesy of Danie Connolly

The theme for Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport, held annually the first two weeks of December, is oh-so-appropriate for 2020: “It’s a Nutty Christmas.”

More than 60 local artists have made 6-foot-tall nutcrackers that will stand guard around town. The Waldo Emerson Inn at 108 Summer St. is planning two nut-themed, four-course dinners prepared by chef Jackson Yordon of Salt & Honey and chef/innkeeper Hana Pevny. Each course, with wine pairings, will contain a nut component.

The seatings will be from 5:30-8:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 and 12. Tickets cost $89, or $119 for the chef’s table in the kitchen. A portion of the proceeds will go to children’s charities. You must reserve ahead: call 207-985-4250 or email [email protected]

All CDC and state guidelines for social distancing will be followed.

MARCY’S

Mandy Lacourse, the owner of Marcy’s Diner in Portland, has applied for a beer and wine license from the city so she can serve mimosas and local canned beer. Serving alcohol will help make the diner “comparable to other local restaurants with respect to level of service and menu offerings,” Lacourse wrote in her application, and offset “ a tremendous financial loss brought on by the current pandemic.”

The little diner, located at 47 Oak St., has not been able to open for indoor dining since March because of social-distancing requirements. It has six to eight outdoor tables, but once cold weather sets in the diner will limit itself to takeout and delivery.

HOLIDAY PIE TUTORIAL

Does your pumpkin pie look pitiful? Is your chocolate cream pie cheerless? Does making a fruit pie feel fruitless?

Maine Grain Alliance to the rescue. The Skowhegan-based organization is hosting a Zoom workshop from 6-8 p.m. Monday with Jacqueline Eng, owner and baker at Partybus Bakeshop in New York City.

Eng will go over how to make the perfect pie crust, how to choose quality ingredients, and how to make classic holiday pie fillings. Recipes will be provided ahead of time for those who would like to follow along in their own kitchens.

The workshop costs $40; register at kneadingconference.com.

GOOD FOOD AWARDS

Nine Maine food businesses have been named finalists in the 2021 Good Food Awards.

The nominations cross six categories. Maine has three finalists in the fish category: Fermented Seaweed Salad and Sea-Beet Kraut from Atlantic Sea Farms; Kelp Puree from Ocean’s Balance; and Ginger Kelp Krunch Bars and Original Kelp Krunch Bars from Maine Coast Sea Vegetables. The two beer finalists are Allagash Brewing Co. for its Fine Acre, and Maine Beer Co. for its Prince Percy Pilsner and Wolfe’s Neck IPA.

Four categories have one finalist from Maine: Crooked Face Creamery in the cheese category for its Pressed Herb Ricotta and Whole Milk Ricotta; Ragged Coast Chocolates for its Cassis de Résistance Truffle in the chocolate category; Maine Grains for its Pearled Black Barley and Marfax Crop Rotation Dry Beans in the grain category; and Turtle Rock Farm in the preserves category for its Apple Rose preserves.

Judges sampled nearly 2,000 entries in a blind tasting in September. All entries must follow standards set by the Good Food Foundation, including sustainable environmental practices. Winners will be announced in a virtual awards ceremony Jan. 22.

MAINE CHEESE? YES, PLEASE

Holly Aker, co-owner of Broken Arrow restaurant in Portland, is the new president of the Maine Cheese Guild. Photo courtesy of the Maine Cheese Guild

Holly Aker – founder of Local Goods Gathered as well as Broken Arrow, a new restaurant in Portland – has been elected the new president of the Maine Cheese Guild. It’s the first time a retailer has been chosen for the position.

The Cheese Guild is the organization behind Open Creamery Day in October and an annual fall cheese festival. Next year, the guild plans to present its first ever Maine Cheese Awards.

 


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