Larry Matthews, chef/owner of Back Bay Grill in Portland, will close the fine dining restaurant at 65 Portland St. for the rest of the winter, with plans to reopen in the spring.

“We have decided that it is best if we hibernate for a bit,” he wrote in his regular email newsletter to customers last week. “We might hold a pop-up or two, and we’ll be certain to let you know if we do. We did not make this decision lightly, but believe it’s best for the health and safety of us all and will ensure that we are able to return in 2021.”

Other Portland restaurants that have closed for the winter include longtime oyster bar and seafood restaurant J’s Oyster, which closed Dec. 13 and plans to reopen in April. Pizzarino, at 505 Fore St., also has temporarily closed. Co-owner Enrico Barbiero, who also owns Paciarino down the street, said his business partner, Mauro Stoppino, is stuck in Italy because of the COVID-19 travel ban. Barbiero hopes the ban will be removed by April, but for now the restaurant will remain closed.

Taco Trio in South Portland has closed for at least four weeks, and may not reopen until March. Here’s why….

Changes at Taco Trio

Karen Rasmussen and Manny Pena, the owners of Taco Trio, are opening a new location at 27 Elm St. in Saco, the former home of Skipper’s Seafood.

The menu at the new location, which they hope to have open by early March, will be “pretty much the same, but the space is bigger so that allows us to do a little bit more,” Rasmussen said.

She said they plan to add regional dishes, specials connected with Mexican holidays and a more extensive cocktail selection. They are also considering adding daily breakfast – something the South Portland restaurant offered for about a year, then stopped for lack of space – including an all-day breakfast on Sundays.

The Saco location will have two takeout windows, just like in South Portland. Rasmussen said the windows in South Portland are so popular that customers have asked her to keep them even after the pandemic ends.

The South Portland restaurant temporarily closed last week after one employee was exposed to COVID-19 and two others later tested positive, Rasmussen said. With so much to do to get the new restaurant ready, and with business down since Thanksgiving, Rasmussen and Pena have decided to keep the South Portland location closed for at least four weeks, and possibly until March. All the employees have been given work at the new restaurant, Rasmussen and Pena said.

Little Giant spawns 2 even littler giants

The owners of Little Giant in Portland plan to launch two new business concepts within the coming week, both under the Little Giant umbrella.

Sugar Giant will offer sweet and savory baked goods for delivery and takeout – mostly delivery, said Ian Malin, who owns the restaurant with his wife Kate. They’ve hired baker Shannon Mahoney to create a menu of cinnamon rolls, sausage rolls, breads, galettes, profiteroles and more, available at sugargiant.com, individually or in family packs. Sugar Giant will launch on Saturday. Hours to start will be 7-10:30 a.m. over the weekend; Malin said he would announce an extended schedule next week.

The other venture is Boozy Giant, which will deliver wine and beer and should launch within the coming week. Cocktails will still be sold through Little Giant.

Malin said he’s creating these new options as a way to use the Little Giant building and equipment outside of regular dining  hours. He also expects to open the restaurant’s new heated courtyard, which will allow for year-round outdoor dining, possibly as soon as this weekend. He hopes the three projects will “enhance Little Giant for years to come.”

“What I’m hoping to do, once this is up and running, is not just do the stuff that sells, like burgers and fried chicken, but also allow my staff to continue to innovate and drive the food scene,” Malin said. “I fear that there’s a lot of survival, if not deterioration, happening as a result of closures and things like that. I want to make sure that my staff is able to be creative and inventive and continue the reputation that Portland is known for. I’m not planning on going anywhere. I challenged my chef last week to start thinking about what envelope he wants to push so that we continue to be a destination and not just a feeding solution.”

Pan roasted swordfish with romanesco, fingerling potatoes in a poblano verde broth. Photo courtesy of Embark

New Brunswick restaurant

The family that owns the Dolphin Marina and Restaurant in Harpswell has opened a new restaurant in Brunswick.

Embark, at 61 Maine St., in the former Henry & Marty restaurant space, opened in December and is serving comfort food with “an elevated twist,” according to co-owner Chris Saxton. It’s open for indoor seating and takeout.

The menu includes appetizers such as Swedish meatballs, pork belly lollipops and French onion soup. Entrees include grilled swordfish, braised short ribs, and duck confit cassoulet. The chef at the new restaurant is Anthony St. Peter, who is also the chef at the seasonal Harpswell restaurant. The back-of-house management and front-of-house staff from the Dolphin is working at Embark as well, Saxton said.

The employees are one of the reasons the family opened a second restaurant, he said.

“Being a seasonal business in Maine has always been challenging,” he said, “so we’re trying to come up with more of a sustainable model, something that is year-round and allows our staff to build careers with us, and allows us to grow and do something different.”

Hours at Embark are 4-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

A restaurant reimagines itself

Even in normal times, it was sometimes hard to keep track of when The Purple House in North Yarmouth would open from season to season. Now it looks as if the popular spot owned by James Beard nominee Krista Desjarlais, known for her Montreal-style wood-fired bagels, will remain temporarily closed for a while longer – not just because of the pandemic, but because Desjarlais intends to give her restaurant and bakery “a new focus.”

In a post on Facebook, Desjarlais said she will be reimagining the space over the next month or so: “I never set out to be a bagel maker full time and now with the long absence from the daily fire I’m rethinking what the Purple House is and can be … what do I love to do right now? … at 54 with 40 years behind me in the professional kitchen.”

Does that mean no more bagels? Desjarlais said “some things will feel familiar while others will be totally new.”

Erin French, chef/owner of The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, is filmed for a new show about her restaurant airing now on the Magnolia Network. Photo courtesy of Caleb Mason

Reality TV, Maine restaurant–style

The first episode of The Lost Kitchen, a new show about Erin French’s restaurant in Freedom, is now streaming on Discovery Plus.

Magnolia Network, which produces the show, is replacing the DIY Network, owned by Discovery Inc. Discovery Plus is a new streaming service recently launched by Discovery.

French also has a memoir coming out April 6, “Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story, Remaking a Life From Scratch” (Celadon Books, $28), that is now available for preorder on Amazon. The book is about French’s life, from working in her father’s diner when she was growing up to creating The Lost Kitchen, her nationally famous 40-seat restaurant known for handing out reservations via post card.

Amazon’s somewhat soapy description of the book says French tells “stories of multiple rock-bottoms, of darkness and anxiety, of survival as a jobless single mother, of pills that promised release but delivered addiction, of a man who seemed to offer salvation but in the end ripped away her very sense of self. And of the beautiful son who was her guiding light as she slowly rebuilt her personal and culinary life around the solace she found in food – as a source of comfort, a sense of place, as a way of bringing goodness into the world.”

Uno Pizzeria & Grill in South Portland and Bangor is offering restaurant workers a $5 deal in January.

$5 pizza for restaurant workers

UNO Pizzeria & Grill in South Portland and Bangor will be selling individual deep dish and thin crust pizzas for $5 to all restaurant workers on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Jan. 27.

Regular prices vary, but a 7-inch individual Chicago classic deep dish pizza usually costs $13.79 in the South Portland restaurant, and a 10-inch individual Chicago barbecue chicken thin crust pizza costs $13.99.

To take advantage of the new offer, which is good for dine-in only, restaurant workers – including those who have been furloughed or laid off – should ask their server for the “$5 Restaurant Worker Pizza.”

Portland Food Co-op closed for three days

The Portland Food Co-op was closed Sunday through Tuesday because a staff member contracted COVID-19.

John Crane, general manager of the store at 290 Congress St., sent out an email to members stating that all staff would be tested and the store sanitized before reopening Wednesday. Since the start of the pandemic, the co-op has maintained strict safety protocols, Crane wrote, “because we passionately believe in prioritizing the safety of our staff and you, our community members, over anything else. I believe that this is how we have gotten this far into the pandemic without an issue.

“When we reopen, it will be with a staff who have all tested negative and we will continue with the same protocols that have gotten us safely to this point.”


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