New England Barramundi from SoPo Seafood

What does a food writer do on vacation? I won’t speak for my colleagues, but I can tell you that one of my favorite holiday activities is visiting markets and grocery stores. Give me a free day, and I’ll duck into every bakery, farm stand, even mega-chain supermarket I walk past. I acknowledge that my travel companions find this exhausting, but none of them has ever complained about the snacks I trundle back to the hotel with me.

Four years ago this month, I spent a day exploring the fish markets of Sydney, Australia, where I learned about seafood I hadn’t imagined. I sampled everything from hibachi-grilled, foot-long black crawfish called “yabbies” that tasted like a cross between a lobster and a monkfish tail, to steamed, bream-like “tarwhine,” so full of tiny, spiny bones that each bite I took felt as risky as nibbling on a pincushion.

But my real revelation came in the form of freshly landed, line-caught barramundi, which had just come into season. I had eaten frozen barramundi filets many times in Maine – its mild flesh makes it ideal for a bouillabaisse or lemongrassy Thai green curry – but the never-frozen version tasted like a different species altogether: flaky, a little briny and nearly impossible to overcook. I savored it, figuring I wouldn’t eat fresh barramundi again until I returned to the other side of the globe.

As it turns out, I only had to cross the Casco Bay Bridge. In February, SoPo Seafood’s new shop in Knightville began stocking sustainably farmed barramundi raised just down the coast at Great Falls Aquaculture in Turners Falls, Massachusetts ( Sold as fillets ($21.99/lb.) or whole fish ($15.99/lb.), these plump, local specimens are every bit as good as the wild Indo-Pacific barramundi I remember.

The New England variety is also available year-round and is versatile enough to be used in recipes that call for tilapia or black bass (or even Chilean sea bass). But Great Falls barramundi is fantastic simply dusted with a little seasoned cornmeal and pan-fried until the skin is crisp, then finished with a dollop of tangy tomato chutney or spicy tomato achaar ($7.49/9 oz. jar at Whole Foods Market).


As the Aussies might say, “It’s a ripper, mate.”

Little Brother’s La Jiao Jiang with dumplings. Photo by Richard Yu-Tang Lee

Little Brother La Jiao Jiang (Chili Crisp)

If garlicky Indian condiments aren’t your speed, chili crisp offers another option to elevate simple proteins or rice dishes. For the past few years, trendy Lao Gan Ma chili sauce (approx. $6/7.4 oz. jar) has been the focus of fawning social-media adoration. And indeed, it is good. But there are better, more complex chili crisps on the market that deserve your full attention, including one produced in Portland.

Richard Yu-Tang Lee and Claire Guyer’s Little Brother Chinese Food, which launched in early 2021, became known in Southern Maine primarily for its excellent frozen dumplings, especially gingery Pork +  Napa Cabbage Jiaozi that thrum with an undercurrent of white pepper ($20 for 20 at Fork Food Lab’s online market, A Taste of Fork,

But Little Brother’s best product might actually be their allium-rich La Jiao Jiang chili sauce ($10/8 oz. jar). Lip-numbing from Sichuan peppercorns, this chili crisp doesn’t overwhelm with heat. Instead, it seduces with crunch and aromas of black cardamom and citrus peel. I’ve stirred it into rice noodles and drizzled it over vinegary slices of crushed cucumber, and naturally, I now keep some around for barramundi night.

Rover Bagel’s Shift Meal sandwich. Photo courtesy of Rover Bagel

Rover Bagel’s Shift Meal sandwich


I was a little worried about Rover Bagel. When the Biddeford bakers closed the flue on their bespoke Maine Wood Heat oven during the early phases of the pandemic, it certainly looked as if Maine had seen the last of their enthusiastically blistered bagels.

At the time, what I thought I’d miss most was my semi-monthly tradition of picking up a half-dozen still-warm salt bagels ($12) and a tub of honey-thyme cream cheese ($5). The sweet-savory combo was so tempting, I’d eat one (perhaps two) for breakfast, and then another for dessert that evening. Sometimes, we all need a three-bagel day.

When Rover returned from its hiatus, moving into new digs in Building 10 of the Pepperell Mill last year, I thought its new business model – orders are placed online and collected at a walk-up window – might feel like a stopgap measure. After all, what was a visit to Biddeford without the smell of woodsmoke and yeasted dough?

While it’s way too early in the recovery phase of the pandemic to expect Rover’s new space to reclaim the charm of its first home, the reborn bagel shop has one clear advantage over its former incarnation: The bagels are better.

Pre-pandemic, Rover’s bagels sometimes flew too close to the sun. A few blistered bubbles would, every once in a while, expand to cover the entire surface in bitter char. No more. These days, the bagels are consistent. And it’s not just the bagels. Sandwiches also benefit from Rover’s new precision. My favorite these days is the Shift Meal ($8.50), which I order on an anadama bagel with avocado, roasted onions, smoky bacon and hot honey, then devour on my drive back to Portland. Welcome back, Rover.

Non-alcoholic aperitif Wilfred’s plus tonic. Photo by Andrew Ross

Wilfred’s Bittersweet Orange & Rosemary Aperitif


I’ve never bought into the regimented groupthink of Dry January. But I do love the idea of giving my liver a breather every so often, so for the past two years, I’ve minimized my consumption of alcohol on my own (admittedly loose) timetable. I wrote last year about Thomson & Scott’s Noughty, my favorite non-alcoholic wine, but in 2022, I’ve turned my attention to booze-free aperitifs.

Some, like spectacularly gingery Ghia ($34.99 at Bow Street Beverage), taste to me like over-the-top bar mixers – reminding me more of what’s missing from my glass, rather than what’s filling it. Frankly, very few zero-alcohol aperitifs are able to compete with their full-octane cousins. But Wilfred’s Bittersweet Orange & Rosemary Aperitif (around $32 online at No & Low,, and Boisson, does the job handily.

Named “Britain’s No. 1 Non-Alcoholic Drink” at the Great British Food Awards two years ago, this vibrant crimson blend relays aromatic pulses of orange peel, camphor, and clove, as well as bracing bitterness from a little gentian root.

The balance of sweetness and spice in Wilfred’s Aperitif achieves cocktail-level complexity entirely on its own. If I’m mixing it, I prefer it poured spritz-style in a 1:3 ratio with chilled tonic water and served over ice with a twist of lemon peel. And if you find yourself in a not-so-dry March, you can always substitute Wilfred’s in place of Campari for a lighter, warm-spice-tinged Negroni.

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