Portland is nothing if not a city of creative cheap eats, so don’t neglect local bakeries and coffee shops when trolling for quick or economical meals. My favorite bakery in New England, hands-down, is Standard Baking Company, 75 Commercial St. (tel. 207/773-2112; www.standardbakingco.com), across from the ferry terminal and behind the Hilton Garden Inn hotel.
Allison Bray and Matt James bake some of the best sticky buns (with or without nuts) and focaccia I’ve tasted, plus top-rate breads, brioche, cookies, and more. There’s good coffee, too. The bakery is open 7am to 6pm daily except Sundays, when it closes at 5pm.
Among the many coffee shops around the city, I frequent both Bard Coffee at 185 Middle Street (www.bardcoffee.com; tel. 207/899-4788), open daily until 9pm except on Sundays, when it closes at 6pm, and Tandem Coffee + Bakery at 742 Congress Street (www.tandemcoffee.com; tel. 207/805-1887), a former gas-station that now features beans from Tandem’s East Bayside roastery, terrific pies (sweet and savory) from baker Brianna Holt, and a minimalist sipping space that encourages honest-to-god interaction (read: no outlets, no Wi-Fi; open 7am to 6pm, 8am to 6pm weekends).
For pizza, grab giant Sicilian slices from Slab (tel. 207/245-3088; 25 Preble St.); adventurous toppings and a nice bar from OTTO (tel. 207/358-7090; 576 Congress St., plus five other locations around greater Portland); or wood-fired beauties with local ingredients from Bonobo (tel. 207/347-8267; 46 Pine St.).
Portland also claims to be the original home of the Italian sandwich—which may have been the original sub sandwich in America—and locals maintain the best example can still be found at the purported inventor of this creation, Amato’s, 71 India Street (tel. 207/773-1682), in what’s left of Portland’s Italian neighborhood.
Portland and its surrounding area is so stuffed with picnic spots you might need a week to sample them all. For starters, don’t miss the hilltop Eastern Promenade, with expansive views of Casco Bay. The Western Promenade, reached across town via Congress Street, has distant views of the White Mountains and often free musical performances in summer.
For a tranquil water view, there’s Back Cove. Just a few miles north of Portland along Route 1 in Falmouth, the Maine Audubon Society’s Gilsland Farm Sanctuary is one of the best picnic spots I’ve found. And, of course, the beaches and parks in Cape Elizabeth are all superlative picnic spots. In metro Portland, make a quick fly-by of Standard Baking Company for great baked goods, sweets, and coffee. Cape Elizabeth has a few general stores good for stocking up prebeach; they’re heavy on sodas, beer, and candy, but you can also score an Italian sandwich or an ice-cream treat at most of them.
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