Having spent the past weekend in Portland, Maine, my former home and where I worked as a GM for over seven years, there is a small part of me that misses it. Julie and I tend to go our separate ways while we stay in Portland, even sleeping in different places. I reunite with my restaurant people, spending long nights traversing the Portland food scene, going from restaurant to restaurant, then to bar to bar, then back to restaurant and then to late night apartment drinking.
There are a lot of people I got to know in my years in the town, so naturally I need to make the circuit and see as many people as humanly possible, all while testing the new spots and checking in on the old favorites. The scene in Portland has really exploded in the last few years, with a myriad of new restaurants and bars, along with a top notch craft beer industry. With low rents compared to bigger cities and a clientele that understands quality food, chefs from Boston and New York City have been making the drive up I-95 to set up shop, putting out food that pushes the boundary and beverage programs that feature only craft beer, grower Champagne and biodynamic wines.
Excess is usually the name of the game when it comes to hanging out with restaurant people. Each night consisted of multiple stops, an overabundance of food and consuming an unhealthy amount of alcohol, only to wake up and do it all over again. The benefit of being an insider is that items on your bill routinely disappear and free samples emerge from every location. We stopped at my favorite beer bar, Novare Res, a true beer lovers paradise. Thirty plus beers on their custom made draft lines, featuring some of this country’s best craft beers as well as some fantastic Belgian brews.
Just sitting at the bar, half filled beers appeared before us, after ordering our own pints. “Here try this” and “Drink this. Its ridiculous!” were routine statements. We order one beer but really drink almost three.The Chef, who I used to work with, came out to say hey, and then, surprise surprise, a crab rangoon grilled cheese sandwich (a mixture of crab, cream cheese and jack cheese, with spicy duck sauce for dipping. Smart) appears from the kitchen. “It’s on me” says Chef. Moving on to a different bar, Infiniti, we order beers, only to be served a half glass of a sidecar, a strong concoction of cognac, lemon juice, and Cointreau, a sample from their cocktail menu.
After a massive feast at a sushi restaurant, which also featured multiple rounds of sake and 22oz Sapporo beers, we hit Eventide, the best oyster bar I have ever been to. These guys are just killing it. After a round of more beer and shots of Fernet Branca, a bitter Amaro (it does aid in digestion, which was necessary), a massive platter of fried oyster buns magically appear from the kitchen, yet another gift, along with a bowl of house made potato chips with an aioli dipping sauce.
After six hours or so of eating and drinking, a normal person would start winding it down. Not restaurant people. We eat more, have another shot, more beer, than move on to someone’s apartment for some more beer after the bars have closed.It sounds excessive, which it most definitely is. But that is the name of the game. Even after too much food and too many drinks, we still talk about what we are going to drink or eat tomorrow. We talk about this new craft brewery in town, or how this place just added a killer suckling pig dish or how the wine list at another place has some funky glass pours.
The topic of food and beverage never really gets old. The bottom line is, restaurant workers are by far the most fun people to spend a night eating and drinking with, as long as your stomach and liver are prepared. Due to that excessive nature, it does tend to be a young persons game. Working until early in the morning and then waking up around lunch time to do it all over again is not easy.
Despite my hatred for the hours, working every weekend and always being on during any holiday, a part of me still misses the game. I miss being connected in the restaurant scene. I miss working the floor during a busy Saturday night, when the room is packed and the door has a backlog of twenty people waiting for tables. But ultimately, a time comes for most restaurant people when they decide to pull the plug. Some stay, making the wise decision to curtail the post-work activities and choose to get a good nights’ rest. But most do leave ultimately.
While I do miss it, I do not regret the decision to step away from the life. I have spent the past eight months looking for work and during that time, I have been able to cook dinner at home five nights a week, working on bread making and perfecting my fresh pasta dough. Julie and I have traveled extensively, taking long weekends every month to visit Denmark, or Germany, or Slovakia. I actually get to see Julie in person, which has been nice. We have spent the previous decade on completely opposite schedules, with me arriving home after Julie has gone to bed, and her, leaving for work before I am awake. The new life has been adjustment, but definitely one for the better.
I am currently in a truly unique situation and want to take this opportunity to do something different, to challenge myself. Like a good friend though, the restaurant game is always there to welcome you back should you so choose. It’s tempting, but ultimately, I am not willing to settle for the easiest option and I will continue to pursue new opportunities, no matter how frustrating the process. In the meantime, there is more travel and adventures ahead.