Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wood-Fired Portland

Portland, Maine reputedly has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the country. Fortunately it is de facto Maine's and my locus of activity (despite its frequent use in the above sentences, Latin is not Maine's native language).
Two prominent restaurants feature wood-fired ovens. I recently stopped into Fore Street (located on. duh, Fore St.) and Flatbreads (on Commercial St.)
Their ovens differ greatly in design but function well for the food they specialize in.
Fore Street has a sprung-arch rectangular oven, visible from the dining area, and set behind a work station. At two in the afternoon, the fire was stoked for roasting and ingredients set out in preparation for the evening's influx of customers.
The oven face, finished with brick and a black keystone, gives a sophisticated impression, and the restaurant is known for its well-prepared food.
Flatbreads oven is a rustic assembly of stone and cob with a central fire and raised cooking hearths on the left and right. From the color of the interior, the baking of the thin-crust, lightly topped flatbread pizza is done using reflected heat from the central fire.  The oven vents into a large exhaust hood above the oven.
Of the two, I found the Flatbread oven had a primitive, communal feeling. I'm told that teams of co-workers gather for a day and 'throw' one of these together. The hand-print and roughly shaped crown of the oven, all set atop a rough stone foundation make the effort to build it appear relaxed, despite the approximately 4 tons of material that go into the construction.
Make no mistake, if you go to Portland to eat, you WILL be distracted by dozens of fine restaurants even before you reach either of these two establishments.

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