The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the unusual summer reservation system at The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, which instructs diners from all over the world to send in post cards every spring in order to nab a table sometime between May and the end of October. In each of the past two years, the restaurant received 20,000 postcards by its deadline for the 40 seats that are available each night. The cards were entered into a random drawing, with winners getting the coveted reservations.

Typically, the Lost Kitchen accepts post cards between April 1-15, but this year the process has become open-ended, and “all bets are off,” says Michael Dutton, the restaurant’s executive manager (and chef/owner Erin French’s husband). People are welcome to send in post cards any time, and the drawing happens when it happens, he said. Right now five buckets full of post cards sit in the couple’s living room – not as many as in previous years, but still enough to book the entire season.

“We don’t have a way yet of knowing when we can officially open up,” Dutton said. “It’s not even worth picking a date until we have some clear understanding of what is permitted and what is safe and what makes sense.”

Cocktails to go approved

On Monday the state announced that Maine restaurants will be allowed to sell cocktails to go, giving them another source of income as they try to save their businesses. The change is effective immediately. A few caveats apply, including:

• Cocktails must be accompanied by a food order and sales receipt with a time stamp.

• The drinks must be batched for immediate use or created individually as needed to fill an order.

• Cocktails must be in a container that would immediately reveal any evidence of tampering.

• Restaurants can mix cocktails only for their own establishment.

Portland Hunt & Alpine Club in Portland jumped right on it, releasing a new cocktail-to-go menu featuring, among others, Old Fashioneds and espresso martinis. Pick-up will be from 3 to 5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.

Cheers – the liquid kind – for the frontline 

Medical professionals and first responders are getting a special treat this week from Allagash Brewing Co. – a 12-pack of Allagash White beer for just $1.

“We’d love to give this beer away for free, and would be if we could have found any way to do so,” Jill Perry, Allagash senior manager of retail operations, said in a news release. “But due to state law, we have to ‘sell’ it, which is why we chose $1 – all of which we will be donating to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.”

Through Sunday, those with medical IDs can pick up their bargain beer between 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Allagash on the Fly curbside pick-up at 50 Industrial Way in Portland. Medical professionals and first responders include anyone working on the front lines of the pandemic in a medical setting, as well as EMTs, firefighters and police officers. Allagash is limiting the gift to one 12-pack per person.

Allagash Founder Rob Tod said in a statement that he realizes this is “a drop in the bucket.” Sure, but it’s a drop of beer!

Home sweet home

For every chocolate house Dean’s Sweets sells, the Portland chocolatier will donate chocolate to frontline workers. Photo courtesy of Dean’s Sweets

So tired of being at home you feel like gnawing at the walls? Dean’s Sweets has got your back. The Portland candy store has built a chocolate house you can eat. The project is called “In This Together”; with every purchase of a 4 x 4-inch, 1.8-ounce house, Dean’s will donate the equivalent amount of chocolate to medical and support staff working on the frontline of the pandemic. The houses cost $9.50 each, and another $9.50 to ship.

Socially responsible Mother’s Day

As Mother’s Day approaches, some local restaurants have developed creative alternatives to the traditional Mother’s Day brunch.

Luke’s Lobster and Bixby Chocolates have joined together to offer a “Lobster Rolls & Chocolate Bundle” for $55. The bundle includes one pound of lobster meat, four split-top buns, Luke’s lobster seasoning, and six sea-salted, chocolate-covered caramels. Order online for shipping or call Luke’s Portland Pier for pick-up.

Need a special dessert for Mother’s Day? Chaval will be selling a strawberry pavlova that serves four. Photo courtesy of Ilma Lopez

Union at the Press Hotel in Portland has planned a Mother’s Day menu for May 9 (pickup 7 to 9 p.m.) and May 10 (pickup 8 a.m. to noon). The deadline for orders is 7 p.m. May 8. On the menu: salad, Maine crab cakes, glazed spring vegetables, chicken cordon bleu, rice pilaf, lemon and blueberry muffins, and DIY cupcakes. The cost is $65 for two, or $95 for four. To reserve a meal, call 808-8700.

The Good Table in Cape Elizabeth plans some kind of Mother’s Day brunch for pickup, but details were not available as of press time.

Erica Archer of Wine Wise and chef Ilma Lopez, co-owner of Chaval and Piccolo in Portland, are teaming up to put on a virtual Mother’s Day brunch for two. The deal includes two wines (a rose and a sparkling wine), flowers, quiche, a Maine lobster gruyere salad and Danish. The brunch will be delivered on May 9, then on May 10 participants will gather online with Archer and Lopez at 11 a.m. for a discussion of the featured wines and food pairings. The cost is $145, delivery included.

Lopez will also be making a strawberry pavlova that serves four for pick-up at Chaval. The dessert costs $20.

All-you-can-eat lobster? Yes, please.

The Maine Lobster Shack at 425 Fore St. is under new ownership. Aaron Lewis, owner of Day’s Crabmeat & Lobster in Yarmouth, bought the restaurant in January, just before the coronavirus crisis hit.

“I was hoping to open April 1, and April Fool’s Day got me,” Lewis said. He noted that the restaurant has relied heavily on cruise ship business in previous years, so he predicts “we’re going to get slaughtered” this season.

That hasn’t kept him from making plans, such as cosmetic improvements and revamping the menu to focus on his three biggest sellers at Day’s – lobster rolls, crabmeat rolls and fried clams. Lewis also co-owns a chowder company, so soups and chowders will be on the menu as well.

And Lewis can’t wait to offer a meal he says isn’t offered anywhere else in Portland – all-you-can-eat lobster.

“I dare you to out-eat me,” he said, laughing.

Evo is back

Evo Kitchen + Bar, closed since mid-March, has started offering no-contact, curbside takeout Wednesdays through Sundays from 4 to 8 p.m. Order and pay online at evotogo.square.site

And so is the Dolphin

Dolphin Marina & Restaurant in Harpswell plans to launch a curbside – and boatside – to-go menu on Friday. Hours will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Beer and wine will be available along with the restaurant’s full menu and a kids’ menu. Call in orders to 833-6000, or text them to 295-3090. The restaurant will also accept walk-ups. Payment can be made in advance or when picking up orders.

Let them eat bread

Standard Baking Co. in Portland has started delivering to the Casco Bay Islands. Place an order by phone or on the bakery’s website before 3 p.m. Monday, and a staffer will call to confirm the order and take payment. Your baguettes and other baked goods will be shipped on the noon ferry on Thursday. Islanders are responsible for the shipping fee and for picking up their order in the freight area when it arrives. If the service proves popular, the bakery plans to continue it after the COVID-19 crisis is over.

New bread/beer locator

The Maine Grain Alliance has created a map and directory of bakeries and breweries that are open or partially open during the pandemic, and is encouraging people to patronize the businesses and add any others they know about in their communities to the directory. (Breweries, especially, have been struggling since the pandemic started.) The directory, which includes information on the availability of curbside pick-up and delivery, is similar to the directory of farms being maintained by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Find the bakery and brewery directory at kneadingconference.com.

More grocery delivery options

Maine Market Box, a new grocery delivery business created by Jillian Hilton and Jason Merritt, plans to launch in the Greater Portland area Thursday. It’s a subscription service that delivers weekly boxes of local produce and local grocery items.

Customers who sign up for the service fill out a list of favorites, then get an email every Sunday with their personalized box contents. Contents can be swapped, added or deleted until the customers are happy with their order. Boxes arrive on Thursdays.

Shopping is done on the company’s website, mainemarketbox.com. Under bakery, customers will find items such as Mill Cove crackers and Union bagels. Chicken and duck eggs are both available, and the grocery section lists dressings, sauces and preserves from Orchard Ridge Farm in Gorham.

Native Maine Produce has added home delivery to the Greater Portland area during the pandemic to make it easier for consumers to shop for local foods. Delivery days are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The wholesale food distributor will also deliver to Long, Chebeague, Peaks and Great Diamond islands via the noon ferry on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Curbside pick-up is available, too, at the company’s headquarters in Westbrook. Go to nativeme.com to shop for dairy products, baking ingredients, meats, beverages and, of course, produce.

Hay, ya’ll!

No, that’s not just me, the Tennessee native, saying hello. “Hay Ya’ll” is the name of a Facebook Live talk show that runs every Monday through Friday at 11 a.m. and stars country music artist Stephanie Quayle. During the daily show, shot on her North Carolina farm, Quayle sings and shows off her animals. Lately she’s also been giving a shout-out to restaurants in parts of the country where she has performed or visited, hoping to give them a boost. On today’s show, she’ll be talking about Maria’s in Portland, which recently partnered with Yankee Ford to provide free meals to out-of-work restaurant workers. If you miss it, the show will be posted later on You Tube.

Aroma Joe’s perks up health care workers

Since March, Aroma Joe’s locations in five states have been offering free 16-ounce cups of coffee to health care workers. To get a coffee at the Maine-based business, all they have to do is show their work ID. The tally so far (the program may be extended) is 31,000 free cups of coffee.

Share the love

Heart of Biddeford, a community nonprofit, has launched its own feeding-the-frontline program called “Share the Love,” and has already raised about $12,000. The program will start delivering restaurant-prepared meals this week to Southern Maine Health Care, as well as to other essential workplaces such as fire and police departments, and grocery stores. Nearly 100 people have donated to the program, including some who shared part of their stimulus checks.

James Beard nominees to be announced 

The New York-based James Beard Foundation will announce the nominees for this year’s James Beard Awards Monday at 4 p.m. via Twitter (@beardfoundation). A dozen Maine chefs, restaurants, bakers and bars were named semi-finalists for the prestigious awards in February, including eight chefs who are up for Best Chef: Northeast. The finalists are usually announced in March, followed by the annual awards gala in May, but this year the coronavirus pandemic forced both events to be postponed. The awards ceremony has been postponed until summer, but no specific date has been announced.

Restaurant checkup

Join Carol Coultas, Portland Press Herald business projects editor, as she hosts an online, interactive panel Wednesday at 1 p.m. on “Making It Work: The Food Business Blows Up.”

The panelists are Mary Allen Lindemann of Coffee By Design, Mike Alfiero of Harbor Fish Market, and Ilma Lopez of Chaval, all in Portland. The panelists will talk about going curbside during the pandemic while trying to retain revenue and keep both employees and customers safe.

Go to pressherald.com to register.


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