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January 30

Flatbread Company: Travelin' Maine(rs)

George And Linda Smith

Great pizza with an ocean view make Flatbread a new “Let’s Do Lunch” favorite!

Linda

So many people have mentioned Flatbread Company in Portland that my curiosity was piqued. This New England chain of 11 restaurants had the vision to make fresh dough, roll and hand toss it to be thin and cook it in a blazing hot wood-fired oven. There is only one Flatbread Company in Maine so far, so we tracked it down on the Portland waterfront.

This large restaurant was packed for lunch on a Saturday, but we didn’t have to wait for a table. The moment I entered I was captured by the aroma of oregano and freshly baked dough. Suddenly I was ravenous! The centerpiece of the room is the massive wood-fired oven constantly being tended. The oven allows them to cook the flatbreads on either side of the center fire.

Our server, Anna, told us that this is “the ultimate comfort food made with local organic ingredients.” Many of their selections are made without tomato sauce — the dough is brushed with garlic olive oil. Their crust is light and thin and not laden with cheese. But don’t panic if you aren’t feeling quite that radical, as they do offer some more traditional flatbreads that include tomato sauce.

Amazingly enough, I was able to convince George that he should trust that it would be great the nontraditional way. I ordered the Punctuated Equilibrium which had kalmata olives, fresh rosemary, red onion, fire- roasted red peppers, mozzarella and goat cheese. What a great combination of flavors! The goat cheese was especially tasty. The lack of sauce lets you taste the toppings and appreciate herb favors and freshly made dough.

I ordered a small ($11.75), shared with George and still had leftovers. I think between the two of us we consumed the equivalent of one small 8-inch pizza. I will say the leftovers heated up nicely and were greatly appreciated when we had them the next day.

It was entertaining for me to watch as the cooks threw the dough expertly into the air. They gracefully placed the pizzas into one side of the oven, while checking and rotating many pies at once — without burning a single one. Thanks to that wood-fired oven there was no problem being comfortably warm despite the warehouse-sized open space.

I noticed that one could get a plain cheese pizza here. I couldn’t imagine coming here and ordering a cheese pizza when there were so many creative toppings. But as I looked around I realized it was a top pick for kids.

This may may be different from what your familiar local pizza place — but you should definitely give this one a try. Something very different from the same old, same old. I’m hooked.

Any time we’re in the Old Port, or actually anywhere in Portland, it’s a treat to visit my favorite shops there. Quite some time ago, I discovered that La Bodega Latin Grocery on the west end of Congress Street is a great place to buy dried chilies. Since then, my homemade chili is way better than anything I’d been making with chili powder.

So when my chili supply started to dwindle I knew it was time for another visit. I was like a kid in a candy shop as I perused all the Latin ingredients. I left with three kinds of dried chilies, chili in adobo sauce, rice, fresh jalapenos, limes and a couple varieties of dried beans. This little market is such a find!

George

Who would have thought I’d like pizza without tomato sauce and pepperoni? Flatbread is a happening place with ancient chairs and tables, firewood stacked along one wall, smoke hovering in the air above the wood-fired oven, booths, tables, a long bar and even a living room setting in one corner.

It was packed with large groups and families with lots of kids, and decorated throughout with kids’ art, including on the menu covers. There is a strong connection here to kids and schools.

As we walked past nearby restaurants and onto the pier, Linda turned up her nose, worried about the “fishy smell.” She sighed as we opened the door to Flatbread, then smiled and exclaimed, “OK! I smell pizza!”

If you are questioning my judgment, please know that you can get tomato sauce on any pizza — but as Linda explained, that would be wrong. They even offer vegetarian choices and design-it-yourself opportunities.

I am very glad I stepped out of my pizza comfort zone because my pizza was delicious. It included homemade nitrate-free, maple-fennel sausage with organic sulfate, sundried tomatoes, carmelized organic onions, whole- milk mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, all baked on organic bread dough with homemade garlic oil and organic herbs. I felt like I was on the culinary edge of haut cuisine! The onions provided a nice hint of sweetness.

Heated plates were provided to keep the pizza slices hot. I really liked the flat bread. It’s not as filling — so I can eat more!

Of course, beer is the perfect match for pizza. So I was very pleased by the extensive selection including some favorites like Shipyard’s Old Thumper (my at-home selection) to Atlantic Brewery’s Coal Porter (my on-the-road choice in Bar Harbor) along with beers from Oxbow, Maine Beer Company, Geary’s and Funky Bow, a Newcastle brewery I’d never heard of. They even offer gluten-free beers.

Anna, who has worked here “a long time,” was very busy but attentive and we thoroughly enjoyed the harbor views — although our eyes were frequently cast toward the bakers whose artistic performances with the dough were very entertaining.

I got up often to take photos and when a group of young women at the next table left, one of them said to us, “You guys are the definition of a working lunch!” This is great work if you can get it!

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.





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