Where it’s at

Italian food ... Squisito!

Fri, 09/15/2023 - 8:45am

    Thinking of eating dinner out tonight? Don’t feel like cooking? Celebrating a special occasion from a birthday or anniversary, or because it’s Wednesday, a.k.a. Anything Can Happen Day (for those of us old enough to remember the Mickey Mouse Club)?

    If your pleasure is seafood, you couldn’t be in a better place for that! I’m one of those diners who only orders seafood. I can clearly remember the two times I ordered something other than fish or shellfish, and both times it was prime rib ... In my entire adult life once in Boothbay Harbor at Whale’s Tale (like 25-plus years ago), and at a restaurant near or in Monmouth where it was well, insert eye roll and sigh.

    True confession: I don’t really eat meals out very often. That’s why I can remember dining out experiences so vividly. Last time it was at a picnic table at the Bluebird Ocean Point Inn. The fish tacos were quite yummy. My friend Linda Dow had the scallops, which looked as good as she said they were. The drinks were fabulous. How can you go wrong with Tito’s and tonic with lime? Answer: You can’t!

    Taste of Home, an American media brand focused on food, named Ports of Italy the #1 Italian restaurant in Maine early last month. Taste of Home is owned by a company that also owns Reader's Digest, Birds and Blooms and The Family Handyman. I looked it up. And I, for one, completely agree!

    Those of us who’ve had our last meal of the day there know how delizioso the dishes at Ports of Italy are. “Chitarrucci Neri Ai Fruitti Di Mare,” at the top of the homemade pasta selections on the menu, fairly screams my name! Black ink pasta served with shrimp, scallops, mussels, calamari, and little neck clams in a yumsville tomato/herb sauce ... from the first bite I knew this was a meal to savor. And I did. Every bite a delight, every sip of the lush red wine, which oh-so-knowledgeable bartender extraordinaire Kathleen Veins suggested, perfectly complemented my meal. Linda (yep, same Linda) said her dish was deelish, too ... What was it? I don’t know I can only remember mine! LOL! Remember it? Who am I kidding? I still dream about it.

    Owner Sante Calandri began in “the biz” at 13 in Trevi, Italy, moving on to Rome, to Perugia, then to NYC at the Taormina Restaurant in Little Italy. Sante left there to work at Bice, where he stayed for 23 years, as its maître d' for most of those years. In 2010 he decided it was time to open his own restaurant and, as fate would have it, Ports of Italy right here in Boothbay Harbor was for sale. Then, just three years ago, in September of 2020, he opened another Ports of Italy in Rockport (where the Helm Restaurant was for some 40 years or so) – same great recipes.

    I asked him if recognition from companies like Taste of Home really amounts to much. His reply, “Yes. They get people talking. They get curious – and they come.”

    Sante and the Ports of Italy crew found out about being named #1 Italian restaurant in Maine through a diner who told Ports COO/General Manager Jeff Teel. You can find it on the Ports website.

    The menu is divine; while you leisurely read through it (sipping on a lush blueberry martini) the realization hits: You want to have it all. But, if you’re like me and dinner out is not a weekly or even monthly occurrence, you order the dish you always order because dreaming about it just doesn’t cut it anymore!

    I actually do remember what Linda had – it was the chicken breast, Pollo Con Funghi, with tomatoes, shitake mushrooms, olives, garlic (of course!), basil, oregano in white wine butter sauce. Our appetizer – mussels, Cozze alla Sambuca, sauteéd with shallots, fennel, herbs and sambuca. And, yes, we decided to go for it and shared a cannoli for dessert. Ca-yum-ba!

    Our fair peninsula received high praise from a travel writer for the Boston Globe. It was a delightful piece (“Boothbay Harbor is as sweet as it gets”) on what to do, where to stay, play, and eat in Boothbay Harbor. Once again, Ports of Italy received high praise ... as did Boat House Bistro, Topside Inn, Bet’s Famous Fish Fry (celebrating 30 years in 2023), CMBG, the Land Trust, and so many more. How did I find out? Sante told me about it. How did he know? A diner told Jeff about it …That’s how it works.

    Not feelin’ like Italian? No worries! The Boothbay Region has a restaurant serving just what you’re craving (once you figure that out!) for supper: Fisherman’s Wharf, Tugboat Inn, Mine Oyster, McSeagull’s, Harborside 1901 Bar & Grille, The Whale’s Tale, Newagen Seaside Inn, Spruce Point Inn, Carriage House, Linekin Bay Resort, Ports Pizzeria, 777 Ocean Sunset Bar at Smuggler’s Cove, Robinson’s Wharf, Pier 1 Pizza, Brady’s, The Thistle Inn, Kaler’s, Boothbay Lobster Wharf, Coastal Prime, Boat House Bistro and Tapas Bar, Bluebird Ocean Point Inn, China By the Sea, Baker’s Way, The Anchor Restaurant at Flagship Inn, Shannon’s Unshelled, Marcel’s Sub Shop & Whiskey Bar, Cozy’s Dockside, Footbridge Brewery, Lobsterman’s Wharf, Boothbay and Craft Brewery.