Hot Suppa! Portland
Posted on February 9, 2012
by Joe Ricchio
I will be the first to admit that, when it comes to breakfast and lunch at Hot Suppa, I am a creature of habit. Depending on the time of day and the shape I’m in from the night before, I generally know exactly what I want before I arrive. I have, like so many Portland residents who know the menu like the back of their hand, been eating here for quite some time.
What you may not know is that Hot Suppa began dinner service about a year ago, offering up a menu heavily influenced by Cajun cuisine, not to mention some of the best barbeque in Southern Maine. Free from the harsh light of day, the dining room takes on a more vibrant feeling, as it is to be expected when bottles of wine and pints of beer litter the tables rather than coffee mugs. It’s a whole new menu to explore, and almost gives the impression of being an entirely different restaurant altogether.
On a recent Friday night, two of my friends and I are in need of nourishment after successfully avoiding the festivities of the Art Walk. Though it’s only a brisk ten-minute walk to Hot Suppa in the freezing cold, I am in immediate need of wine to warm my “cockles” while we wait for a table. Plungerhead Zinfandel from Lodi in California fulfills this need perfectly, as I prefer this style of wine on its own, without food.
We are seated shortly after I finish my first glass and begin with a platter of oysters on the half shell presented in a festive manner on a bed of Mardi Gras beads and lemon wedges. Blueberry jalapeno mignonette with a bit of lime for acidity isn’t nearly as sweet as I would have expected. Actually, the briny flavor of the oyster shines through nicely, with the blueberry and jalapeno providing subtle background depth.
My dining companions convince me that a few cocktails might be a reasonable segue from the big, heavy wine. I prefer my liquor on its own, but I am definitely intrigued by the drink special of the evening, the Violet Fizz. It combines Crème Yvette, a violet petal liqueur, with lemon juice, dry gin, and club soda, making for a refreshing and aromatic palate cleanser. Also quite tasty is the Afterglow, a bright and tangy passion fruit cocktail spiked with slivers of fiery Thai chilies. I enjoy a few sips of each before commandeering what remains of the wine and claiming it as my own.
Chicken wings, glistening with a sweet and spicy honey glaze and tossed with scallions, are some of the best I’ve had in recent times. What truly makes them standout is the meat itself. Outrageously tender and smoked with mesquite, the wings are perfectly complemented by the accompanying ranch and bleu cheese dipping sauces. The quality of the mustard greens on our fried Maine shrimp and oyster salads is really quite good, requiring minimal dressing in an effort to let the flavor of the fresh produce shine through.
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that two of my favorite Maine breweries, Oxbow and Marshall Wharf, have been recently added to the tap beer selection, joining multiple offerings from Louisiana brewery Abita, the prerequisite for any self-respecting Cajun restaurant.
The barbeque platter is the first entree to arrive, piled up with hickory-smoked pork ribs and pulled pork, as well as mesquite-smoked brisket. The meat immediately falls of the rib bones, and the best way I can describe the meltingly tender pulled pork and brisket is to call it “meat candy.” A plethora of sides include braised collard greens to aid digestion, tender sweet potato fries, and two wedges of crispy skillet corn bread, slathered with a liberal dollop of whipped butter melting down the sides.
Three sauces made in-house are served along with the barbeque platter. “Smoky and spicy” makes great use of both the nuclear heat and wonderful fruitiness of the habanero pepper, while the “smoky honey chipotle” displays sweeter, mellower nuances. The third is a traditional mustard-based South Carolina-style, which is particularly ridiculous on the ribs. Oh, the ribs…
Cornish game hen, offered as a special on this particular evening, has been de-boned and loaded with tasso, a spicy peppery cured ham, and sweet, moist cornbread stuffing. The skin of the bird has been cooked to a luscious golden brown, and the meat has stayed quite tender during cooking. All of the elements working together in harmony elevate this dish to the realm of the Elysian.
The third entree, Hot Suppa’s version of Shepherd’s Pie, is quite substantial, with tender chunks of slow-cooked beef and carrots smothered in gravy cooked with Abita Turbodog dark brown ale. A liberal portion of cheesy, gooey mashed potatoes rests in the middle of the bowl, with a slight crust on top from browning. These are so incredibly decadent that I am even able to deal with the fact that they have peas in them. As many people may or may not know, the only food I do not care for are peas, which I realize is quite strange.
After consuming all of this, there is nothing I can imagine enjoying more than a large glass of Scotch. The Talisker 10 Year, from the Isle of Skye, is one of my absolute favorites, combining dried fruit elements with flavors of smoke and a hint of black pepper.
Not surprisingly, a dessert mysteriously shows up on the table despite my claims of being painfully full. The maple bourbon crostata, a baked tart of sorts, with brown sugar and persimmons, is actually a fitting partner for the scotch with the tartness of the persimmon playing off of the sweeter elements and crumbly butter crust. Feeling very little pain at this point, I begin to focus my full attention on trying to persuade our server, Annabelle, to “sit down and drink Scotch with us,” despite the fact that she was, God forbid, actually trying to work. Well, that’s the kind of mood I get in after being plied with booze and fed plate after plate of perfectly executed American comfort food.
That mood is followed shortly afterwards by sleepiness.
703 Congress St. | Portland | 207.871.5005 | hotsuppa.com