East Deering: Beyond the baked beans and Budweiser
What makes Portland’s East Deering neighborhood such a hot tourist destination this year?
“That’s a good question,” said Cheryl Leeman, who’s represented East Deering on the Portland City Council for nearly three decades. Leeman’s not really stumped. She just doesn’t know where to begin.
The scenic trail around Back Cove is a good place to start, she suggests. Or Payson Park, which overlooks the cove. Nuzzled between Back Cove and the mouth of the Presumpscot River, East Deering offers beautiful views of both the city and the sea.
Martin’s Point is in East Deering, just off Route 1. The eponymous health care company dominates this spit of land (and construction of its latest expansion is continuing this summer), but the public Martin’s Point Trail has expansive views of the bay, picnic tables and observation walls, and small, seaweedy beaches you can have all to yourself.
Fine dining and nightlife? East Deering’s got that, too. The cuisines of the world can be found in this working-class neighborhood. Try the exotic Vietnamese pho soups at Veranda Noodle Bar, or the mouth-watering Pad Thai at Veranda Thai Cuisine across the street. Craving Italian food? The locals order from Angelone’s Pizza on Washington Avenue, near East Deering’s mostly peaceful border with communist North Deering. Or grab a sandwich at Anania’s on Washington Ave. (they also have pizza, pasta and wine), or Quattrucci’s Variety on Veranda.
Ice cream? Beals Old Fashioned is right next to the noodle bar. Try the Graceland (banana ice cream with peanut butter).
Come happy hour, head to Howie’s. This friendly neighborhood pub offers grub, grog, bar games, and good conversation. Hungover the next morning? Steve and Renee’s Diner has the good and greasy breakfast you need to reboot your system, plus lunch and an all-you-can-eat turkey supper on Saturdays that makes seniors line up out the door.
Bollard columnist Elizabeth Peavey resides in East Deering (but seriously, stay out of her yard). Her neighbor, Councilor Leeman, has graciously offered to give Bollard readers guided tours of East Deering’s attractions. And if you’re nice, she may even let you swim in her pool.
— Chris Busby
Westbrook’s cosmopolitan square
The intersection of Bridge Street and Main Street in Westbrook is better known as Rudy Vallée Square (though it’s really more of a traffic triangle). The famous singer, bandleader and actor was born in Vermont but grew up on this mill city’s mean, stinky streets.
How cool was Vallée? The crooner’s hits during the early days of radio inspired Frank Sinatra’s singing style. (The bronze bust of his head sits on a granite pedestal marking the spot where Frank’s goons rubbed him out for claiming The Chairman ripped him off.)
Rudy Vallée Square offers much more than history. It’s just steps away from the newly improved riverwalk overlooking the Presumpscot and its mighty falls. And it’s at the heart of a dining and entertainment district that would’ve sent the flappers of Vallée’s day into a shimmying tizzy.
The Frog & Turtle, a “gastro pub” on Bridge Street, has a classy yet cozy bar and lounge area. On Thursdays and weekend nights, local acts play light rock and Caucasian R&B. The food is phenomenal. The fare ranges from poutine and burgers to fromage and charcuterie (cheese and meat pieces). There are nightly fish and seafood specials, and the F&T’s Sunday brunch is legendary (homemade doughnuts; need we say more?).
Around the corner on Main Street, the Brothers Tranchemontagne (James and Andre, owners of the F&T) have opened The French Press Eatery. Already a popular breakfast spot, the Eatery is now doing dinners and desserts (try the Tranchmonger: five scoops of ice cream and all the toppings in a doughnut bowl, for $17 and cab fare to Mercy Hospital). The brothers recently added a small bar, but thus far it’s primarily been a place for staff to unwind after last call.
These days, Westbrook is renowned not only for its French cuisine, but for Mexican and Italian fare, too. Portland Pie Company has a location in the square, and Fajita Grill is just steps away, as is a CVS that sells the antacids and aspirin you’ll need when your whirlwind tour of Rudy Vallée Square is over.
Legend has it that Vallée’s spirit still loiters in his square. Either that, or the cell phone reception just sucks.
Parking garages may be a blight on the urban landscape, but many have breathtaking views of that landscape from their rooftop decks. High above the hustle of the streets, you and your date can sip vino, nibble stinky cheese, and admire Portland from the unique perspectives these perches provide.
We visited over a dozen downtown Portland garages this summer to evaluate their vistas, and have chosen the top five to share with you here.
Especially in summer, beware overprotective mother gulls who dive-bomb and scream at humans in defense of their gray-feathered offspring. And in the opinion of some nosy security guards, your innocent sightseeing expedition can look a lot like loitering or, worse, criminal trespass. To avoid invoking the ire of the parking-powers-that-be, we recommend you adopt a strict carry-in/carry-out policy. If things get hairy, you might consider just driving there and paying to park up top.
— Zachary Barowitz and Caroline Losneck
1. Custom House Garage
25 Pearl St.
Take the vertiginous glass-walled elevator to the eighth floor. This is the best place to watch as a six-story hotel/condo/brewpub complex rises from the site of the old Jordan’s Meats hot dog factory in the months ahead. The developers had initially asked the city for permission to create fewer parking spaces for the pub (rumored to be Sebago Brewing Company’s new Old Port location) than zoning requires — fewer, in this case, being no parking whatsoever. But last month they submitted new plans calling for (you guessed it!) another parking garage.
This observation deck also offers sweeping views of Portland Harbor, the Old Port, and church steeples rising from the base of Munjoy Hill all the way to the West End.
We chose this structure over the new and nearby Ocean Gateway Garage on Fore Street because, despite the OGG’s spectacular vistas of Casco Bay and historic Eastern Cemetery, it’s just too damn depressing.
The fenced-in parcel overgrown with weeds between that garage and India Street was supposed to be an office building and retail shops before the Great Recession. Another fenced-in wasteland of weeds and gravel sits across Fore Street marking the grave of a different development that died. Beyond that, you look upon acres of prime waterfront real estate dedicated to: surface parking.
2. The Public Market Garage
315 Cumberland Ave. (entrance on Preble Street)
This garage was built in the late 1990s in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to make the Portland Public Market accessible to auto-addicted, off-peninsula shoppers. Plagued by mismanagement and vendor unrest, the public market closed four years ago and is now the private domain of a credit card processing company. There’s space set aside in the remodeled office building for a public café, but as of yet no entrepreneur has been foolish enough to open another café in a part of town already filthy with ’em.
From this great garage roof, with the iconic Time and Temperature building at your back, you can survey the industrial wasteland of Bayside, the homeless and hungry lined up at the Preble Street Resource Center, and the death-defying on- and off-ramps of I-295. Also a plum spot for sunsets.
3. Maine Medical Center Gilman Street Garage
Corner of Gilman and Congress Street
The top of Maine Med’s massive concrete behemoth offers outstanding views of Mount Washington, Hadlock Field, the Fore River, Deering Oaks, and the shopping strip along St. John Street. The fencing erected to discourage suicide jumpers obscures the scenery somewhat and is a bit of a bummer in general, but the melodious voice of the garage’s talking elevators will brighten your day.
A word to the wise: the crack Maine Med security force diligently patrols this garage and will ask you to leave if you’re not visiting a patient or conducting legitimate hospital business. Borrow a cane, a sling, or feign a pregnancy as your cover.
4. Temple Street Garage
11 Temple St.
The observation deck atop the Temple Street Garage offers nice views up Free and Spring streets. This peaceful plateau would be our choice to start the first green garage rooftop garden in town. While other Portland garages inspire midnight raves or rooftop movies, the Temple Street Garage roof is a quiet space more conducive to yoga or perhaps some guerilla sunbathing.
5. Fore Street Parking Garage
427 Fore St.
A relatively small structure (just two levels), the Fore Street Garage provides unique perspectives on the tops and backs of buildings you don’t see while strolling below. You can gaze upon the mysterious and beautiful machinery locked behind a fence on Center Street and spy the old Movies on Exchange Street sign in the alley behind 10 Exchange. And at night you can watch the drunken parade down Fore Street from a safe, anonymous distance.