The Porthole Restaurant
20 Custom House Wharf, Portland
The last time I visited The Porthole (a restaurant on Portland’s Custom House Wharf), it was an unpretentious watering hole for local fishermen. It offered basic pub fare, including an all-you-can-eat fish fry special. The food was sometimes good, sometimes not, but it wasn’t going to break your bank account to find out.
Sadly, the Porthole of today bears almost no similarity to its charming and affordable predecessor.
My companion and I chose to have dinner outside, on the spacious wharfside deck. It was a bit blustery, but my companion reveled in the novelty of being allowed to smoke and eat.
I was genuinely shocked when I got the menu. It reflected the choices, and prices, of a restaurant offering upscale dining, but every aspect of our surroundings screamed cheap.
We were seated at an old picnic table next to what looked like a construction zone. I was facing a weathered wall with white siding, from which hung a grubby banner advertising Bacardi. People around us were drinking draft beer out of semi-transparent, 12-ounce plastic cups. The scene provoked my companion to flashback to the college keg parties of his misspent young adulthood.
On a trip to the foul-smelling bathroom (flushless urinals have their drawbacks, too) I noted that the indoor seating offered views equally as dismal – in this case, a TV tuned to Fox News.
We tried to make the best of this situation, figuring we’d order some beers and some of the less expensive options on the menu. Our attentive waitress reeled off a decently diverse list of bottled beers, but Budweiser was not among them.
My iced tea complimented the fried calamari appetizer ($8) quite nicely. The tender squid were encrusted in a cornmeal-based breading. The generous serving came with what was described on the menu as a “zippy” sauce. I never considered mayonnaise “zippy,” but the addition of something sweet to the sauce’s mayo base gave it some pep. This was, by far, the best dish of the evening.
The ingredients in The Porthole’s quesadilla ($9) change according to “the chef’s whim,” the menu says. I pictured the chef, in a fit of whimsy, tacking two bucks onto the price of what this standard pub grub should cost.
We figured the chef wasn’t in a very whimsical mood that day when we were told the quesadilla was spinach, tomato and feta. This dish was OK, but the portion was rather small. It was accompanied by a small container of not-so-fresh salsa, which I decided was not coming into contact with the quesadilla.
The third item was the perfect example of the conundrum The Porthole now poses: the haddock sandwich on focaccia ($7), a misbegotten attempt to upscale a waterfront staple.
Battered and lightly fried, the haddock filet was a generous, tender, flakey portion, but it was served on very plain, and very thick, focaccia bread. When this dish arrived, I thought the focaccia was actually cornbread – so little did it resemble the classic, flattish, salty, seasoned bread I love.
The beer prices added insult to injury. Four bucks for a bottle of Molson Canadian is bad enough, but four bucks for a 12-ounce Shipyard draft served in a plastic keg cup is criminal.
The pretentious menu and beer prices don’t fit this unpretentious restaurant. Locals will not frequent this place; tourists will not return. I won’t be back, either, at least until the owners go back to the drawing board and come up with a menu more befitting the character of their establishment – in a word, something cheap.
— Mort Viande
The Porthole is open Mon.-Sat. at 7 a.m., Sun. at 8 a.m., and stays open through normal dinner hours. Additional evening hours of operation are changing as the weather cools. Call ahead if, against the advice of this review, you plan to visit for drinks after 8 p.m.