Yesterday I flew to Portland, Maine, for the express purpose of eating potatoes deep-fried in duck fat. Harry, the British mad hippie engineer, was mostly to blame.
You see, I tried to get a group of friends together for a road trip to Duckfat. The road trip didn't happen because no-one had a car. I mentioned this unfortunate turn of events to Harry, who is apparently hell-bent on having triple bypass surgery before the age of thirty. (Remember those life-expectancy-curbing scones? Those were his fault, too.)
Harry agreed that it was a terrible shame.
And then he mentioned that he had a pilot's license.
And that Mike, another of the mad hippie engineers, also had a pilot's license.
And that the two of them were planning on logging some time in the air this weekend.
You can guess where this is headed.
Sunday morning, the three of us set off in a Piper Warrior, a single-engine four-seater. The skies were clear but windy, and one rather turbulent flight later, we arrived in Portland, Maine. The Portland airport helpfully provided us with a courtesy car, and armed with directions from Google, we headed out on our quest for heartstopping deliciousness.
Duckfat is located on a quiet, unassuming street in downtown Portland. The restaurant itself is similarly unassuming. Located underneath an unmarked red-and-blue striped awning, the restaurant's only signage is the lettering on the window.
Inside, the restaurant feels a little like a Parisian bistro, with wooden floors, small round tables, and a long, curving bar at one end of the room.
The menu is short, but leaves plenty of room to be indecisive: Soup or sandwich? Churros or beignets? And would it be excessive to order all eight dipping sauces to go with the fries?
I finally settled on a duck confit panini, a large cone of Belgian fries with truffle ketchup and roasted garlic mayonnaise, and an order of beignets with spiced sugar. Harry, true to form, chose the Duckfat poutine and a "five dollar" milkshake. And Mike went for simplicity, with a tuna melt and fries.
The photos that follow are blurry. (For better photos, you should visit the Duckfat website.) This is partly due to Harry's camera, and partly due to my impatience. But given how amazing the food smelled, you're lucky there were any photos at all.
Fried to a glorious golden brown, they had thick, crispy exteriors, and soft, mash-like interiors. They were a little on the salty side, but the dipping sauces compensated for that.
The roasted garlic mayonnaise had a light, creamy texture, and the garlic was assertive without being overpowering. Mike's sweet and spicy mustard was flecked with little bits of cornichon and had a pleasant kick. But it was the truffle ketchup that stole the show: sweet and fragrant, it elevated the fries to another plane of delicious. If all ketchup tasted like Duckfat's truffle ketchup, I could honestly say I liked ketchup.
The Belgian fries are also delicious, if even more artery-clogging, when layered with cheese curds and drenched in duck gravy in Duckfat's version of poutine. (Harry generously let me have a taste.) The cheese curds didn't squeak, but the gravy was particularly dark and savory.
Duckfat also makes an excellent panini. Served on crispy, dense bread, the duck confit was moist and meaty, and raisin-mustard chutney added sweetness and bite.
poutine and panini, we had just enough room for a few beignets. I like my beignets closer to fried dough than doughnuts, so they weren't strictly to my taste, but they were nicely crisp on the outside, with a light, cakey interior, and fragrant with cinnamon and cloves.
Warm and satisfied, we made our way back to the airport, and had an uneventful flight home. Harry is already talking about going back. Next time, though, I think we'll drive.