While Portsmouth continues to grow and develop its restaurant culture, there is much to be had by crossing the bridge into Kittery, where they are experiencing a culinary renaissance of their own. Dubbed “Maine’s Best Food Town” by Down East magazine in 2016, restaurants like the Black Birch, Anju, and Anneke Jans have become welcome detours on the usual trip north towards Portland.
One of the foremost eateries that began this movement is Tulsi. In its second incarnation in Kittery, and now boasting a second restaurant in Wells, there is a rare finesse to chef Raj Mandekar’s Indian cuisine, making it akin to a velvet hammer. While it is beautiful and delicate, it is focused and unapologetic in its boldness and in many dishes, it’s level of heat. “I want to prepare ingredients that people are familiar with using spices and textures that most diners are not yet accustomed to,” He says, “And this also applies to our repertoire of vegetarian options.” Focusing on Southern Indian cookery while still incorporating the familiar Mughlai and Punjab dishes (tikka masala, biryani, korma, palak paneer, etc) puts an emphasis on fresh seafood.
This idea is brilliantly illustrated in Mandekar’s Shrimp Balchow, with its garnet-hued sauce and pungent, earthy aroma that mingles with that of the freshly puffed and blistered slices of naan bread that accompany it. The plump, tender shrimp are lightly sautéed before simmering and melding with the earthy flavors of dried chilies, curry leaves, mustard seed, and garlic in a tomato-based gravy. The burn creeps up slowly, building in potency, but the naan helps to cool everything down.
Right up the street you will find Lil’s Café, a gem of a coffee shop and bakery that features Tandem Roaster’s coffee, from Portland, and a range of decadent crullers, croissants, and other pastries, as well as a delicious assortment of griddled sandwiches.
Next door is legendary butcher Jarrod Spangler’s Maine Meat (MEat) shop. He has paved the way for small shops in Maine to have the ability to work directly with its plethora of farms to bring in and butcher whole beasts, allowing for the maximum in quality control. It’s a bit pricier than the supermarket, but just try one of their steaks and I guarantee there is no going back.
Of course between your morning at Lil’s and dinner at Tulsi, there is plenty of time for outlet shopping – and it is worth mentioning that Kittery boasts a very well-stocked Le Creuset Outlet Store, where you can find a proper implement for preparing the aforementioned steak.