Located behind a simple storefront directly across Commercial Street from the Page One office, the Salt Exchange offers one of Portland’s classiest lunches. It was kind of rainy the day we went, and everyone found the decadent food and elegant cocktail selection, which centers around the establishment’s curated array of bourbons, to be just the thing for wiling away a couple hours out of the office.
We began our meal with several shared orders of the restaurant’s homemade black pepper and truffle potato chips (or “chups” as the Page One marketing department likes to refer to them as), which came served with a rich and creamy bourbon-onion dip. “Salt Exchange has the best homemade chips in town, hands down,” raves Robinson, and Noella agrees, reminiscing fondly about how they were “crispy but somehow chewy, flavor packed, salty, truffly. Mmmmmm.”
Most people were equally pleased with their main course. Shamus got a veggie sandwich packed with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, goat cheese and some other tasty ingredients that escaped his memory – “whatever was in there,” he says, “it was delicious.”
Emmie also thought the meal was “pure perfection” and was entirely pleased with the spicy and creamy mac and cheese, which comes in a thick mixture of smoked gouda, fried pork belly and jalapenos, and also savored the fish tacos, which she said had “the perfect balance of flavors and textures.” Robinson chowed down on an “amazing” pork belly sandwich, and I tucked into a big, steaming bowl of herb-infused mussels. There was one dissenting view, however, who found the food a bit much for his constitution, so perhaps those looking for simple fare might do better elsewhere.
The restaurant’s cocktails were also a big hit. Shamus enjoyed the amazing selection of bourbons, and characterized his experience as “drunky,”and especially liked the black walnut artisinal bitters, an opinion shared by Elise, who bought a bottle of the stuff to take home with her. Emmie ordered a “Variation,” which she found a delightful bright spot in an otherwise lame, rainy day.
As delicious as the food and drink are, the restaurant maintains a minimalistic decor, with a series of low key landscape paintings of Monhegan Island by a local artist adorning the exposed brick walls, and there is nothing particularly ostentatious or pretentious about the establishment. Although Elise didn’t find “a lot of character to the place,” Robinson liked it, describing it as “not too friendly, not too cold. Just right.”
As folks were digesting their meals before heading back to the office, I spoke for a few minutes with Chef Adam White as he prepared fish filets for the dinner service. White takes pride in the place, which he opened by himself a few years ago, and takes even more pride in the food he serves, which he is clearly genuinely passionate about. One thing he shared that I thought was particularly interesting is that he has built a working relationship with the marine biologists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and regularly tries to integrate new kinds of fish into his menu that will be more ecologically sustainable than the species that are most popular and are therefore frequently over-fished.
All in all, with four out of five Page One diners responding “Hell’s Yes!” when asked if they’d like to return at a future date, the Salt Exchange has earned a place in all our hearts and bellies as a great local destination for some truly fine food.
Most-Favorited Dish: Pork Belly Sandwich
Honorable Mention: Fish Tacos
90% of Page One employees would enthusiastically return to the Salt Exchange.
Words Used by Our Team to Describe the Experience:
245 Commercial Street, Portland, ME 04101
Monday-Saturday – 11:30am-9:00pm
UPDATE: As of December of 2014, the Salt Exchange has closed its doors.