Sep. 19—National praise continues to shower down on Portland's food scene as the New York Times Monday named Leeward and Twelve two of the best 50 restaurants in America.
The Portland standouts are the only Maine restaurants on the Times' list, which included only two other New England restaurants: Neptune Oyster in Boston and Dear Annie in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Portland finds itself on even footing on the list with some of the country's major cities and restaurant meccas like San Francisco, Chicago and Washington D.C., which each had two restaurants named. The Times' honorees also included five New York City restaurants.
After a gushing rundown of their favorite dishes at Leeward — the two-year-old, eclectic Italian restaurant Press Herald critic Andrew Ross awarded three-and-a-half stars in April — the Times story said, "The owners, Raquel and Jake Stevens (who is also the chef), have managed to capture the essence of a season on the water, where everything feels like golden hour."
Of Twelve, the story stated, "A spare prix-fixe menu with few descriptors — "Mushroom, Grains, Mustard Greens" — can feel stiff. But in the hands of Colin Wyatt, a former executive sous-chef at Eleven Madison Park, that structure is liberating... In a town often declared a diner's paradise, Twelve makes that all the more true."
The Times' list includes many restaurants that opened just this year, like Twelve, but it's not exclusively a "best new places" rundown. The Times also named spots with a few years under their belt like Neptune Oyster, as well as decades-old favorites like Brennan's in New Orleans.
This broad scope of the 2022 list makes the Portland restaurants' selection all the more impressive, particularly in a pandemic hangover year when many eateries in Maine and across the country were forced to close.
"It's been a really challenging year for restaurants," said Chef Colin Wyatt of Twelve, which opened at 115 Thames St. in mid-July during the worst labor shortage the hospitality industry has seen in years. "Every restaurant I speak to has had a hard time, and for any restaurant to get through the summer in Maine this year is just huge.
"For us to have this happen so soon since our opening is truly special," Wyatt continued. "Everybody worked their butts off to get there."
"We're very surprised and continually elated to work alongside our extremely talented (and fun!) team," Leeward co-owner Raquel Stevens wrote Monday in an email.