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Acadian goes underground for monthly ‘Pocket Brunch’

French-Canadian hot seat
By LAURA MCCANDLISH  |  December 5, 2012

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A MODERN REMAKE Not salmon pie, but Arctic char with seaweed, puff pastry, and Dijon Hollandaise.

When greasy poutine with cranberry ketchup is the salad course, you know you're in for a raucous meal. But Pocket Brunch pop-ups in secret locations around Portland only one Sunday a month, so it's worth indulging. The hardest-to-come-by seat in town is the brainchild of Katie and Josh Schier-Potocki, co-owners of South Portland's 158 Pickett Street Café. Last month, a select sixty-five sat at red gingham-clad tables, dining on five French-Canadian courses, served on paper plates. The "Bienvenue" fête filled an industrial space the couple, expanding their catering and bakery operations, now shares with their friends at the SoPo Wine Co.

You might forget that Franco-Americans are the Maine's largest ethnic group. The state formed a task force to preserve the culture of nearly one-quarter of Mainers. Many here no longer speak French. Acadian cuisine, the tortières (meat pies) traditionally prepared at Christmastime, also risks being forgotten. Enter Nate Nadeau, who grew up in a French-Canadian fried fish restaurant and now heads the kitchen at Fore Street. In November, Nadeau took the helm as guest chef, assisted by Pocket Brunch all-star Rocco Salvatore Talarico, bagel-famous Josh Schier-Potocki, and Food Coma TV's Joel Beauchamp.

Nadeau began with Styrofoam cups of his grandmother's yellow split-pea soup, garnished with shredded South Berwick pork and fresh cracklins. He had boiled the hog's head for its stock, though mémère might have stuck to the trotters. After the poutine "salad" came a farmhouse poached egg course, plated with cretons (a pork spread like rillettes), a bagel crisp, and slices of boudin blanc-like sausage on a bed of frisée. Next, Nadeau paired salmon-like Arctic char with puff pastry, seaweed salad, and gobs of Dijon Hollandaise. Finally, a cafeteria-style line formed for dessert: Black Velvet whiskey-maple pie and a ployes (buckwheat flour) layer cake flavored with Allen's Coffee Brandy.

"With food industrialization, a lot of people's connections between their food and their heritage have been lost," said Nadeau, drummer for the erstwhile kraut-rock group Conifer. "They're not that far away. You just have to go back a generation or two."

The menu stressed pork, maple syrup, and lots of booze. The speakers blared Canadian prog-rock. The drink menu doubled as a Bingo card. Air-guitar champ Erin "McNallica" McNally called games between courses, with vintage balls from the Rochambeau Club in Biddeford.

Bartender Nanl Meiklejohn mixed a deluge for the feast to absorb: a mimosa-like Canadian beer punch, and a Bloody Mary with smoked tomato-minced clam puree. East Bayside oasis Tandem Coffee Roasters provides refined brews each month. Tandem's neighbor Bunker Brewing donated a keg of Dark Wave Baltic Porter. Servers passed trays of hot croquignoles (beignet-like doughnuts) and fizzing Seagram's Seven and 7-Up Jell-O shots. Even the Sno-Kones had booze in them.

Still, Pocket Brunch is family-friendly. A handful of young parents dined with their babies in highchairs. Designer/administrator Katie Schier-Potocki wore the couple's two-week-old son, Finn, throughout the entire event. It's one big family of volunteers who once a month take a break from their jobs to stage these epic events.

"This is the most incredible network of friends that also happen to be the most talented restaurant-oriented, food-service staff," Katie said during a breastfeeding break. "It's amazing. This is what happens when you spend 13 years working in one industry in a small town on a peninsula."

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ARTICLES BY LAURA MCCANDLISH
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