Situated on Monument Square, it might be fair to say that the Public Market House symbolizes the heart of the local foods movement in Portland. Opened in 2006, following the collapse of Betty Noyce’s visionary-but-doomed Public Market project, the current public market opened in a converted Army-Navy store as a partnership between four of the Noyce Market’s anchor vendors. Over the past six years the Market House vendors have, together, built a Portland institution, opened a community kitchen, encouraged the growth of the Monument Square Farmer’s Market, and generally supported the burgeoning buy local, slow foods movement in the city.
Lest that sound like the opening to some epically dull Harvard business school style analysis of the market, let me quickly tell you this: Public Market House is also an awesome place to have lunch.
Following a recent expansion, the retail portion of the Market House now occupies two floors of the historic Emerson Clapp Building. Downstairs newcomer Y-Line’s Gourmet Cupcakes joins founders K.Horton Specialty Foods, Maine Beer & Beverage Company, and Big Sky Bakery. While I’m a big fan of Big Sky’s sandwiches, the real lunchtime excitement now takes place upstairs, where three (and soon more) of Portland’s best lunch spots (plus a great coffee place) serve up food with love in one of the most beautiful spaces in the city.
I’ve talked a little bit about Kamasouptra before (they actually provide soups to businesses all over the city) but the Public Market is their home base. Recently voted (again) a Best of Portland pick, Kamasouptra serves up a rotating assortment of vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and just plain delicious soups, along with some of the most amazing bread you will ever eat. Most importantly, they cheerfully provide samples of their soups, so if you’re puzzled by what Ribolita or Loaded Baked Potato soup might taste like, you can try before you decide. And that’s a good thing, because some days it’s going to be a tough decision.
On Saturday, I sampled Curried Vegetable & Lentil and Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup before I settled on an 8 oz cup of Chicken Enchilada soup, with bread ($3.75). (All three are pictured below, in order.) The Curried Vegetable & Lentil is a broth based soup, spicy and mouth warming but not overpowering, with whole lentils, chunks of carrots, roasted red peppers, and other big chunks of yummy veggies. The Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup Soup tastes exactly like you would like expect it to taste, given the name, with just the right blend between classic tomato soup flavor and the tang of a really good grilled cheese sandwich (without the crunch). They were both delicous, but what really caught my fancy was the (franky scary looking) Chicken Enchilada, which featured giant chunks of shredded chicken in a creamy soup. When I saw my soup guy scooping it into the bowl, the dangling bits of creamy chicken made me slightly afraid of what the texture would be like, but the sample won me over by being flavorful, creamy, and mildly spicy without being overpowering. Also, the chicken and the whole bits of corn made me feel like I was really eating a filling meal, something I can’t always say about a lunch of soup.
I also want to take a moment and talk about the “with bread” portion of my meal. When you order soup “with bread” you almost always get an slightly anemic sliver of “bread” which is actually mostly crust. Not so at Kamasouptra, where “with bread” means “with a beautiful loaf of tiny, perfect, delectable bread.” Kamasouptra understands that bread can be an integral part of the soup experience, and provides bread that is the perfect compliment to your soup experience. Crusty on the outside, light and airy on the inside, it’s the kind of bread that you fight over.
Oh, and I had some wonderful handmade lemonade, too, which actually brings up an important point: soup isn’t just fall and winter food. Sure, a nice bowl of soup can warm you from your nose to your toes on a blustery day, but one of the joys of visiting Kamasouptra is that their menu changes daily. Whatever the weather outside, they offer a flavor of soup to satisfy your hunger and also (if I may be so bold) feed your soul. As the name implies, they love soup, and their love shows in their final product.
Of course, if soup just isn’t what you want on a given day, Kamasouptra shares the second floor with Granny’s Burritos, Market House Coffee, and Pie in the Sky Pizza which, for my money, is the best pizza in Portland (yes, even better than Otto’s)…. But I’ll save that topic for tomorrow, since the bounty of the Public Market House is really too much just for one post.
Kamasouptra is one of the many food-related businesses in the Public Market House, located at 28 Monument Square (right by the Monument herself) in Portland. Here is the Public Market House website. Be sure to read their “About Us” page. They are also on Facebook.
Distance from the Maine State Pier: six-tenths of a mile, about a 12 – 13 minute walk.
Still having trouble finding them? Here’s a map!