Newly opened in a subterranean space near Post Office Park, The Salt Cellar is a celebration of just one thing: the humble sodium chloride, the only rock that we eat on a regular basis. Modeled on their flagship store in Portsmouth, NH, and, in a larger sense, modeled after a specialty salt store that the co-owners visited in Europe, The Salt Cellar is a unique, surprising, and all together delightful shop.
While for many the primary draw of The Salt Cellar will be food-related, salt has many uses, not all of them culinary, and The Salt Cellar pays tribute to all of them. They have an extensive bath and spa section, featuring a wide selection of body butters and salt soaks, mud masks and facial scrubs, salt soaks and aftershave, and a black mud shampoo. This fits well with the overall spa-like feeling of the space, largely due to the warmth of the light, which is filtered through hundreds of pink Himalayan salt blocks.
(Shop co-owner Don Tydeman told me that the lamp pictured above is probably the largest salt lamp in the world. They needed to pour a special cement footing for it just to put it in the shop. Unfortunately, its not for sale, though I’m sure it would make quite a conversation piece.)
But, what with Portland being a foodie town, it is the wall of finishing salts that most will come to try, and it does not disapoint. Carefully labled with suggested uses (and sometimes warnings — you should, for example, believe the note on the Ghost Pepper salt that says that it is HOT), the salts are lined up like works of art in an orderly display, spotlighted, each with a tester so you can shake a few flakes into your palm and sample them. (There is also a thoughfully placed water bubbler nearby, should you find yourself a little oversalted.) It is the samples that turn this from just a display into a sort of a playground.
From the aforementioned Ghost Pepper to a beautiful Merlot salt through Black Truffle and the earthy Cyprus Black Lava and Fumee de Sel, The Salt Cellar offers finishing salts to complement any food (even desert). Trying the salts, one after the next, has the odd effect of leaving you feeling, in a way, as though you have just finished a thoughtfully constructed meal, with notes that are rich, tangy, spicy, sweet, and savory. It was great fun to watch the interaction between the various groups that were sampling salts, as patrons urged one another to try this salt or that one, and eagerly discussed the future meals that certain salts would be sure to complement.
We left with three salts (they’re $8 each or three for $20), and by happenstance the next stop on our walk around town ended up being Five Guys Burgers, where we broke out the Roasted Garlic salt we’d just purchased and gave our fries a little kick. I’m pleased to report that even a modest pinch of this salt transformed the (already award winning) fries and even my six year old son pronounced the enhanced taste “really super good.”
Finally, as if all that were not enough, they also sell salt blocks for cooking or food presentation, along with these pink salt shot glasses. As they sign notes, “additional salting” of your tequila “not required”.
I’m not sure what I was expecting as I walked down those steps, but I can assure you that The Salt Cellar is one of the most interesting shops I’ve seen open in Portland in some time. They strike exactly the right balance between specialty food store and gift shop, and have managed to find a way to appeal to two of Portland’s great passions: food and and spa-like pampering. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that you just might be able to find a gift for every single member of your family in a single stop at The Salt Cellar. So stop in. I think you’ll walk away with a new appreciation for the humble salt and all it’s varied uses.
The Salt Cellar is located at 172 Middle St in Portland, across from Post Office Park in the space that formerly housed Trinket & Fern (how’s that for a Maine direction?). (They also have a location in Portsmouth, NH.) You can Like them on Facebook, visit their web page and shop with them on-line. The Portsmouth location got quite a bit of press when it opened. For whatever reason, I also feel the need to link to the Salt page on Wikipedia. Some of their spa and beauty products are made by Jericho Dead Sea Cosmetics.
Distance from the Maine State Pier: four-tenths of a mile, about an 8 minute walk.
Still can’t find them? Here’s a map!