“No one in this car has a DUI, do they?”
It’s just after 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and Alex Steed poses this question to a few unsuspecting passengers. With a full day of drinking ahead and a long ride home, the question is more than appropriate.
After a moment of awkward silence, the vehicle fills with laughter — some lighthearted, some nervous.
Steed, the producer of Food Coma TV, is prepping his crew for another day of culinary indulgence. Joined by director Kurt Graser and cameraman Thomas Starkey, the trio are on their way to Westbrook to film the first episode of Food Coma TV’s second season.
A web-based series of short films, Food Coma TV showcases the food culture of Maine outside of Portland. Away from crowds of tourists and pretentious dining atmospheres, the series shines a spotlight on restaurants that might otherwise go unnoticed.
For the show’s first season, the crew visited towns such as Bangor, Sanford, Lewiston-Auburn and St. John Valley. Ricchio’s blog Portland Food Coma served as the foundation for the series, which was brought to life in 2011 by video producers Steed and Graser.
Ricchio, a mountain of a man who doubles as a long-lost Belushi brother, hosts Food Coma TV alongside cohort Joel Beauchamp. Inked with tattoos and lovers of crass, expletive-filled jokes, Beauchamp and Ricchio are not your typical spunky, whitened-grin Food Network hosts.
Eager to use clear skies and sunshine to its advantage, the Food Coma TV crew is ready to get the ball rolling on its latest edible adventure. Graser wants to film an introduction to the first episode of the season, set in front of a striking view of the Prescumpscot River.
Ricchio paces back and forth as Graser gets the camera ready, displaying a mixture of excitement and anxiety.
“Let’s start doing intros when I’ve had a couple drinks,” Ricchio says.
Graser opts for recording season two promos instead, with Starkey capturing footage simultaneously. Once the promos are filmed the crew makes its way over to the first stop of the day: Catbird Creamery.
You scream, I scream, we all scream creamery
Located at 846 Main St. in Westbrook, Catbird Creamery is a recent addition to the neighborhood. The husband and wife team of Andrew Warren and Corey DiGirolamo opened the shop in February, offering a delectable selection of handmade ice cream.
With flavors like salted chocolate, cinnamon white chocolate and strawberry balsamic, you can taste the hard work that went into making these desserts. Combined with a rich and creamy texture, this ice cream is miles apart from the grocery store freezer aisle.
Ricchio and Beauchamp get star treatment as they film the opening to the show. The duo is seated at a small table with a tempting third guest — a heaping ice cream sundae.
“This is actually one of the most incredibly satisfying breakfasts I’ve had,” says Ricchio, mid-bite.
“It’s going to be a funny-looking rainbow when I barf at 1 a.m.,” replies Beauchamp.
After filming at Catbird Creamery, Warren and DiGirolamo kindly offer ice cream to the rest of the crew. In addition to serving up flavors enjoyed by Ricchio and Beauchamp, the owners encourage a tasting of Furious George, a delightful concoction of caramelized bananas, chocolate chips and chili powder in vanilla ice cream.
What seems like an unlikely combination actually works, yielding an up front sweetness with a spicy aftertaste. The unusual flavor is quite brilliant, yet another testament to the craft of ice cream making.
With breakfast out of the way, the Food Coma TV crew moves on to lunch — in liquid form.
Getting drunk the Irish way
Powell’s Pub is Westbrook’s best kept secret. The actual location is not revealed in this episode of Food Coma TV, as the bar is an extension of owner Zach Powell’s home.
At first glance, Powell can appear intimidating. A ponytail-clad weapons enthusiast — there’s a sword mounted on the wall of the bar — Powell won’t allow just anyone into the pub. When asked how one could gain entrance, Powell remains cryptic.
“You bring your own mug and you bring your own beer and you’re in the club — if you’re invited.”
Powell built the bar over a number of years, staying true to the authenticity of similar pubs in Ireland.
“This place isn’t like the Irish bars in Portland,” says Ricchio. “It’s not ‘my first Fisher-Price Irish bar.’ It’s the real deal.”
Small, quaint and dimly lit, Powell’s Pub is plastered with beer memorabilia and family photos. Resting on a cherry wood table is a potted shamrock plant with a decorative Irish flag sticking out of the soil.
Multiple bottles of vodka, tequila, whiskey and gin line the bar shelves.
“As you may or may not have noticed, you’ll find no mixers here,” says Powell.
Ricchio and Beauchamp gather around the bar with Powell, knocking back shot after shot of Irish whiskey. Powell managed to acquire a bottle of Green Spot, an Irish whiskey that can’t be found in the states. Smooth and packed with flavor, the whiskey is known as one of the best in the world.
Graser and Starkey stand back to film the debauchery while Steed makes sure things don’t get too out of control. As to be expected, Powell’s Pub has had guests who enjoyed themselves a little too much.
“You throw up on the floor, and you get kicked out forever.”
As 1 p.m. approaches, an appetite for solid food begins to make a comeback. Cravings for greasy, heart-stopping fast food start to kick in. The best cure for a midday hangover: a melt-in-your-mouth burger and fries.
A diner on wheels and smoking cocktails
Don’s Lunch food truck looks like it got caught in a time warp: a delicious, satisfying time warp. With neon signs, plenty of outdoor seating and a white exterior painted with orange and yellow racing stripes, it’s hard for this fast food hotspot to go unnoticed.
Parked at 517 Main St. in Westbrook, Don’s Lunch has been serving favorites like hamburgers, cheeseburgers, clam cakes, grilled cheese sandwiches and chili dogs since 1976. For the Food Coma crew, the number one choice is the “Big One,” a double-cheeseburger with a selection of toppings such as cheddar, pickles, ketchup, mustard and red pepper relish, all for a mere $4.
As food editor of Maine Magazine and a distributor for South Portland Wine Company, Ricchio has indulged in his fair share of extravagant eats. Despite having a seasoned palette, Ricchio still prefers cheap, locally-made food.
“Places like this are some of my favorite places to eat.”
The clam cake, served on a burger bun with the perfect amount of homemade tartar sauce, is also a big hit. Sides of french fries and onion rings are a staple, rounding out the inexpensive meal.
Following a brief visit with Don’s Lunch, the Food Coma TV crew wraps up the day at Frog and Turtle on 3 Bridge St. in Westbrook. A gastropub, Frog and Turtle combines a pub-like atmosphere with unique, high-quality dishes and drinks.
A bartender crafts an intriguing drink for Ricchio and Beauchamp, one that looks more like a witch’s brew than an alcoholic beverage. Smoke rolls out of the martini glass, and the yellow liquid bubbles magically.
This Frog and Turtle signature drink is called “The Swamp,” a blend of Absolut, Midori, orange and pineapple juices, topped with a cherry. The “smoke” effect is created using a small amount of dry ice. While the ingredients are simple, the presentation makes the beverage appear extraordinary.
Cocktails can often be lacking in appearance and flavor, sometimes suffering from an over-abundance of ice or too much sweetener. When Ricchio picks his poison, he usually sticks with tequila and whiskey, in hopes of avoiding such cocktail catastrophes.
However, Frog and Turtle uses plenty of fresh ingredients like basil, lemon and lime in their cocktails, adding just the right amount to invigorate the senses.
“It’s nice to see well thought-out cocktails that don’t make me angry,” remarks Ricchio.
The future of Food Coma TV
After consuming multiple boozy elixirs at Frog and Turtle, it’s time for the Food Coma crew to head home. Stomachs are full and palettes are pleased, making for a worthwhile day. More importantly, footage shot by Graser and Starkey came out remarkably well.
“Everything looks great you guys. I think we did an awesome job today,” Graser says to the crew.
While filming for Food Coma TV seems like it’s all play and no work, it’s actually quite the opposite. Producer Alex Steed, a media consultant and strategist, adds to the crew’s professionalism. Steed’s efforts as producer have helped attract dozens of local sponsors for the webseries, from Allagash Brewing Company and Novare Res Bier Cafe to Ferdinand and Might & Main.
Just last fall the Food Coma TV crew had a chance to interview Anthony Bourdain, star of hit TV series No Reservations, as well as renowned Chef Eric Ripert. The celebrities were in Portland for their Good v. Evil tour, an on-stage discussion about each chef’s culinary career.
“[Bourdain and Ripert] were both very generous with their time. They were really giving and accommodating, given that we’re pretty amateur with what we do compared to them,” said Steed.
A 2007 USM graduate, Steed learned many of his production skills by being active in media-related clubs and organizations at USM.
“I just did as much as I could,” said Steed. “I scraped an education together at a place that isn’t considered to be the best place to get an education.”
The future of Food Coma TV is wide open, largely dependent on viewing trends and technologies. As a web series, Steed isn’t sure how long the show will last.
“Food Coma as a brand will continue to exist as long as Joe keeps doing what he does,” says Steed. “[Food Coma TV] is a project of ours that we all want to have a bit of fun with and make some money in the process.”
On Sunday April 15, the Westbrook episode will make its debut at the Food Coma Premiere Dinner, an event held at Nosh on 551 Congress St. Six culinary artists from places like 555 Restaurant, Eastwell Farm and 158 Pickett Street Cafe will prepare the dinner. Tickets are also good for entry into the Food Coma After Party at SPACE Gallery, featuring live music and a chance to meet the crew.