Our Rating  

Black Tie To Go
184 Middle Street

Three Plates  
Black Tie To Go Reviewed: Spring, 2000

Many times I've passed the Black Tie Cafe on my way to the Old Port and somehow always thought the place was strictly a catering service. I have no idea how I got that into my head, perhaps it's the name, which makes me envision a waiter in formal attire. My friend and I were wandering around the other day looking for a new place to stop in for lunch when we came upon the propped open door of the Black Tie To Go, the take out portion of the Black Tie Café, located just upstairs from it's sit-down affiliate. I peeked in the door to look at the menu, which didn't take long as it was written in huge letters on a giant blackboard above the counter. We decided it looked tempting enough to try and walked inside.

The inside is fairly small. A tiny area of cookies in jars and other self-serve bakery items hold the front space while the take-out counter fills up most of the remaining room. Two small tables for informal dining are pushed against the wall opposite the counter. A flowery sign in the far back labels the "pantry" full of little gourmet items available for purchasing such as coffee, candy syrups and sauces and another sign to the left guides diners towards the "garden" in the back. It was unfortunately raining on this particular day so we did not venture outside to the garden.

Along the counter were many delicious looking freshly baked items such as a Brie, Apple and Caramelized Quesadilla, a quiche, calzone type breads, and special pre-made sandwiches. They were each more than half gone, presumably eaten by previous lunch patrons. One of the glass cases in front of the counter was filled with at least ten tempting salads from potato salad and cole slaw to Indian spiced chicken salad and Waldorf salad. In the case just to the right of that were several chilled hot-lunch specials, which I assume they heat as ordered, such as lasagna, and in the furthest we found many cakes and pies, although covered with plastic wrap so they were difficult for the eye to savor.

We stood back to peruse the menu of Paninis, Wraps, and Soups. I overheard one patron suggest the Chicken Panini to his friends boldly stating that it was the best sandwich he had ever eaten. The soups were very tempting, listed according to day, $3.25 for a cup and $4.25 for a bowl. Monday's Roasted Potato Cheddar soup and Wednesday's Creamy Red Pepper soup are two that I plan to return for very soon. My friend and I both opted for a salad sampler ($7.95), a choice of three salads on a bed of mesclun greens. We ordered our selections from the case, chose two beverages from the cooler, and waited for our meals at one of the small tables tucked to the side. In case one finds him/herself alone and bored at the Black Tie To Go, there are reusable crossword puzzles on each table complete with erasable black markers for entertainment. I wonder how often they change the puzzles.

Our salad plates took no time at all to be assembled, and we watched as the server carefully did so. She called our name, we went up to the counter, paid a somewhat pricey $18 and change and sat back at our little table to enjoy. My choices, the Lemon Tarragon Chicken Salad, the Indian Spiced Chicken Salad and the Mozzarella, Asparagus and Cherry Tomato Salad, were served in three generous portions atop a good amount of salad greens mixed with a few cucumber slices and red onion bits. Both the chicken salads were chock full of hearty chicken pieces, although a little on the dry side which didn't go very well with the completely dry salad greens. I was desperately seeking dressing for both chicken salads as I ate them. The Mozzarella Salad was delicious. Halved pieces of fresh mozzarella combined with slightly cooked but still crisp bright green asparagus, sweet whole cherry tomatoes and pine nuts all coated in a robust pesto sauce. The Lemon Tarragon salad comprised of very lemony chicken, tons of fresh chopped tarragon, slices of tomato and scallions. Unfortunately after eating the sweet cherry tomatoes in the Mozzarella Salad, these tomato pieces seemed unflavorful and almost sour. But I knew it was just combining the two salads that gave that illusion. The Indian spiced salad was a mix of curried chicken, pieces of red grapes, peas and some delightfully crispy little vegetables that looked like peanuts but tasted like water chestnuts that added a nice burst of refreshing crunch to the chicken. The flavors in all three salads were very distinct and delicious, I only wished the chicken had been a little more moist. Perhaps adding a little bit of dressing to the salad greens would have made a bit of difference.

My friend chose three different salads. He was drawn in by the Asian Cole Slaw, freshly shredded cabbage and carrots tossed in a sesame oil-based dressing, the Thai Noodle Salad, a delicious medley of noodles and peanut sauce, and the Greek Orzo Salad, which consisted of a generous amount of orzo pasta, mild feta cheese, and sundried tomatoes. He preferred the Thai Noodles out of the bunch stating that the Orzo salad was not all that flavorful, and he mistook the sesame oil flavor of the cole slaw thinking that he had accidentally mixed it with the nutty Thai Noodles and ruined the flavor. It was not until the last bite when he realized it was made with sesame oil and actually supposed to taste like that, that he decided he quite enjoyed the unique flavors! Both our salads were quite filling and unfortunately neither of us had room for any of the alluring desserts.
wheelchair accessible
vegetarian selections
vegan selections  
most credit cards accepted

My friend returned on a second occasion to try one of the paninis we had been so intrigued by during our first visit. He tried the Japanese Basil sandwich (approximately $4), a generous portion of fresh Japanese basil, cucumber, tomato, red onion and mayonnaise all served on cheese infused focaccia bread. He reported that the sandwich, a little too small to satisfy his ravaged stomach, was nonetheless delicious and a very interesting combination of ingredients and flavors which blended well. He said it was something I definitely would have enjoyed, in particular. I guess I'll have to wait until next time!

Black Tie To Go is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm  back to the top

Tracy B. Wheeler is a classical flutist and freelance writer who lives in Portland.





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