Personal Best: Place to Become a Regular
When you watch reruns of Cheers, becoming a regular seems so easy - you pick a local bar, hang out there for a while, and before long, everyone shouts your name when you enter. In reality, it ain't that easy. I spent years lurking around the late, great Portland Green Grocer, buying sandwiches and inexpensive bottles of really great wine and even a phenomenal (and phenomenally expensive) Thanksgiving turkey or two. But I never came in quite often enough to get to know the cashiers, or to chitchat with the owners about life and food.
Because it turns out that becoming a regular actually takes discipline, courage, and persistence. And, when it comes down to it, I'm a lazy, slightly shy person who has been known to give up rather than be defeated, whether the pursuit is Scrabble or chatting up a barista.
So it's somewhat remarkable that I have become a regular at Scratch Baking Co. (416 Preble St., South Portland, 207-799-0668.) [for the rest of this story, see the January 2008 issue of Down East]It doesn't hurt that Scratch is just three blocks from my house, or that its entire inventory seems custom-tailored to my particular strategies for stress management: amazing, chewy sourdough bagels; buttery, not-too-sweet cookies, chocolate chip and otherwise; addictive pastries; Coffee by Design coffee - both by the cup and the bag; glorious gourmet cheeses; local beer; incredible bacon; and a small but extremely well-chosen array of wines.
But the real key to my status as a Scratch regular is Bob Johnson and Sonja Swanberg, who own Scratch along with Allison Reid. Bob and Sonja love what they do, and it's infectious. Bob, an ebullient guy who co-founded Magic Hat Brewing, can - and will - tell you all about the quirky Oregon winemaker who produced a certain spectacular vintage that somehow retails for just $12.99. If you mention what you're planning to make for dinner, he'll find the right wine to accompany it and ask you how it turned out when you stop in a day or two later. Sonja is quieter, but from her post at the bakers' table she keeps an eye on the swinging wooden door and greets customers like old friends.
And it's not just me. As I stand in line on a Saturday morning, waiting to pay for some coffee cake and the bagel my daughter has already begun to devour, I hear Sonja inquire about a customer's dog while Bob chats amiably with the mayor. People in line strike up conversations easily, talk of the Sox or the bond issue for the high school flitting among neighbors who've never before met. Bakers bustle between the ovens, and the tables out front are stacked with baguettes and substantial loaves of country white bread. It feels just like home.
On occasion, Michaela Cavallaro has worn her pajamas to Scratch Baking Co.