Whenever I'm in Portland I like to eat at Flatbread Company. I love their funky, creative toppings, and the dusting of charred crumbs imparted by the wood-fired caveman oven satisfies some primal urge. The view through the big back windows of ferries and water taxis maneuvering alongside the Maine State Pier keeps me entertained for hours.
Our last visit began with drinks and salad. There are so many tasty, local options on Flatbread's comprehensive drink menu it can be hard to choose. I went with maple-sweetened lemonade. Mixed on-site in small batches, it's richer and less cloying than lemonade made with sugar. My other favorites are Atlantic Brewing Company's Coal Porter (the best porter I've had), and Maine Root rootbeer, a not-too-sweet natural soda invented by one of Flatbread's servers and now distributed throughout the eastern US.
Flatbread's salad, a simple mix of quality ingredients, is always my favorite part of the meal. The delicate lettuce and thinly shredded carrots are topped with earthy seaweed and sesame seeds, then drizzled with a sweet berry vinaigrette so bewitching, I'm guessing the secret ingredient is opium.
After our salad fix, we ordered a large vegan flatbread, which comes with a thin layer of tangy roasted tomato sauce, kalamata olives, caramelized onions, and some kind of fancy mushrooms. The middle of the pie was just short of crunchy, the edges puffy and chewy, and the bottom of the crust coated with that lovely wood-fired charcoal.
A good portion of the flatbreads are vegetarian, and there's always a veggie special. The coevolution, with rosemary, red onion, and kalamata olives is my favorite, though it's just not the same without the salty goat cheese. You can order any of their flatbreads without cheese, but rather than eat pizza that's missing something, I'd like to see them develop a second vegan option with different flavors. Maybe spinach pesto, artichokes, or roasted squash?
Despite their emphasis on local, earth-friendly ingredients and social consciousness (they donate a portion of their proceeds to local charities), Flatbread lacks a vegan dessert. Because the rest of the menu is so creative, I'm looking for more than fruit sorbet. What about a vegan version of their decadent brownie sundae, or chocolate tofu cheesecake with whipped coconut cream? Any restaurant with punk rockers and crunchy dreadlocked types waiting tables ought to serve tofu cheesecake; it's probably a condition of their license.
On the chickpea scale of vegan-friendliness, I'm giving Flatbread Company two and a half chickpeas (you can't tell I altered that photo, can you?). It's an excellent restaurant, and I eat there whenever I get a chance, but if I lived in Portland I'd get tired of the limited vegan choices. Because they advertise as earth and community-friendly, I'm holding them to a higher standard than I would your typical pizza joint. When they get on board and start developing new vegan recipes, I'll happily volunteer as a taste-tester.
Flatbread is deservedly popular, and has been reviewed by many food bloggers before me. Here are a few reviews by Mainers:
Avery Yale Kamila (another vegan!) gives you tips for getting a table at this restaurant that always has a line out the door.
At Type A Diversions you'll find more photos and description of Flatbread's laid-back atmosphere.