Lewiston’s Forage Market sees Portland as ‘showcase’ for wood-fired bagels

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PORTLAND — A taste of Lewiston has arrived in the city, and the man bringing it expects customers to take a big bite.

“I knew we had exceptional bagels and could showcase them in Portland,” Forage owner Allen Smith said.

Following a soft opening on Aug. 11, Forage will open again Thursday, Aug. 16, at 123 Washington Ave., serving bagels and pastries.

Smith was in the closed shop Monday, prepping Thursday’s batch of bagels. It may not be complicated, but it is time-consuming work.

“It is really about how we culture natural leaven for our breads and bagels,” Smith said.

Then there’s the wood fire that bakes them, which Smith said adds a texture rarely found.

“Regulating the baking temperature takes a lot of control and attention,” Smith said. “But it gives the bagels a lot of character.”

Forage Market began in Lewiston about six years ago, and it has evolved and arrived in Portland as a bakery and cafe, Smith said.

Along the way, the bagels have generated a buzz, as Matthew Kronsberg of Saveur.com said in 2016, when he found Forage made some of the best bagels in America, while at the same time being astounded they were baked in Lewiston.

Before the oven is fired, Smith said dough made from flour, water, malt and salt is hand rolled into bagels. Forage uses its own wild yeast for leavening, and the bagels are refrigerated for two days before being placed in the oven.

“There was a lot of trial and error, years of self-teaching, and sometimes some serendipitous errors,” Smith said.

Forage in Portland also features a new brick oven with components made in Spain before it was assembled on site. Smith said he expects the oven to increase production four-fold.

The new oven is also different in that it has four rotating decks for baking and a separate firebox. Bagels baked in Lewiston are essentially next to the fire, Smith said.

After years of working in orchards and delivering cider, Smith also got a taste for farm-to-table production.

“We locally source as much as we can, and we do pretty well at it,” he said, noting local products sold at Forage come from Smiling Hill Farm and Casco Bay Butter. Other local sources can be found at www.foragemarket.com.

As the market business blooms in Portland, Forage customers will also be able to buy flowers grown at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough. The partnership developed about halfway through the construction process.

“I was thinking about selling flowers in a kind of cosmopolitan way,” Smith said, adding the front of the cafe was a good fit for the floral offerings, since it would not be used by customers otherwise.

The building was also once home to a wholesale florist.

In all, it took almost a year to open from the time Smith found the available space. Much of the shop had to be rebuilt for food service, even without installing the brick oven.

Now Smith is ready to take on new territory.

“This is a world-class venue for us,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Forage owner Allen Smith checks the new brick oven at the bakery/cafe on Washington Avenue in Portland on Aug. 13. Forage opens Aug. 16.

The entryway to Forage on Washington Avenue will become a flower shop and feature products from Broadturn Farm in Scarborough.

Forage, which first opened in Lewiston six years ago, will open a second bakery/cafe on Washington Avenue in Portland on Aug. 16.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.