By now, you should know that I take my raw bars and seafood shops seriously. For as long as I can remember, I have loved perusing seafood markets, and admiring the colors and intricacies of the fish for sale. Growing up, I loved seeing spiraling octopi with their purple dotted tentacles, and sockeye salmon fillets with their deep saturated pink hue. I’ll admit it—shopping for food, especially seafood, will transform me from being mildly hungry to utterly ravenous. Many days, I’ll find myself driving to a seafood shop to pick-up a cut of fish for dinner, stopping at a raw bar on the way home for a quick bite, and maybe bouncing into a wine shop for a glass of wine on the fly. It would be amazing if that afternoon adventure could be merged into a single location.
I have been waiting for Portland to have a spot that combines a seafood shop with a raw bar – a little tease followed by a rewarding taste.
Finally, it has arrived.
The SoPo Seafood Raw Bar features a selection of local beers, craft cocktails, and a wine program intended to pair expertly with the shop’s seafood offerings. SoPo’s beverage program is designed by resident sommelier, Jen Lakari.
Last year I wrote an article entitled “From Maine, with Love: The Story of SoPo Seafood.” The article chronicled the rise of SoPo Seafood, a then-brand new Maine Fish Market, amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. When SoPo first started, the owners intended for it to be a wholesale seafood distributor for restaurants and chefs. However, when restaurants shut their doors in the winter of 2020, the team was forced to quickly pivot to direct-to-consumer sales.
SoPo could have easily gone under in its first year.
But it didn’t.
Instead, SoPo thrived. So much so, that the business was meeting its third year profit projections in its first year. On a weekly basis, the SoPo team was shipping out hundreds of pounds of the Atlantic coast’s most prized seafood to consumers across the country. Items such as scallops, haddock, lobster meat, and bluefin tuna became fast-selling favorites, and SoPo’s commitment to the highest quality seafood, impeccable customer service, and sustainable packing and shipping practices made them a legitimate player in the seafood industry.
The SoPo Raw Bar and Market features a rotating selection of oysters from at least 6 local farms. The goal of the oyster program is to showcase both new and veteran oyster farmers
The SoPo team realized they had a cult following in Southern Maine, with an increasing number of local folks driving to the business’s production center, located in the Biddeford Mills, to pick up seafood on a weekly basis. Casual inquiries like “are you going to open a retail store?” and “it would be really cool if you opened a raw bar!” became more frequent.
This local allegiance and inquiries revealed a gap in the seafood scene in Maine. While there are seafood shops and raw bars, there is no business that combines the two in a successful and aesthetically chic way. While the SoPo team was busy fulfilling orders for cross-country shipment, they quietly began designing a combined seafood retail space and raw bar in downtown South Portland.
The SoPo Seafood Raw Bar was designed by Janeen Arnold of Salt of Maine. The space draws inspiration from Maine’s rugged oceanic landscape, combined with Arnold’s trademark re-imagination of Scandinavian hygge design.
At the end of September 2021, SoPo Seafood burst onto the flourishing restaurant scene of South Portland’s Ocean Street. Yes, there is a place where you can buy your fish and eat it too. The retail market and raw bar, designed by Janeen Nicole of Salt of Maine, is the embodiment of Scandinavian hygge– a blend of minimalism and conviviality that draws inspiration from the ocean landscape. The space is beautifully lit—the sunlight bounces between the shop’s blue-grey floors, across the subway tile walls, and to boomerang off the white tin ceiling. All the while, the shop’s brilliant-hued seafood selections have their colors amplified in the incredible lighting. The space is designed to pull guests to the shop’s retail counter and raw bar, which are centrally located. The retail counter boasts a gorgeous display of the shop’s offerings, from bright orange salmon, ruby red Bluefin tuna, and plump handfuls of scallop. The raw bar showcases the shop’s rotating oyster and shellfish collection, with offerings spanning from the waters of Casco Bay to the Damariscotta.
While guests shop for seafood, they can pull up a seat at the SoPo raw bar for a cocktail and bite to eat. The raw bar menu is a culinary representation of what SoPo does best – a selection of Maine’s seafood delicacies deliberately designed to be accessible to the everyday patron. Hearty lobster rolls featuring delicious local claw and knuckle meat are served up alongside bowls of steamer clam chowder, garnished with a sprinkling of dulse seaweed flakes. The menu features a trio tasting of “seafood bites” intended amuse bouche portions of rotating seafood—from a Bluefin tuna crudo garnished with ginger and scallions, to a spoonful of buttery uni, to olive oil marinated scallops. Diners can choose to add a “caviar bump” to any of the shop’s oysters for a quick treat, or indulge in a sampling of a trio of the shop’s extensive caviar selection. For the purist, oysters are constantly being shucked out on the half-shell to be slurped with a pairing of Flora Prosecco or one of SoPo’s other beverage selections, expertly crafted by local sommelier Jen Lakari.
Probably the best thing about the SoPo Retail Market is the fact that patrons can walk right up to the retail counter and purchase all of the seafood they just indulged in at the raw bar. Love the Bluefin tuna crudo you had with your Prosecco? Grab it from the retail counter. Want to recreate the caviar and oyster sampling? The ingredients you need for your home are mere steps away.
The SoPo team intends to expand its raw bar menu with additional creations highlighting Maine’s pristine seafood. Tasting and seafood education opportunities are also in the shop’s future, with experiences such as oyster shucking classes, caviar tastings, and fishermen and aquaculturist meet-and-greet’s on the horizon.
If you’re visiting Maine, you absolutely must visit SoPo’s gorgeous raw bar and retail market on Ocean Street for a truly unique seafood experience. You might just see someone you recognize shucking oysters behind the raw bar on a Tuesday night.