Of all the hoaxes pulled on humanity, the infernal taste-bud map takes the cake. It turns out the idea that certain areas of the tongue specialize in different tastes is a complete misunderstanding — based, like so many mistakes, on poor translation from the German. In truth sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and savory can all be appreciated with the whole palate. It boggles the mind to have believed a lie about something so central to the core of human experience.
|MAPLE’S GELATERIA | 151 Middle St, Portland | 207.774.2665 | Visa/MC|
MOUSSE CAFE AND BAKESHOP | One Monument Way, Portland | 207.822.9955 | Visa/MC
OTHERS | 15 Monument Sq, Portland | 207.874.7411 | no credit cards
Nothing has suffered so deeply from this misapprehension as sugar. We were all taught that only the front of the tongue tastes sweets. Why risk the useless spike in blood glucose, the flirtation with obesity, and tooth decay, for a pleasure so shallow that only the tip of your tongue bothers to get involved? If you are going to sell your soul to this white devil you should get something good for it.
In believing the tongue map we have done sweets a disservice. I visited three downtown shops to seek a newfound appreciation for the deployment of sugar. Maple’s, Mousse, and Others, all within a cookie toss of each other, have three distinct personalities. Maple’s, above Videoport, is the newish location of the organic bakery and gelato shop formerly on Forest Avenue. While the space is bright and much-windowed, its location next to a hallway gives it a bit of an inside-the-mall feel. There are a few tables, some comfy couches, and a corner designed to tempt children to play. Others, on Monument Square, has a sort of scrappy feel appropriate to a business that donates a significant percentage of its profits to charity. Its few tables are clothed with coffee sacks and Guatemalan throws, and there are some nice benches out front. The friendly proprietor is often behind the counter working on his laptop in business attire. Mousse, just a few steps away, is the newest. Though it’s a breakfast-and-lunch place, the bakery and gelato cases dominate half the room. The upbeat brown-shirted staff works efficiently under the supervision of the young head baker.
Beginning with a classic, I tried the brownies at all three. I was disappointed by the thin bar sold at Maple’s. It was a bit dry and its chocolate flavor was more hyper-sweet than rich. The brownie at Others, also thin, seemed to achieve its moistness partly through undercooking. The result was a bit like a cross-section of molten chocolate cake gone cold. We had suspicions it was vegan. Mousse’s brownies — the thickest of the bunch — were also the moistest. While the chocolate flavor was more sugary than dark, the interior had a dense, fudge-like consistency.
I turned to the lemon bar, another item offered at all three spots. This time Maple’s had the best version — baked as a little pie with a flakey crust. The creamy filling sought a golden mean, both less sweet and less tangy than the others. Though the texture was similar, the flavors of the bar from Mousse hit sharper notes of both sugar and lemon. The crust beneath was crunchy, dense, and candy sweet. The bar at Others was sort of gummy and the crust was pasty.
But Others made up for it with an outstanding coffee gelato. It achieved a rich, well-rounded, full flavor without any bitterness. The same flavor at Maple’s had less of a distinctive roasted bean flavor. But the chocolate had a nice dark Valrhona quality, and I liked that the coconut flavor offered a good chew without being so sweet as to overwhelm the fruit. Mousse serves fresh ice-cream still soft from the chilled churn. The coffee had an espresso-bean heavily roasted flavor. The blood-red orange flavor had a sherberty, old-fashioned Creamsicle sort of appeal.
So while the results were mixed these downtown sugar-shops offer some good ways to coat your tongue in sweetness and really savor it. Nature invested a lot in placing a huge, wet, vulnerable cavity in the middle of our cranium. So let’s take advantage of what is inside it.
Brian Duff can be reached at email@example.com.
On the Web
MAPLE’S GELATERIA: www.maplesorganics.com