The legend goes that Diamond Jim Brady, a railroad executive and bon vivant who lived in New York City in the 1800s, could, according to Wikipedia, eat the following at a single dinner: a bowl or two of green turtle soup, a plate of crabs, about thirty oysters, six or seven lobsters, a couple of ducks, steak, terrapin, vegetables and a platter of French pastries. He was, in short, Joe Ricchio’s kind of guy.
Ricchio, the food editor of “Down East” magazine, has been eating and drinking his way across Maine for years, bringing to the table both a discriminating palate and a prodigious appetite. After finishing high school in Portland (he studied with the Jesuits at Cheverus), he started working in the shoe business and was transferred to Chicago. “As soon as I got there,” he says, “I found that the restaurant business was much more appealing to me with the cash and the lifestyle and the hours.”
Eating in Chicago brought an endless array of temptations, from street food to five-star restaurants. Ricchio, who had by then switched from shoes to bartending, threw himself into all of it with gusto. “Every now and then I’d have something like foie gras that would just sort of recalibrate my brain as far as what I thought I knew about food. The next thing you know, I just kind of took off. I would go to any neighborhood--the Vietnamese neighborhood, Chinatown, the Ukrainian village. I’d just try to eat at these little hole in the wall places and try everything I could get my hands on.”
After five and a half years in Chicago, Ricchio came home to Maine and started a blog called Portland Food Coma, a chronicle of eating and drinking that had little interest in the virtue of moderation. Countless hangovers later, the realization came that it might be time to ease up, and while the bar tabs have diminished Ricchio has lost none of his exuberance. One project that has moved forward in fits and starts is a collection of favorite dishes. “I was working on a cookbook called ‘The Handbook for the Modern Narcissist,’ “ he says, laughing. “But then I was starting to question if I really am narcissistic or not.”
If that book doesn’t come to fruition, he’s got another idea. “I’d also be happy,” he says, his laughter building, “to write Dungeons and Dragons, Game of Thrones-esque novels that incorporate all these elves and dwarves that are really into food.”