Monday, October 20, 2014

Breakfast in Portland, Maine

I want to thank everyone for all the lovely notes and emails about last week's Autumn Gatherings post.  I have more posts like it in the works, which I'll be sharing in November.  Lots has been going on behind the scenes at The Magpie's Fancy, so November will be a fun month around here.  And I haven't forgotten the Rome garden post.  Mr. Magpie and I are collaborating on that one.  We'll share it as Halloween approaches (she said mysteriously).

In the meantime, I promised some posts about the food scene here in Portland.  What better way to share links to the places I love than to think like a hobbit?  Today's post will be all about my favorite meal: Breakfast.  The next Portland food post will cover my second-favorite meal: Second Breakfast.  And then we'll move on to Elevensies, and so on.  I promise that none will disappoint.

What anyone visiting Portland, Maine, needs to know is that this little city packs a serious culinary punch.  I am only one of dozens of bloggers who are writing about it, and I don't pretend to know every single restaurant in the city.  That would be impossible.  To give you some context: Portland is a small town.  In 2013, its population was 66,318.  It may be small, but it's Maine's largest city, so it actually feels like a much more cosmopolitan place than its wee population would suggest.  And the number of restaurants per capita is, well, staggering.  Trip Advisor currently has ratings for 531 restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops in Portland, while Yelp lists 631.  If we go with the Yelp count, that's one food establishment for every 105 people!  No one I know who lives here can keep up . . . but that doesn't stop us from trying!

So, you see, I am going with the hobbit-y categorization of meals out of necessity.  This will give me room to list more of the wonderful food joints I love, beginning with the most important meal of the day.  For this first Breakfast post, I'll list some of my favorite places to find a big, leisurely brunch.  I'll reserve weekday breakfasts and breakfasts-on-the-go for the Second Breakfasts post.

  1. Artemisia  This is where I go when I'm craving a pretty setting and extremely fresh, creatively prepared food.  While the lunch and dinner at Artemisia are fabulous, too, this is my number one go-to spot for brunch.  What do I order?  Usually one of three dishes: the California omelet, huevos rancheros, or the eggs Florentine, a dish which comes on a homemade herb biscuit.  Located on Pleasant Street, just outside of the Old Port, Artemisia is a place most tourists never find, so we treasure it during the half of the year when our city is inundated with cruse ships and other visitors from away. 
  2. The Front Room  If you want the epitome of a local, neighborhood bistro, look no further.  When we lived in the East End, this was our Saturday morning home.  And now that we live off the peninsula, the Front Room is still one of our favorites.  Go early or be prepared for a wait (I could say this about every good breakfast place in the city), but the wait is worth it.  My favorite brunch dish here is the veggie gnocchi, with house-made gnocchi, spinach, grape tomatoes, two poached eggs, and hollandaise.  It's not light, though, so I often go for the granola and yogurt.  They bake all their own breads, and the ever-changing grilled breakfast breads make a great side--or a breakfast in their own right with some fruit.  The best thing about the Front Room is that they serve brunch every single day of the week, starting at 8 am.  Hallelujah.
  3. Hot Suppa  It doesn't get any more bustling than Hot Suppa on a Sunday morning.  This is the spot to cure whatever ails you, from a nasty hangover to a broken heart.  Order one of their killer-hot Bloody Marys, and soon all will be right with the world.  Most things at Hot Suppa have a bit of a Cajun twist.  I love their waffles and their crispy hash browns . . . oh, and their grits!  I also adore their oats, their 7-grain porridge, and their fruit plate with organic maple yogurt.  Mr. Magpie often orders the corned beef hash.  My favorite brunch beverage at HS is the Maine Maple Latte.  
  4. Caiola's  What the Front Room is to the East End Caiola's is to the West End: the kind of neighborhood brunch spot you want to call your very own.  Like most of the places on this list, it also serves fabulous dinners, but why not go for a long morning walk through the gorgeous Victorians of the West End and then treat yourself to pancakes at Caiola's?  Or an oyster po' boy?  Or smoked salmon croque monsieur with a beet and field greens salad?  This is comfort food with an elegant twist, and the perfect restaurant to go on a brunch date.
  5. Bayou Kitchen  This place has been one of our favorites for longer than I can remember.  It's the only one on this list that's located off the peninsula.  We loved it before we lived in the neighborhood, and now that it's close by, we love it even more for its Cajun-inspired breakfasts, incredibly friendly people, and its funky vibe.  Mr. Magpie gets the hash (he likes things besides hash, I promise) and I often get the gator eggs (scrambled eggs with fixin's--for me that's spinach and feta).  And this time of year they've got pumpkin cornbread, which is a happy thing, indeed.  If you like pancakes, this is a great spot for them.  If you're craving crawfish and jambalaya, you'll be in heaven.
  6. Marcy's Diner  Old school downtown diner.  This is a cash-only kind of place--the place your dad brought you on a Saturday morning for a muffin and a hot chocolate back in the day.  The wait is long . . . for a reason.  Very reasonable prices and good, solid food.  The raspberry muffin is huge and sweet and loaded with crumb topping.  You know you want one.  Be sure to get it grilled.  This place will fill you with nostalgia of the very best kind.
  7. The Holy Donut  Okay, okay, I know Holy Donut is a donut shop and not exactly a brunch joint, but in the immortal words of Icona Pop, "I don't care.  I love it."  Their donuts are made with Maine potatoes, and yes, the do have some gluten-free, and yes, they do have some vegan ones, too.  And yes, they are every bit as lovely as the regular ones.  This place deserves a spot on all Portland breakfast lists.  Go there.  Get the dark chocolate sea salt.  While you're at it, grab a pomegranate glazed.  You're welcome.
After brunch, head to Deering Oaks Park.  On Saturday there's the Farmers' Market to enjoy (hello, smoothies!).  Sometimes we skip brunch and just get donuts at Holy Donut, then we head to the market.  


  1. Oooooo , curiouser and curiouser. I am intrigued and look forward to Halloween with a Roman flavour !!
    …. and, those doughnuts take me back to the first time we visited the US …. there was always coffee and doughnuts of every flavour for free, down in the reception of every hotel that we stayed in !!! …. something that I never have at home but ate every morning when holidaying in the States…... When in Rome !!!!!!! haha. XXXX

    1. Oh, I think you will love the Rome post, Jackie! Definitely up both our alleys.

      I don't really like most donuts, but the ones at Holy Donuts are truly incredible. I think it's the potatoes in the dough!

      Thanks for stopping by, my friend! xo


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