These are the great blue-plate breakfast specials from greasy spoons to fine dining haunts in Portland
In the realm of American breakfasts, nothing beats the classic bacon and eggs (well, maybe buttermilk pancakes with wild Maine blueberries). But not all bacon-and-egg breakfasts are created equal as I discovered during my visits to some of Greater Portland’s more popular hangouts for that morning meal.
At each place I ordered bacon and eggs over easy with hash browns or home-fries and toast (white, whole wheat, rye, cinnamon raison, English muffin, buttermilk biscuit and Texas toast) for one inclusive price. I also purposely omitted sampling corned-beef hash because that’s another story altogether.
Generally the basic bacon-and-egg breakfast averaged $4.50 to $9.00, coffee being an extra $1.50 to $2.00 and sometimes hash browns or home fries can add another $2.00 to the bill. Occasionally some of these places offer specials that include the works at $4.50 to $4.99.
As a basis for comparison I deemed Becky’s Diner (which I did not visit because I know the menu all too well) as the archetypical breakfast joint: The eggs are cooked perfectly, the home fries have plenty of onion, black pepper, salt and other spices and are served crisp and browned and the bacon has good smoky flavor. At $5.75 the whole shebang is a good deal. Add coffee, glass of ice water and plenty of wait-staff sass, and it’s breakfast heaven.
Interestingly only one establishment served organic eggs, the rest being from institutional egg suppliers. And another surprise was how the eggs were cooked. For the most part these short-order breakfast chefs keep the egg whites soft—not crinkled or browned edged, more poached than fried.
Herewith is the rundown in order of descending excellence. Of bacon, eggs, toast and potato.
Hot Suppa. This popular morning hash house serves the absolute best hash browns. They’re a work of art–all crusty, just greasy enough and assertively seasoned. The egg whites, however, are too perfect—no crinkling and no browning in butter. Hot Suppa’s eggs, however, are local and organic. Still, the bacon was maple smoked and distinctive and the buttered raisin toast was a nice touch. But there’s so much more on the menu you might want to go for their special breakfast plates instead of the standard bacon and eggs. Bacon, 2 eggs and toast $4.50; hash browns $2.00
Marcy’s Diner. Darla, the chief cook and bottle washer at this Portland breakfast bastion, does her fried eggs—over easy or sunny side up—perfectly. I watched her prepare my order. The eggs will brown if you put them on a very hot flat top as Darla does, moving them around carefully to different parts of the grill until they’re done. She flips them with ease using a large spatula and effects that over easy patina without incident. Regarding how you like your eggs—snow-white whites or those with a brown edge—Darla says all you have to do is specify your preference . Without that her whites still come out crinkly and somewhat crisp. the hash browns were crusty and well spiced. I had a grilled English muffin (delicious) and the bacon (3 rashers) was fine. Bacon, home fries, toast and 2 eggs $6.00
Caiola’s. As the only fine-dining restaurant in the group, their bacon and eggs plate was the most expensive. Still, the eggs over easy had nice crispy edges, and the home fries were delicious with strands of caramelized onion. Also, the jam (raspberry) was not from a foil wrapped container. But I was very tempted to order from its regular brunch menu because Chef Abby Harmon’s inventive creations are hard to pass up, such as the salt cod cake eggs Benedict with home fries and spinach ($12.00). 2 eggs, bacon, home fries and toast $9.00
Brunswick Diner (101 Pleasant St., Brunswick). I often stop here on my way up the coast for an early morning breakfast. It tends to be inconsistent, though. Sometimes the hash browns are incredible cubes of crusty potato holding creamy flesh within. Other times they’re sappy. On this visit, the eggs were done well, the hash browns were just right—lots of crunch and good brown exterior and very well-seasoned. The bacon was standard issue. Bacon , 2 eggs, toast and home fries, $5.99
Uncle Andy’s Diner (171 Ocean Ave., South Portland) went under the knife of the Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible makeover. I don’t recall what the pre-renovation looked like, but if I didn’t’ know it was redone I wouldn’t know! But for the price this eatery serves a decent eggs, bacon, home fries and toast breakfast, which was on special at $4.95 the morning I was there. The eggs had some crinkle and browning and the home fries were big, tasty chunks of potatoes nicely browned. My toast of choice was a grilled biscuit—not a prize winner but good enough.