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Meredith Goad

Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.

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Posted: February 19, 2018

Bayou Kitchen delivers flavor, fun and fire

Written by: Meredith Goad

Exterior sign of The Bayou Kitchen on Deering Ave. in Portland

Photos by Meredith Goad

Portland has a lot of trendy new breakfast and brunch spots, but none of them have the character and following of one of the city’s old favorites, Bayou Kitchen.

Tucked into a corner of the Woodfords neighborhood, across the street from Big Sky Bread Co., this little Cajun-inspired restaurant serves a wide variety of breakfast and lunch fare, from cinnamon bun pancakes – a special on the day I recently visited – to jambalaya and an omelet that’s filled with crawfish, Andouille sausage, jalapenos and cheddar cheese.

I had not been to Bayou Kitchen in years because, well, I’m not sure why. Maybe because I know the tiny restaurant has a long wait and scarce parking on weekends. Maybe because it’s always just a touch more tempting to check out the newest, hottest place in town. But then, as I searched for a current menu online, I ran across this online review:

“I was supposed to go on a date for breakfast here, but my girlfriend broke up with me right before. I still went. Sat alone. Don’t even remember ordering. But I believe, through grief, I compulsively ordered everything that looked good. Omelettes. Pancakes. Jambalaya. Cornbread. My sweet Jesus, the cornbread. That cornbread mended my broken heart. I ate my sadness, and washed it down with maple syrup, coffee, and OJ. Thank you, Bayou Kitchen. Thank you. And God Bless you. God. Bless. You. All.”

After that, how could I resist?

I avoided the weekend issues by dropping in at 8 a.m. on a random weekday, just an hour after the door opened. My timing was perfect. There was only one couple at a table and one or two people sitting on diner-style stools at the counter overlooking the open kitchen. The server who met me at the door and immediately engaged in some friendly banter – Ryan, I think his name was – told me I could sit anywhere, and I chose one of the small tables for two. A “Welcome Friends” sign, hanging just above a giant alligator draped in Mardi Gras beads, and a shelf filled with dozens of bottles of hot sauce set the tone. The cook, wearing a Bayou Kitchen T-shirt and a do-rag, sang along to the radio as he made a couple of eggs over easy on the griddle to top an order of huevos rancheros.

Those cinnamon bun pancakes (with cream cheese icing!) were tempting, but I am more of a savory breakfast person. The savory options on the menu (nearly everything seems to cost right around $10) had the most Cajun flare, but I didn’t want anything too spicy that early in the morning. So I went with a dish where I could easily control the spice level by taking advantage of the two bottles of hot sauce on the table – Captain Mowatt’s Canceaux Sauce and Lost Woods for, the bottle says, “when ‘just hot’ isn’t enough.” I ordered an omelet that was filled with the hash, grilled onions and Swiss cheese, and this is where Ryan started having some fun with me. The omelet was called the Smokin’ Caterpillar, and – setting me up for all the choices I was going to have to make – he immediately asked me “hookah or pipe?” Then he went off on some kind of game show riff. (Ordering was fun, but a little frustrating too when you have no idea what your server is talking about at first.)

Breakfast comes with your choice of toast, grits, home fries, or rice and beans. I chose grits and, instead of toast, opted for blueberry cornbread. The other two choices were traditional or jalapeno cornbread.

The Smokin’ Caterpillar omelet with grits and blueberry cornbread.

It seemed as if no more than 5 minutes had passed before the cook himself brought my order over to me, piping hot, while my server was practicing his stand-up routine at another table. The omelet looked a foot long and was filled with hash made with beef, small cubes of potato and grilled onions, all covered in melted Swiss cheese. It was delicious, if a touch bland, like the grits that were perfectly cooked but needed salt. Everything seemed under-seasoned, and I wondered if that had been done on purpose so the food could be a kind of blank canvas for varying tolerances to heat. Because when I picked up the salt shaker on my table, the gesture made me reach for the hot sauce as well.

The blueberry cornbread was buttery and crispy on the griddled side and a great alternative to toast. I could see how it wouldn’t be a bad cure for a broken heart.

BAYOU KITCHEN

WHERE: 543 Deering Ave., Portland; 774-4935, thebayoukitchenmaine.com
HOURS: 7 a.m. to around 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to around 2 p.m. Sunday
WAIT: Depends on the day you visit, but when it’s not too crowded, maybe 5 minutes.
PARKING: On street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

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