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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: August 1, 2017

St. Joe’s Coffee in York beckons with beignets and monster breakfast sandwiches

Written by: Bob Keyes
The counter and menus at St. Joe's Coffee in York. Staff photos by Bob Keyes

The counter and menus at St. Joe’s Coffee in York.
Staff photos by Bob Keyes

It usually doesn’t take three trips to get the feel of a place that is up for review. One time usually does it, or twice if I really like something and want to try it again, but that’s more often for selfish indulgence and not because the review demands more consideration.

Three times must mean I really, really like it.

St. Joe’s Coffee in York is such a place. Portlanders may be more familiar with St. Joe’s Coffee in Scarborough, which for several years has lured breakfast crowds with a sugar-coated fried dough known as a beignet or, here, a “bennie,” as well as its monster breakfast sandwiches. St. Joe’s Coffee in York started the craze when it opened in 2009 among a cluster of businesses on Route 1 just south of the connector to the Maine Turnpike. Breakfast lines have been queuing up here early and often for many years.

The draw may well be the bennies, which the Boston Globe described in a review two years ago as “warm, sugar-dusted bites of deep-fried dough.” They’re like doughnut holes for adults, with dipping sauces of chocolate, blueberry and cinnamon.

Warm bennies are fantastic and served in quantities of four, eight or 12. But it’s the breakfast sandwiches that bring me back. A more accurate description is a buttermilk breakfast meal. This is not food-on-the-go, to be gulped one bite at a time at red lights. Each sandwich is an inclusive meal, and demands your attention — and two hands.

I stopped recently as I set out for a day trip Down East. It was Friday morning, and I knew the traffic would be stout. I wanted to eat before heading out, so I could get ahead and stay ahead of the traffic.

St. Joe’s was crowded when I arrived, as it always seems to be. A large group waited for their food outside, occupying chairs arrayed near the entrance. Two or three couples were ahead of me waiting to order. A few others were lingering on their feet, awaiting their food.

There’s a certain protocol to the human flow inside the coffee shop, and it’s a bit counter-intuitive. The menu board is right by front door when you walk in, in front of a counter where the cooks prepare your food. It’s natural to pause there, to consider the menu, and assume that’s where you order.

But you actually order a few feet down to the left. That creates a bottleneck, and when it’s crowded, it’s chaotic. You can always tell who has been there before, because they know what they want and where to line up. During each of my recent visits, I observed other people who were confused about where to go, which line to stand in and where to wait while the food is being prepared.

The Patty Joe breakfast sandwich at St. Joe's Coffee, with biscuit, egg, cheese, sausage and hash brown.

The Patty Joe breakfast sandwich at St. Joe’s Coffee, with biscuit, egg, cheese, sausage and hash brown.

I opted for the Patty Joe, a biscuit with sausage, American cheese and hash brown, served on a homemade buttermilk biscuit with omelet-style eggs. It’s an amazing meal, and probably an injustice to suggest it’s a breakfast sandwich. Even folded over on itself, the egg draped over the edge of the biscuit. It was layered with a nice hash brown and sausage patty and a piece of cheese that melted with the warmth of biscuit.

Wrapped in paper and foil, it’s somewhere between the size of a baseball and softball and has similar heft. It’s substantial, and can be best appreciated sitting down at a table with plenty of napkins. At times, I wished for a fork.

Most people take their sandwiches to go, but there is a large seating area adjacent to where you order and pick up your food and drinks. It’s reasonably comfortable, but both times I’ve sat there it’s been messy and haphazard.

I began eating my biscuit by nibbling around the edges, biting off the overhanging egg before wrapping my maw around the entire thing. I liked everything about it; it was savory and substantial, and completely satisfying and filling, but what I liked most was the sausage and biscuit. I spent five years in Georgia as a young adult and learned to appreciate the succulence of a well-made breakfast sandwich, where the still-hot soft biscuit matches the sweetness of a sausage patty or slice of ham.

The biscuits at St. Joe’s are just as good as the biscuits that linger in my mind from all those years ago. There are many choices, including a plain egg and cheese ($3.50), the Popeye with spinach, tomatoes and feta ($4.50), and the not-so Little Joe with ham, bacon and sausage ($4.95). There are bagels, doughnuts and other breakfast options, as well.

ST. JOE’S COFFEE

WHERE: 449 Route 1, York, 362-4682; stjoesyork.com
HOURS: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily
WAIT: It’s usually pretty quick, but can be between five and 10 minutes.
PARKING: On site
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes

 

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