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John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

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Posted: October 6, 2014

The Hash Report: Where to get great hash browns in Portland

Hash browns are not on many Portland breakfast menus whereas home fries are everywhere. Here’s a look at the best hash browns on the Peninsula.

Written by: John Golden

I’m not sure why, but hash-browns are given short shrift on breakfast menus around town. As one local chef explained it’s because they take up too much room on the flat top when you’ve got a high-volume breakfast business. I’m not sure if I buy that explanation. But so be it.

At the most popular breakfast/brunch outposts around Portland – Becky’s, Local 188, Bintliff’s, the Porthole, Caiola’s, Miss Portland Diner, and the venerable Front Room, to name a few – home-fries prevail while hash browns remain the proverbial wallflower aching for a chance to dance.

Hash browns or home fries?  Which is your favorite? These are the two examples as served at the Brunswick Diner

Hash browns or home fries? Which is your favorite? These are the two examples as served at the Brunswick Diner

I came upon this riveting discovery when MaineToday.com editor Shannon Bryan asked me where to get great hash browns.

And so I started my three-day bacchanal – on the prowl for hash browns. I didn’t limit my search to Portland, but discovered that it was slim pickings everywhere. Not even the holy grail of iconic diners like Moody’s, A1 or Maine Diner serve hash browns. I even explored the hinterlands in such joints as the beloved Thompson’s Restaurant in Bingham to no avail. The Brunswick Diner, however (as shown above), does offer a choice – but hash browns there are by request only and not listed on the menu.

Therefore, this will hardly be an exhaustive overview of hash browns because the field is so thin. Speaking of which, “thinness” is not an outcome of this research. And I offer three options for hash browns in Portland – sure as sugar to fatten you up for winter.

If you’re aiming for a berth at the fat farm then head over to Marcy’s Diner.  This breakfast-and-lunch-only avoirdupois kingdom features the reigning queen of the short order cooks – owner-chef Darla Neugebauer, who delivers on the motto “bigger is best.”

Regulars at Marcy's; hash browns in the works

Regulars at Marcy’s; hash browns in the works

Just watching her flip pancakes, eggs, hash browns (and home fries) is a marvel.  Her flat top sizzles with omelets sprawled wide next to piles of hash browns waiting to be tossed, turned and buttered into absolutely crispy, crunchy shredded potato critters.

Darla works the flat top at Marcy's Diner

Darla working the flat top at Marcy’s Diner

I placed my order for two eggs over easy, sausage links, Texas toast and hash browns. OMG!

“What,” Darla asked, “No hobo hash browns?”

Say what?

These were hash browns from the land of helluva-good gorging (or is it heaven?) mixed with jalapenos, onions and cheese that form a glistening shell over the swell of grated potatoes.

Star of the show, Marcy's hobo hash browns with eggs over easy, sausage and Texas toast

Star of the show, Marcy’s hobo hash browns with eggs over easy, sausage and Texas toast

They were so good and so rich I contemplated popping a Lipitor midway through the meal to halt lipid-count tizzies.

The way Darla makes them: She plops pounds of grated potatoes onto a well-oiled flat top and then drenches them with melted butter as they get turned over and over until the desired brown-crisp crust develops.

One of her regulars called out for well-done hash browns.

“Burn ‘em!” Darla calls out to her aide-de-camp.

In the hierarchy of hash browns these were memorable, easily scoring a first-place ranking.  That is until I went to breakfast the next day at Hot Suppa where brothers  Moses and Alex Sabina rule the roost of southern style diner-cafeteria grub that sticks everywhere up, over and around every part of your body like fat-on-a-stick.

I played it simple and ordered their least fussy breakfast called the Hollis, just your basic two eggs, toast, bacon and hash browns.

By 7:30 the ever popular Hot Suppa is nearly full on Saturday morning

By 7:30 the ever popular Hot Suppa is nearly full on Saturday morning

Oh these were five-star hash browns alright.  The mahogany-golden hued crisp of hash browns were beautifully displayed on the plate. And after the first bite they exhibited the perfect twist of crunchy-creamy goodness.  They’re made by baking local potatoes, then peeling and grating the baked potato before it’s put onto a heavily oiled flat top.  Because the potatoes are already cooked, the browning merely brings out the sweet starches all the more until the outer crust caramelizes and glistens.

The quintessential hash browns at Hot Suppa

The quintessential hash browns at Hot Suppa

To conclude my research and before heading over to the nearest men’s shop for a larger pair of pants, I needed one more place to assess.  So early on Sunday morning I scanned Portland’s list of breakfast-brunch spots for hash browns.  Only two other places served them: Piccolo (give me a break – Italian hash browns?) and Eve’s at the Garden at the Portland Harbor Hotel.

Piccolo’s Sunday brunch service does not start until 10:30 a.m. – too late because I had other activities planned (like leaf-peeping) – so at 7:30 a.m. I headed over to Eve’s. What a civilized room in which to have a quiet breakfast overlooking the still-leafy green garden patio outside.

The dining room overlooking the garden at Eve's is a sea of civility on Sunday morning

The dining room overlooking the garden at Eve’s is a sea of civility on Sunday morning

I chose an egg, cheese and ham on a croissant served with hash browns.

Chef Tim LaBonte’s take on this breakfast staple was austere compared to the others, as was the smallish serving size (but beware of the $6 coffee).  But the purity of his hash browns was sublime.  The potatoes are grated and fried in oil on the flat top.  No embellishment but just the pure golden essence of hash browns in all their gorgeous glory.

Excellent hash browns at Eve's accompanies ham and cheese croissant

Excellent hash browns at Eve’s accompanies ham and cheese croissant

And that, dear readers, concludes the Hash Report.

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