Dutch’s is the newest–and very good–breakfast and lunch destination that’s already a hit with both the white-collar crowd in Portland’s central business district and with the city’s food savants who are flocking there for its delicious food.
Not that long ago, Portland was lucky to see one or two significant new restaurants open per year in our then-nascent dining scene. Now it’s a nonstop event as the locavore revolution spawns its far-flung brood. From big deals to small fries, the activity is more typical of much larger cities. Just in the last few months – from Slab, Sur-Lie, Tandem, Bao Bao, Bramhall, Ebb & Flow, and even the new goings on at the Miss Portland Diner (all reported on here) – the activity is still impressive with even more in the works for next year.
Now let me introduce you to Dutch’s, which opened on Preble Street last week. No, calm down. It’s not another small-plate gasbag, craft bar or Asian demigod but rather this rising star (aren’t they all?) is reaching for the moon in breakfast and lunch goodies. You won’t find wraps, tacos, pickled vegetable salads or ersatz egg sandwiches, but rather delicious, inventive food foraged for the comfort-food crowd by two well-credentialed chefs: co-owners Lucy and Ian Dutch.
My first impression of Dutch’s was OMG what a plain-Jane space! Vinyl-tile flooring the color of dishwater orange (definitely not the new black) and a few tables spread around a huge space, it bespoke the dank parlance of cafeteria grim.
As a luncheon tea room the feng shui challenged space would hardly appeal to the women’s weaving society. But, gee, talk about judging a book by its cover – its low key ornamentation belies the fabulously yummy food that’s beautifully prepared here.
Take the breakfast egg sandwich. This is the anaconda of egg-cheese-and-bacon-sausage sandwiches. I had mine on the flakiest buttery biscuit ever. Oozing with Cheddar and a delicious housemade sausage (or North Country bacon), the whole just melted away with every bite – the incredible rich tenderness of the biscuit shows how butter is always better.
Both Dutches have an impressive cooking background that has taken them from Belfast (where Ian is from) to San Francisco, Boston and Nantucket, working in top restaurants. Ian had a stint at many Boston establishments with such super-star chefs as Todd English and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Lucy cooked at Tartine, the renowned bakery and café in San Francisco. And before turning to Portland they were personal chefs for a wealthy Nantucket family who spent their summers on the island in a palatial seaside compound for whom the Dutches whipped up, I’m sure, many treats.
Lucy’s time with Tartine might account for the exquisiteness of her breads and pastries. Layers of butter define their incredible croissants or the brioche dough for the sandwich rolls. The all-butter fruit Danish would remind you of one from a Parisian patisserie. Speaking of butter, they make their own, taking pasteurized local cream, mixing it with buttermilk to form a culture until it cures several days later into a rich high-fat spread that they use on everything.
Another stand out is their croissant pastry dough that’s wrapped around a Pearl hot dog smothered in pimento-cheese and baked. I wasn’t familiar with Pearl hot dogs but I’ve since learned they’re from a highly regarded butcher and packager from Randolph, Massachusetts, known for their frankfurters and meats. It’s a highly smoked dog rather than the snout and snood variety (these dogs are not commonly found in Maine).
The crispy chicken sandwich became famous even before the shop opened. Ramblings in the food blogosphere witnessed so much chatter even before anyone took their first bite. As it turns out, pieces of confit chicken leg are battered and fried and served with bacon, cheddar, romaine and red-pepper jelly on a homemade brioche bun (though I thought it needed a bit more pepper jelly for moistening).
Another winner that I’m aching for is their chopped ham sandwich. Here the butt is prepared in the manner of barbecued pork and spread with pimento cheese and sandwiched on their Dutch crunch bread made by a special method to produce the crunchy texture.
The reason for the meager trappings at Dutch’s (excluding the very expensive gleaming stainless steel professional open kitchen) stems from city zoning that requires a dining establishment to have two rest rooms, which would then allow expanded seating capacity. Right now there’s only one unisex bathroom. That’s apt to change soon as Dutch’s coffers rise with its rabble of foodies and nibblers coming in from the cold.
Photos by John Golden