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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: September 29, 2015

Honest food, fair prices at Punky’s on Brighton Ave in Portland

Written by: Bob Keyes
Half turkey BLT on a fresh sub roll. Gordon Chibroski/ Staff Photographer

Half turkey BLT on a fresh sub roll. Gordon Chibroski/ Staff Photographer

Punky’s on Brighton Avenue is one of those places I’ve always meant to visit but never actually did until last week.

I remember it on Forest Avenue, and when I sauntered up the counter to order a breakfast sandwich last Friday, I asked — with equal parts ignorance and innocence — “You recently moved to this location, right?”

“About eight years ago,” the kind and forgiving woman behind the counter told me.

Oops. Like I said, my visit was overdue.

Browse all Maine’s watering holes and eateries: Maine Restaurant & Bar Directory

I’ve now been twice. In addition to my breakfast sandwich, I stopped in for lunch and ordered a beef stroganoff. Both were excellent, but what I appreciate more about this place is its work ethic. The food is homemade, prepared on site and with care and attention.

This is not fine dining. This is good, hearty food, served in plastic containers or wrapped in paper. When I came back for lunch, the parking lot was full and the line to order was eight people deep. Nearly every one was a guy, and nearly every guy looked like a construction worker or tradesman.

And those cars, panel trucks and pickup trucks that filled the lot were jammed with guys eating lunch on the go, while seated behind the wheel.

Customers from all walks of life order their to-go sandwiches and casserole specials. Gordon Chibroski/ Staff Photographer

Customers from all walks of life order their to-go sandwiches and casserole specials. Gordon Chibroski/ Staff Photographer

Another thing I appreciate about Punky’s are the prices. There’s a sign near the counter telling people the restaurant recently raised its prices because of a general increase in the cost of food. I spent $9.75 combined for breakfast and lunch. I think that’s fair and reasonable in today’s foodie culture.

My breakfast sandwich ($3.50) consisted of bacon, egg and cheese on a bagel. There was nothing remarkable about it, other than it was exactly what I wanted. I am used to a breakfast sandwich with one, maybe two strips of bacon. I didn’t count the number of strips, but it must have been four. Toasted on the grill — I know this, because I watched the cook — the bagel was chewy, the egg well cooked and not runny, and the cheese melted but not gooey. I ate it at my desk and appreciated that it wasn’t at all messy.

For lunch, I ordered the stroganoff, which was one of the daily specials ($6.25). I debated ham mac and cheese, Mexican casserole or turkey shepherd’s pie. All were presented under glass, and all looked fabulous. Truly, I could have flipped a four-sided coin and been happy with any one of my choices, by appearances. It’s worth noting, nearly everyone in line — all were regulars — ordered one of the specials, which were served in clear plastic containers filled to the absolute brim by a server who did nothing but spoon food from metal chafing dishes into to-go boxes. Punky’s advertises its specials daily on Facebook.

Punky’s also has a large menu of hot and cold sandwiches, roll-ups and fried foods. There are grocery items as well and several tables for dining-room seating.

I like places like this, because they are honest and predictable.

Not all of us are food adventurers. I like to know what to expect when I order lunch, which is not to say I don’t mind stepping out of my comfort zone now and then.

But we call it comfort food for a reason.


186 Brighton Ave., Portland | 207-773-8885 |
HOURS: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday
WAIT: About five minutes
PARKING: There’s a large lot, which was full when I stopped for lunch

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