Bring Me a Higher Brunch
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
My mom made a comment recently that, while obvious, hadn't really crossed my mind all that much: "Everyone is doing brunch now" And she's right! From Thai restaurants to dive bars, everyone is whipping out their Sunday best for Sunday brunches all across Portland. While it goes without saying that Portland is at the height of its foodie city status, brunch is the meal taking center stage so far this year. If 2018 was the year of Portland's foodie coronation, then 2019 is its victory lap. With that being said, here are my top new brunch spots in and around the Portland area and why they deserve a place on your weekend calendar.
I have to admit, I hadn't been to Isa until about a month ago. It was for a friend's birthday and acted as the perfect excuse to brunch it up at, what I considered to be, some fancy digs. I was always intimidated by the air of pomp, despite having heard whispers on the wind that the croque madame was otherworldly. So when I finally popped in to try it, needless to say, the hype was more than deserved. Not only did I get my croque madame, but even had the choice to add either a chicken OR duck egg on top. Knowing me, I bet you can guess what I chose.
On top of getting my dream dish, I had what may have been the booziest, but most delicious spiked coffee I've ever had. (The Hot Boozy Mexican Coffee - Tequila, Kahlúa, cardamom syrup, and a splash of cream) Partner that with a charming French-style bistro interior and two owners who worked the NYC food scene (one with a background in French cuisine), you have yourself one of the finest brunch experiences in town. Clearly, because we were twenty minutes early and line was forming down the block!
Bao Bao Dumpling House
Bao for breakfast? Is this real life? Thankfully, it doesn't get much realer this side of the Piscataqua when it comes to dim sum-style brunch. Bao Bao Dumpling House has been around 2014, but only recently have they begun to serve brunch on Sundays from 10:30-3. As explained on their website, "dim sum is a traditional style of Chinese cuisine and dining featuring small plates and steamed dishes presented tableside". There is a special kind of delight that comes from a little metal cart of food being wheeled right up to your table. You feel so spoiled with the large selection of both cold and hot plates, it's hard to pick one thing over the other.
So my recommendation: get it all! (If you can, obv don't go ham just for the sake of it) Their cold cart features such treats as somen noodle salad, smashed cucumber and pressed tofu. While the hot cart is bursting with plump filled dumplings, including char siu buns, lo mo gai and shao mai. The dim sum brunch feels like such a natural extension of the dinner service, unique in its own way but carries all the flavors and level of quality you've come to expect from Bao Bao over the years. Save it for a cool Sunday morning and you'll warm right up!
If you can't tell already, I've got a thing for dumplings. Another new addition to the brunch scene and definitely one of the heavy hitters is Cheevitdee's Thai breakfast-brunch selection. As stated on their menu:
In Thailand, breakfast food is not set in stone like in America. You can find anything to eat in the morning, just like you would at night. But there are dishes that are extremely popular in the early morning. Those dishes are not well known in the United States. We believe that those missing experiences would be welcome in Portland, Maine.
Oh, they are more than welcome. In fact, I can't believe there was a time in my life where I didn't know Thai breakfast. I counted the days for when Cheevitdee would make their brunch available, and when it was, I wasted no time in getting my buns in there. The pictures I'd seen of tantalizing dumplings, perfectly-cooked eggs and fluffy porridge had me drooling from day 1, and it did not disappoint. I got brunch set #1, which included kai kata (Thai-styled sunny side up eggs in a pan), shumai (shrimp and pork dumplings) and pathongko (Thai fried donut).
I all but inhaled my meal. Whereas some brunch meals in America, like eggs benedict or hash, can not only be generous in portions but also in richness, everything in my Thai breakfast was perfectly sized. Nothing was too filling, but everything packed amazing flavor that kept me satisfied. And don't get me started on the dipping sauce that came with the Thai donut. I never thought a custard made from pandan leaves would be so world-changing. And aside from the flavors, we are extremely lucky to be introduced to a selection of cuisine that is otherwise non-existent in Maine. I can definitely agree with Cheevitdee's menu when they say this food is under-appreciated in the States and our little corner of the world is lucky to have it.
Three Dollar Deweys
You thought you were gonna get away without me including Dewey's on this list? Get outta heeeeeere. (I mean it's a pretty good excuse to use my Mug Club mug for day drinking) The Dewey's of old didn't have a brunch menu. So when word got out that they were now serving brunch, I saw a lot of heads quirk. Brunch, at Dewey's? That divey bar? Yes, that divey bar. I think the new Dewey's has done a very good job at carving out its place in the ever-evolving food scene in Portland, while simultaneously holding onto that gritty charm that attracted us all to it in the first place.
Like with their primary menu, the new brunch menu has taken it up a notch. Toad in the Hole, corned beef hash...Dewey's knows what's up. Though a bit small, there's a lot of flavor packed in the limited brunch menu that is sure to grow over time. Oh, and did I mention breakfast margaritas? Because breakfast margaritas. Go get you some.
And that's just where I've been recently! There's still a number of places on my radar in and around the Southern Maine area (Food for Thought, The Duckfat Friteshack, etc) I see a bright future ahead of brunch in Portland for 2019. We've already been introduced to so many new cuisines to try and methods of curing hangovers that I'm excited to see what the future brings! Truthfully I want somewhere to serve a brunch that dumps every brunch item into a giant trough for me to eat. Yes, like a pig trough. Yes, you can see what I'm trying to say about my appetite. This Franimal's hunger for brunch cannot be quelled!