If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it one thousand times… brunch is by far my favorite meal of any day. Heavy, filling, and unabashedly obvious in its ability to set any day straight (especially when accompanied by a good cup of coffee). Living in a town like Portland, there’s no shortage of places to grab a mid-morning bite, but that’s probably what surprised me most when Meredith suggested that we try the brunch at Pai Men Miyake one morning a few weeks back.
Don’t get me wrong, Meredith and I are huge fans of Pai Men – its lunch is hands-down one of the tastiest deals in town and its beer list and cocktail menu are very far from wanting – it had just never occurred to me that their hardly-advertised brunch could live up to the lofty bar set by their other specialties.
Brunch at Pai Men Miyake is far from your typical pancake and egg pick me up. They have them, just with enough Miyake flair to make you forget that you’re sticking with an old-fashioned staple. The Okono Miyake – Japanese egg pancakes with Miyake farm pork, cabbage, scallions, ginger, fried egg, and topped with kewpie mayo and tonkatsu sauce – was deliciously flavorful. Every bite was a savory surprise, playing tricks on my traditional pancake-trained mind. Meredith loved her fried rice with bok choy, chinese chives, ginger, and a Miyake farm poached egg, and after we added a cup of always-amazing Tandem coffee, brunch at Miyake had easily been cemented in our minds as a new Portland brunch must.
Portland, Maine 04101
In an attempt to improve upon my writing for Map & Menu, I picked up a copy of Elements of Style and quickly found out that for every blog post I write, I use approximately twenty or so exclamation points more than I should be using. In my defense, it simply shows how excited I am to write about the places we visit and the things we eat, and I have to tell you, a post about brunch at Gather, written by yours truly, really deserves no less than 30 exclamation points! Thirty overly excited sentences would almost perfectly indicate just how enthralled I was with our Sunday morning brunch experience there, but I’ll try for the sake of proper writing style, to contain myself. (For those that don’t care about said proper writing style, just replace the period at the end of each of the following sentences with the exclamation mark I originally intended to use.)
Gather, in nearby Yarmouth, has been on our local must-try list since it opened in September. Located inside a historic Masonic Hall in the darling village of Yarmouth, Gather concentrates on locally sourcing as many of their ingredients as possible – their motto is even “farm fresh eatery” and the list of local farm suppliers prominently displayed on the wall only reinforces their mission.
The moment I walked through the door, I was completely enamored with the space. How could I not be? The focal point of the great hall is a 16-foot farm table with potted green centerpieces, flanked by black Marais bistro chairs, and set underneath rustic lights. From there, the eyes are instantly drawn to the open kitchen located on a stage. A stage! The space is unlike anything we have in Portland right now, and the communal atmosphere of the open kitchen and long farm table reminded me of a few of the Pacific Northwest restaurants for which I felt the same immediate attraction – Clyde Common, Oddfellows, and Sitka & Spruce.
When I finally moved on from obsessing over the space (poor Michael), our food arrived, bringing something new on which to fixate my excitement. The food was incredible! Instead of scarfing down my root vegetable hash like I really wanted to, I made an effort to take it slowly so I could taste each vegetable used in the hash, mixing in a bite of creamy scrambled eggs here and there. Michael made his veggie benedict not-so-veggie by ordering a side of pork sausage, but judging by the way he sopped up his eggs, hollandaise, and spinach (the first of the year, none the less) with the piece of thick sourdough toast, I’d say that the sausage (which he polished off with a similar vigor) was just icing on the cake.
Throughout our meal, we couldn’t help talking about how amazing a place like Gather would be in our own neighborhood and how clearly envious we were that Yarmouth gets to play home to this tasty gem. I’m already looking forward to our next meal at Gather, and all of the exclamation marks I’ll be able to use on the subsequent review!
Yarmouth, Maine 04096
When Meredith purchased her copy of Where Chefs Eat, the first thing she did was flip to the pages about Maine and make a mental note of the thirteen locations – a number of which we’d already visited, and a few which we’d yet to go. Third on that list was Sam Hayward’s breakfast recommendation of Boynton-McKay Food Co. in Camden, where one finds “the finest doughnuts in Maine, totally unencumbered by surface gloop or inner sludge. Plain and perfect.” A Sam Hayward recommendation, Camden, breakfast, doughnuts? Sounds like a perfect recipe for a Map & Menu breakfast.
There’s just something about local breakfast spots that always bring a smile to my face. Growing up, almost every Saturday my dad would take me to our town’s local diner – Mozingo’s – where the owner greeted you by name from the grill when you walked through the door, the waitresses knew your order by heart, and conversations with friends in the booth next to yours could make breakfast a morning-long event. Boynton-McKay has just that home-grown appeal when you step in off the streets. Maybe it’s the century of history as Camden’s pharmacy, evident in the original shelving stocked with vintage bottles and tools, the spontaneous conversations between neighbors at the booths and window seats, or the inherent trust in remembering what you ordered as you checkout at the counter, but every part of Boynton-McKay felt wonderfully welcoming and familiar, even though it was just our first trip.
The other essential part of every local breakfast spot is of course, the food. At the back of the restaurant, under the blackboard menu, Meredith ordered a skillet breakfast with eggs, home fries, jack cheese, and fresh vegetables, and I went the fresh buttermilk pancakes route with real maple syrup, turkey sausage, and two of those absolutely amazing homemade doughnuts. My pancakes were amazing – thick, plate-sized, and spongey enough to soak up every last savory drop of maple syrup – just the way I like them. Meredith gobbled up every bit of her skillet breakfast, and those doughnuts disappeared in almost record time. Although I felt like I could sit and stay for the entire day, we were ultimately in and out in less than an hour!
One of the saddest parts of always thinking about the next place to Map & Menu is having to move past the ones you’ve already visited. I think that Boynton-McKay will have to be the exception to the rule however, because now I can’t even begin to imagine a trip to Camden without a breakfast here.
Camden, Maine 04843
Meredith and I have always enjoyed the excellent design and ambiance of Vignola – with it’s large picture windows, exposed brick walls, cool Edison-style lighting, wine bottle fixtures, and ivy covered exterior, it’s a pretty excellent setting for a meal – but we hadn’t visited in quite a while, so when we heard that it had merged with its sister restaurant, to become Vignola Cinque Terre, we couldn’t resist dropping in for a little Sunday brunch to see how things had changed.
In a derivation of a good friend’s saying for choosing gifts for their birthday – “shop early, avoid the rush” – Meredith and I are big fans of “eat early, avoid the rush”. Especially when it comes to a Map & Menu meal, this typically ensures a great table, and the freedom to move about to get pictures of the meal and space without strange looks from other patrons. This morning was no different, and although 10am is far from the earliest we’ve eaten a brunch for Map & Menu, getting to Vignola Cinque Terre right at opening gave us a fantastic seat in the corner, by the window, and gave Meredith pretty much free reign to do her thing in such a cool space.
Enough about the space. I think I can easily speak for both of us when I say that we were absolutely floored by our brunch on this particular Sunday. Meredith ordered the apple and cinnamon stuffed French toast, which was so guilt-inducingly sweet that it probably should’ve just been labeled as a dessert (though I don’t think that would have stopped her from ordering it). And on the other side of the spectrum, I couldn’t have been happier with my oh-so-savory poached eggs with grilled house ham, tomato conserva, foccacia toast, and a herb hollandaise. Both meals were prepared with an attention to detail that can sometimes be overlooked when it comes to brunch comfort foods, and saying that we left that day with a smile on our faces is somewhat of an understatement – we’ll definitely be adding Vignola Cinque Terre to the list of go-to brunches in town.
Portland, Maine 04101
What better way to treat yourself after running a 5k, than to grab some brunch from one of your favorite restaurants in town? That’s exactly the sentiment Meredith and I held after running the Bayside Trail dog friendly 5k last weekend, so after we had showered and changed, we turned back around to grab a bite from Petite Jacqueline without any of the typical big-brunch calorie guilt.
We started with the Pain Perdu, the 2-day soaked real french toast. A little fluffier than our all-time favorite Pain Perdu at Caiola’s, around the corner, it was a perfectly sweet way to kick off our celebratory meal. Meredith ordered a Croque Madame (a gourmet ham and cheese, with ham, gruyere, mornay, and fried egg) to follow – it was fantastic, as I think I stole at least half of it right off her plate. I decided to try the Hachage Agneau (braise lamb hash with two poached eggs, homefries, hollandaise, and toast), and couldn’t have been happier than my selection.
Meredith and I love Petite Jacqueline and brunch almost as much as we love Orvis (if you know us, you know just how much that means), and if the only requisite for a guilt-free brunch is a 5k, Meredith might make a runner out of me yet.
Portland, Maine 04101
It’s no secret that Meredith and I love a good brunch, so when we woke up on Sunday morning and decided to go out instead of staying in, it took just minutes for us to get up and out the door, and head to Local 188.
We’d always enjoyed Local for its drinks and dinners in the past, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that our good friends Darcy and Carolyn introduced us to what has quickly become one of our favorite brunch menus in town. The eclectic setting and warm natural light of Local 188 lends itself perfectly to that at-home, comfortable feel that is required of every great brunch location. Their morning cocktails and tasty menu, all at an unbeatable value, just drive the point on home that Local should be at the top of every Portlander’s brunch list.
On this trip, we fought the urge to split the Raspberry and Chocolate Chip (plate-sized) Pancake special as a starter, and opted to keep it simple. Meredith ordered the Scramble Special with tomato, basil, and feta, and I stuck with my usual eggs, homefries, english muffin, and a side of bacon. The eggs at Local 188 seem to always just hit the spot, and there’s something uniquely unmatched about a buttery, toasted english muffin. (I’m now craving breakfast at 10pm while writing this.)
I washed it all down with a number of cups of coffee and Meredith chose to treat herself to a London Grey (Earl Grey tea, simple syrup, gin, and lemon juice) that was the perfect meld of breakfast and fun, and we decided that the meal had left us in just the right mood for a spontaneous autumn trip to the towns of Wiscasset and Alna. I can’t think of a better way to start a Sunday.
Portland, Maine 04102
It’s no secret that the East End’s Blue Spoon restaurant is one of Meredith and my absolute favorites in Portland – I’m pretty sure that it was the first place we covered on Map & Menu – and I don’t try to hide the fact that brunch is probably my favorite meal of the day, so by mixing the two, you’re pretty much guaranteeing a recipe for Map & Menu success.
Open summer weekend mornings are a rarity in our home. Between travel and weddings, we find that we’re seldom in Portland and not completely exhausted on the Saturday and Sunday mornings that many restaurants set aside for brunch. Fortunately, the stars recently aligned, and Meredith and I found ourselves with a completely free weekend before our trip to France, so we jumped on the opportunity, took advantage of a kind gift from Mere’s sister, and had ourselves a delightful morning in town.
I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t slightly upset by the fact that only two bites into her sour cream and blueberry pancakes, Meredith exclaimed that they might have been the best pancakes of her life – I spent the first 4 years of our relationship trying to implement a messy, Sunday morning pancake tradition (that eventually died when we moved across the street from Scratch Baking Company) – but I sampled a few bites, and she was right, I have no future in opening a pancake restaurant. I didn’t fair any worse, with my delicious breakfast platter of two perfectly-cooked eggs, some vegetable home fries, sourdough toast, and a heaping serving of the same bacon that makes their BLT one of the best I’ve ever had.
I’d have to say that we couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend such a valuable Saturday morning, and I can only hope that after wedding season, weekend brunches become our newest tradition.
Portland, Maine 04101