A few weeks ago, Meredith and I found ourselves needing a good excuse to leave the house and do some last minute Christmas shopping, so we did what all food-loving Portlanders should and decided to make a brunch date out of it. We already have a number of go-to brunch spots in town, but given that every other experience we’ve had at Central Provisions – from drinks through dessert – has been outstanding, we thought we’d see if the same held true for my own favorite meal of the day, the coveted breakfast-lunch tweener spot. To be honest, it wasn’t even a contest. Warm and gooey skillet cornbread, crispy and savory scrapple, and a ham and cheese slider that absolutely blew my mind helped make our meal one of the best brunches I can remember, moving Central Provisions right to the top of our favorite Portland brunches, alongside Piccolo and a handful of others. Now, it’s only a matter of finding another flimsy excuse to return soon…
Meredith and I don’t consider ourselves food critics or traditional reviewers in any way. Map & Menu was started simply to share the places to eat, things to do, and places to visit we’ve come to love from our home in Portland and elsewhere among our travels. We share them in hopes that other people will find them approachable and useful for their own inspiration and travels. In that vein of writing about inspiring and delicious places, we thought we’d share some photos of brunch at Portland’s Piccolo – it’s quickly becoming one of our new favorites, and should probably be one of yours too.
We’ve posted about dinner at Piccolo already (oh, that Wine and Cheese dessert!), but this time we wanted to share another awesome facet of this fantastic restaurant – its Sunday brunch. Twice now, we’ve had the opportunity to enjoy brunch at Piccolo, both times with good friends (obviously one of the best ways to enjoy any brunch), and both times we’ve been blown away by our meals and experiences. Although the menu changes slightly, between the eight of us we’ve tried a large portion of it, and I haven’t heard a single word of anything but praise for the dishes. Whether it be the decadent Italian Toast, the savory Modesto, or the scrumptious Zeppoli (which you should just go ahead and start with every time you visit) – the Sunday brunch at Piccolo is definitely one of the best in town, and is almost guaranteed to leave you with a smile on your face.
Photos taken by Meredith Perdue for Map & Menu.
Back in August, Meredith and I posted about 10 of our favorite Portland plates. The post was pretty popular, with plenty of great feedback and future suggestions, and it immediately inspired us to begin thinking about our next Portland, Maine in 10 Bites post. Since a good brunch is by far my favorite meal, it seemed that a brunch post would be an easy decision, but it actually proved to be quite the opposite. In a city full of amazing brunches, we could only pick 10, so we set out to try some of the most well known dishes, revisit some of our old favorites, and find a few new ones to settle on our 10 top choices – tough work, we know. What we came up with is 10 great brunches to start any lazy Sunday in Portland or the first brunch dishes to try when you’re visiting town. These dishes are standards at each of the restaurants, and are almost always available. Since food trucks and bakeries hold a special place in our own food world, we decided to save those for a future post, so the following are meals to sit down and enjoy with friends.
Vignola Cinque Terre’s Poached Eggs
The first time we visited Vignola Cinque Terre for brunch, we simply wanted to spend a Sunday morning in the sunlit space. The next 4 or 5 times were to share the awesome food with friends! Vignola is the only place to have two dishes on the list, and for good reason. They serve some of the best poached eggs I’ve found in Portland (or anywhere else for that matter) – perfectly prepared with a savory assortment of accompanying items (ham, porky belly, tomato conserva, pesto, hollandaise, just to name a few). We’ll save the other reason for a little further down in the list.
Caiola’s Warm Lost Bread
Caiola’s was possibly one of the first brunches we had upon moving to Maine. Thanks to our friends Darcy and Carolyn, we’ve never had a brunch here that wasn’t accompanied with the warm lost bread. From our first Map & Menu visit to Caiola’s: “Simply, the Lost Bread is the Caiola’s version of pain perdu, or frech toast, but to belittle the delightfully soft chunk of bread, drizzled in butter and warm Maine maple syrup, and topped with a generous helping of fresh fruit, to a meal that anyone with a frying pan and some day-old bread can whip up is an insult that I cannot bear. Every bite will leave you wanting another, and when it’s finally gone from the plate, you’ll find yourself wondering just how silly you’d look licking your plate clean in front of the other patrons. Seriously, try it.”
Pai Men’s Okono Miyake
This savory Japanese egg pancake with plenty of Miyake flair is far from your typical butter and syrup flapjack. With farm pork, cabbage, scallions, ginger, fried egg, kewpie mayo, and tonkatsu sauce, you might feel a slight bit of hesitation before your first bite, but once you blink and your plate is clean you’ll wonder why you don’t see more pancake variations on menus around town.
Gather’s Homemade Veggie Hash
A meal that Meredith has been craving since she last tried it months ago, the Homemade Veggie Hash at Gather is one of those dishes that leaves you (very) happily satisfied without the typical guilt that accompanies such a delicious meal. So much so, that we cheated a little and expanded our brunch map radius to Yarmouth to include it on our list.
Silly’s Egganator Scramble
This dish could dominate even the most hearty of brunch goers. An overflowing plateful of eggs mixed with tasty applewood smoked pork, cheddar cheese, tomato, jalapeños, scallions, and barbecue sauce will have you rolling out the door with a gigantic silly smile on your face. Hint: the sweet potato upgrade is totally worth it.
Blue Spoon’s Yogurt with sliced fruit
I’m a huge proponent of the heavy, extra-savory or super-sweet brunch dishes. Paired with a few cups of coffee, they’re hard to beat, but every now and then, I don’t want to put my stretchy pants on and I like to switch it up with something healthy, light, and flavorful. There are plenty of tasty brunch items on the menu at Blue Spoon (if the fiery eggs were more standard, they would’ve easily made the list), but the yogurt with fresh, seasonal sliced fruit is pretty hard to beat in terms of making you smile and leaving you guilt-free.
Vignola Cinque Terre’s Cinnamon Brioche Stuffed French Toast
Countering the savory side of Vignola’s brunch menu is the sweet, dessert-like cinnamon stuffed french toast. Meredith was fortunate enough to have it with filled with apples, but since then we’ve seen friends order a strawberry-filled version too. No matter what fruit this decadent treat is stuffed with, the results are the same – one blissfully stuffed patron with a great big smile on their face, undoubtedly wondering how they got away with eating such a guilt-inducingly sweet treat for breakfast.
Petite Jacqueline’s Croque Madame
Ham, cheese, and a fried egg would equate to winning in just about any book, but Petite Jacqueline’s Croque Madame easily crushes any ham and cheese you or I would make in the skillet at home with thick buttery toast, melted gruyere, and a savory mornay sauce. One bite and I’m instantly transported back to a cafe on the streets of Paris.
HotSuppa’s Corned Beef Hash
This was a tough one, since New Englanders are passionate about their corned beef hash. We’ve received plenty of recommendations for the best plate in town, and although my taste buds love you and your suggestions, my quickly growing belly does not. Although you might have your own go-to in town, the corned beef hash I tried at HotSuppa was my favorite, by far. Wonderfully crispy on the top side and soft underneath, this hash doesn’t need the eggs, toast, or grits to make it the best in my book, but who am I to complain?
Brand new to town, it didn’t take Piccolo long to register on our brunch favorites list. We haven’t visited enough to know our favorite entrees from the menu, but if you don’t order the zeppoli or bombolini to start or finish (or both), you’ve made a tragic mistake. Ours were served with a bowl of melted chocolate, but however they’re being served, they’d probably make our top 5 donuts list for Portland if we had one (why don’t we?).
Last time, we got some great recommendations (like Whitney’s suggestion to try Pai Men’s Hamaiyake), so please leave us some more below – not only is it helpful for us, but it’s also useful for others who come to the post looking for even more great brunch recommendations.
Last weekend was definitely a busy one for us. On Friday night, we attended Might & Main’s Fall Classic cocktail party. The team at Might & Main does a lot of great branding work around town, especially in the food industry, and really know how to throw a fun get together!
Saturday morning we did some trail maintenance work for Portland Trails, a volunteer opportunity through our local composting service, Garbage to Garden. Michael was no stranger to trail work, but judging by my sore shoulders, I definitely have a newfound appreciation for the amount of effort it takes to care for the 60+ miles of trails in the Portland Trails network. Later that afternoon, we ventured up to Wiscasset to have dinner with my parents and let Orvis run on the farm with his pal, Mason. It’s always enjoyable to see the farm change with the seasons, and wonderful to have Orvis really stretch his legs. Michael even brought a couple of Heady Toppers to share with my stepfather, from his mid-week roadtrip to Vermont, which I’m sure was a highlight of both of their evenings.
We had the perfect start to Sunday morning at Piccolo for brunch with friends. We filled ourselves with all kinds of delicious Italian-inspired items from the menu and finished the meal off with some incredible zeppoli and a decadent baked stuffed pear from Ilma’s kitchen. Last night, we finally had a moment to relax and made ourselves a tasty steak salad and this apple oat crisp, which I’ve already caught Michael eyeing a few times this morning.
For anyone interested in volunteering with Portland Trails, click here for more information.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.