Salty Sally’s Bar and Grille
953 Congress St., Portland
In the waning days of the cultural and political shitstorm that was 2016, I took a moment to reflect on the many breakfasts I serialized here over the past year. There were some outstanding ones, to be sure, incredible meals at Dutch’s, Crooners & Cocktails, and Terlingua that helped take some of the sting out of the latest tragedy in the news. But there were also some disappointments — promising menus and pretty plates that turned out to be merely average. My last serialized brunch of the year fell into that category. At Salty Sally’s Bar and Grille, a creative menu and one of the friendliest staffs around just weren’t enough to overcome a lackluster meal.
Located across from the Greyhound bus station on Congress Street, in the space formerly occupied by the Dogfish Café, Salty Sally’s was opened last year by the owner of The Sinful Kitchen on Brighton Ave. Unlike its sister restaurant, Salty Sally’s doesn’t specialize in brunch; it’s an upscale pub that serves brunch on weekends.
I stopped in on a recent Sunday with my wife, our 12-year-old daughter, and a good friend who’s joined us for nearly all our Breakfast Serial adventures in 2016. The three adults started with coffee ($2.95), a passable commercial blend that was fresh and hot, if not particularly strong or flavorful. My wife also ordered Sally’s Signature Bloody Mary, a tasty cocktail boasting a fierce horseradish kick, a bacon-dusted rim and a towering garnish of shrimp and olives. It was pricey at $12, though it seemed almost reasonable if we thought of it as an $8 drink plus a $4 appetizer.
I had a hard time choosing among many tempting options, but finally decided on a breakfast burrito with chicken molé, scrambled egg, Spanish rice, and sautéed peppers and onions ($10). The chicken came in big chunks, rather than the shredded style I would have preferred, and the molé sauce was very mild. The eggs were also under-seasoned, and I didn’t find any peppers or onions until about halfway through my burrito. The dish was served with a big pile of cinnamon-sugar-dusted tortilla chips, which were a nice change of pace.
My friend was similarly disappointed by his hash-brown poutine ($11), made with eggs, sausage, cheese curds and gravy. If he had been asked how he wanted his eggs, he would have requested them poached or fried over-easy with a runny yolk. Instead, they were scrambled hard. A small amount of salty gravy and cheese curds were sparsely scattered over the dish; calling it “poutine” seemed like a stretch.
My daughter made a better choice with her crisp and tasty crème brûlée French toast ($11), served with bacon and “tater tot hash browns,” which were really just regular tater tots (not a complaint, just an observation; I mean, what kind of monster doesn’t like tater tots?). Faux-maple pancake syrup arrived on the side by default, but our cheerful server was happy to bring her some real maple syrup at no additional charge.
My wife ordered clam cakes with a demi-salad. OK, technically it was a single cake, not cakes, and the salad was almost comically tiny considering the dish’s $10 price tag. But the clam cake was excellent: well seasoned and fried a deep golden-brown.
On the plus side, we really felt welcome at Salty Sally’s. The owner and our server were both happy to answer our questions and everyone seemed to be in a great mood. I’d definitely come back another time for a couple drinks or a late-night burger fix, but I’ll look elsewhere for breakfast. It’s a new year, friends. Let’s resolve not to settle for anything less than excellence in 2017. We owe David Bowie at least that much.
— Dan Zarin
Salty Sally’s serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.