703 Congress St., Portland
First things first. They only serve breakfast and lunch at Hot Suppa!. Confused? Yeah, I was too. Apparently the owner’s vision is that you’ll take one look at the fine plate of food they set before you and exclaim without a trace of irony, “Damn, that’s a hot suppa!” OK, I get it, but frankly, there’s a real danger they might miss out on some breakfast business from folks who think more literally. And based on the fine breakfast they served me this morning, that would be a crying shame.
I hadn’t been sitting more than three minutes before coffee was proffered and accepted, and I didn’t see the bottom of my cup until I was ready to head out the door. Not a fantastic cup of joe, mind you — entry-level, restaurant-grade stuff — but at least it was fresh, and our cheerful waitress brewed a new pot for my wife (undoubtedly the only person ever to ask for decaf at 8 a.m.). The friendly, efficient service never faltered, even after my two-year-old daughter pointed at the hostess and asked at the top of her lungs, “Mama, is that a man or a lady?”
The menu hovered just above standard diner fare, with a handful of options promising an experience a bit more haute. French toast with vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon; “French-style” omelets (insert your own joke here, I don’t go there anymore); biscuits and sausage gravy; Maine-style baked beans with eggs and kielbasa… Particularly intriguing was the quiche of the day, featuring chevre, tomato, feta and arugula. And lunchtime offerings looked equally promising; the fried-green-tomato BLT and “Big Fat Greek Burger” tempted me to come back later. Somebody’s making an effort, and I for one appreciate it.
I went for the breakfast burrito, a smallish tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, cheddar, tomato, peppers, and my personal favorite, caramelized onions. All in all a satisfying entree, but the shamefully mild salsa on top reminded me that Maine just isn’t the place to go for Mexican flavor. The homefries on the side were stellar, however, and almost sinfully crispy.
My wife’s “Fiddler’s Green Porridge,” a multigrain mishmash served with raisins and brown sugar, arrived so hot even Papa Bear would have had to go out for a long walk. Once it cooled off it proved to be perfectly nutty, smooth and filling — just the thing to anchor a long Sunday afternoon of football and Bloody Marys, if one were so inclined.
My daughter made short work of a blueberry pancake that was light, fluffy and unapologetically absent any nutritional value outside the berries themselves. Once again, I must protest the all-too-common practice of charging $1.75 for maple syrup in Maine. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It grows here, people! Stop the madness!
The atmosphere inside Hot Suppa! is cozy and comfortable. Prints from a local photographer grace the walls, and the small floorplan is offset by high ceilings that lend a feeling of spaciousness. A note about those same high ceilings, however: they make for some pretty lively acoustics — and two-year-old voices carry. Sorry, everyone; she may be loud, but at least she’s happy.
Hot Suppa! is the third breakfast-and-lunch café to grace this address. The sketchy stretch of Congress Street it inhabits is not a particularly ideal location for a restaurant. Dark, almost black-tinted windows can help only so much to insulate diners from their surroundings. But like the Friendship Café and the Good Egg before it, Hot Suppa! is betting it can overcome this handicap with solid breakfast and lunch offerings. Here’s hoping they make it.
— Dan Zarin
Hot Suppa! is open Mon.-Sat. from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sun. from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Breakfast is served all day.