[Note: The Blue House Café has since closed]
The Blue House Café
1081 Brighton Ave., Portland
Buried deep within the big-box wasteland known as Outer Brighton Ave., just across the street from a supersized strip mall featuring a Lowe’s and an Applebee’s, sits a tiny, unassuming teal bungalow known as the Blue House Café. The bad news is, it’s easy to miss, and there’s been so much construction and re-routing of Brighton Ave. over the last two years that you’re probably in the wrong lane anyway. The good news is, two or three U-turns later you’ll be rewarded with a tasty meal.
I’ll start by saying this is no greasy spoon. That means a couple things. First, the food is well thought-out, with interesting combinations of fresh ingredients. Second, it’s a little on the pricey side, at least for breakfast. With three adults plus a toddler, our tab came to $45.63, plus tip — no small change for the first meal of the day.
So how can the Blue House charge $9 for the same omelet that goes for $2.99 a block away at Denny’s? Trick question, of course – there’s no comparison. Listen to this description of the Smokin’ Frittata, my pick from the weekend brunch menu: “house smoked sausages, sautéed onions, red peppers, baby portabella and sharp cheddar cheese omelet, slow cooked in a cast iron skillet.” Let me tell you, this is one fine plate of eggs. My frittata boasted a crisp crust that could only be accomplished by cast-iron cookware and plenty of butter. Inside, it was so fluffy it might have floated away if not anchored to terra firma by those fine sausages. On the side: an ample portion of well-seasoned, crispy home fries that rank among the best in town. The somewhat flavorless marble-rye toast was a bit disappointing, but seriously, who has room?
My visiting mother-in-law ordered the Blue House Scramble: two eggs loaded with onions, baby portabellas, roma tomatoes, artichoke hearts, spinach, pesto and asiago cheese. Other than the fact she doesn’t like onions (or rather, “They don’t like me.”), she raved about the combination of flavors and hardly mentioned its $10.95 price tag.
The junior member of our party, my two-year-old daughter, gave her grilled slab of banana bread an enthusiastic thumbs-up. A little dry around the edges, it was otherwise moist and rich, sweet but not cloying. Her bowl of yogurt, granola and fresh fruit proved a perfectly acceptable, lighter-fare offering.
Only my wife’s corned beef hash omelet failed to live up to our high expectations. Not that it was bad, mind you, just not the best around (that distinction belongs to the Stone Dog in North Windham, but that’s a story for another time). Looking over the rest of the menu, I spotted four or five more entrees that might have proved a better choice. For example, this day’s special was French toast stuffed with a pumpkin/cranberry filling, topped with a caramel pumpkin sauce. Yum.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the coffee. All too often a cup of sub-par coffee compromises an otherwise positive breakfast experience. Not so at the Blue House. Not only was the blend well balanced and freshly brewed, it was served piping hot in a stoneware mug so large it had its own gravitational pull. Even I, junkie that I am, needed only one refill — which was offered promptly and cheerfully.
As you might expect, the atmosphere inside the Blue House is best described as “homey.” It feels much like you’re having breakfast in your own house, except someone else is doing the cooking. The walls are freshly painted and tastefully decorated, just like yours. The hardwood floors and wooden chairs are lovingly scuffed, just like yours. In the bathroom, there’s a life-size ceramic komodo dragon in the bathtub, just like yours (well, more or less).
The Blue House Café may be Portland’s best-kept secret. Super-rich food and higher-than-average prices make it more of a special-occasion breakfast destination than an everyday hangout, but if you’re not afraid to venture into the realm of car dealerships and chain stores, it’s definitely worth the trip.
— Dan Zarin
The Blue House Café is open Tues.-Fri. from 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (breakfast ‘til 11:30), and Sat. and Sun. from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.