125 Western Ave., South Portland
As a rule, I don’t frequent corporate chain restaurants. For one thing, I’m a think globally/eat locally kind of guy. For another, I usually find the atmosphere of these places to be contrived, sanitized, even patronizing. But a couple months ago, with my wife out of town and our 3-year-old daughter craving breakfast at dinnertime, I found myself with limited options. What the hell, I thought. There’s got to be something to the popularity of this colossus out in the semi-industrial no man’s land near the mall, right?
We found a table near the bar and settled in to read the menu. It’s pretty impressive in its length and breadth, in part because they serve everything on it all day long. Comforting, if you want a niçoise salad at 7 a.m. or, like us, pancakes for dinner. My daughter was given a four-page, tabloid-style kids’ menu that doubled as a coloring-and-puzzle book, and one blue crayon. She looked at the guy who seated us and said, “More colors, please.” He promised to return.
Prices for most everything on the breakfast menu were artificially high — the chain’s stated market position as “one of America’s most innovative upscale casual dining restaurant companies” practically requires it. Those prices do buy some good copywriting, though – the menu described some pretty tempting choices.
The Waffle Benedict ($10) with bacon, Gruyère cheese and hollandaise sounded promising. I suppose the more accurate description, “Soggy, flavorless Belgian waffle, topped with overcooked yet somehow watery poached eggs and limp, salty bacon, presented with a side of lifeless, over-seasoned, and mysteriously uniform potatoes,” wouldn’t move as many units.
The lone breakfast-oriented option on the kids’ menu was a chocolate chip pancake ($4), which my daughter cheerfully and enthusiastically devoured. In this gross miscarriage of culinary justice, a decent buttermilk pancake was smothered with a blanket of melted milk chocolate and left to die. (In defense of the Canadian restaurateurs behind this experiment, it came with a mini-pitcher of real maple syrup, though this would have been more appreciated had my bite not been so freaking sweet that my teeth hurt from the sugar buzz.) On the upside, kids’ meals come with a free drink, and the pulpy, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice was by far the high point of our entire meal.
The atmosphere was pretty much as expected: stone-and-brick walls, a wide open floor plan, and kitschy artwork supporting the chain’s “Le Cirque des Oeufs” theme (no, seriously). Service was prompt and friendly from start to finish, though we never did get more crayons.
The bottom line? If you want breakfast for dinner, make it yourself. If you want breakfast for breakfast, go somewhere else. And if you’re trapped with out-of-town relatives who “loved this place when Grampa took us there in Maryland” and you have no choice? Keep your eyes down, don’t offer to pick up the check, and lower your “Eggspectations.”
After reading my somewhat harsh — OK, more like scathing — review, the fair-minded editor of The Bollard asked if I’d be willing to give Eggspectation another try. He reasoned that this could have been an anomaly, or perhaps that the restaurant’s breakfast team would do a better job with pancakes and eggs than the dinner crew. “Fair enough,” I told him. “If you’re buying, I’m game.” So, here’s Eggspectation, take two…
My wife and daughter and I stumbled in about 8 a.m. with open minds and empty stomachs. The hostess showed us to our table right away. And then… we sat. After about 10 minutes, my wife flagged down a waitress, who in turn flagged down the hostess, who we then cajoled into fetching us two cups of hot, decidedly mediocre coffee. Following another 10-minute wait, our server finally arrived to take our order.
No good, people. That’s prime breakfast time, and coffee is lifeblood for early risers. Plus, it’s never a good idea to keep a 3-year-old waiting for her first meal of the day.
Luckily, the food arrived quickly once our order was in. Unluckily, it was no better than my previous experience. The bacon was chewy and greasy, the pancakes undercooked, and the French toast was dry and flavorless. I might expect this type of food for $3.99 at Denny’s, but this is supposed to be an “upscale” joint. Breakfast for two (plus a single blueberry pancake for my girl) cost over $30. For that kind of money, I want a good meal with attentive service. This just didn’t cut it.
Eggspectation is underwhelming and overpriced. Seek sustenance elsewhere.
— Dan Zarin
Eggspectation is open Mon.-Sat. from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sun. from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.