Brea Lu Cafe
428 Forest Ave., Portland
I’ve got this friend, Patrick. He usually has good taste in restaurants, so when he swore up and down that the Brea Lu Cafe (whose name cleverly combines the first parts of the words “breakfast” and “lunch” into something that sounds kind of French) has the best breakfast in town, I figured I owed it to myself to check it out.
Many months ago, on Patrick’s recommendation (and over the objection of my better instincts), I sampled the too-bizarre-not-to-be-good peanut butter, mushroom and cheese omelet, which turned out to be just bizarre enough to taste both creepy and disgusting – no small feat for a plate of eggs.
OK, I figured, maybe that wasn’t a fair test. So I recently decided to give Brea Lu another shot, this time with regular food.
Arriving early on a Sunday morning, my party of three was greeted almost immediately by a friendly waitress who offered coloring books for my 3-year-old daughter and “regular or French roast” to my wife and me. The regular coffee was passable, but I can’t recommend the French roast for any occasion other than a true emergency. It’s pretty nasty.
The menu has standard diner fare, as well as quite a few alternatives, including the aforementioned peanut butter weird-out. Breakfast burritos in creative combinations like sausage, caramelized onion, cheddar and ricotta; Cajun corned-beef hash and eggs, and an omelet of sirloin, cheddar, onion and mixed bell peppers are some of the more interesting options. Most breakfasts cost between $6 and $8.50, and a basic meal of two eggs, home fries and toast will set you back just $3.95.
I opted for one of the daily specials: an omelet with bacon, cheddar, scallions and avocado. My wife chose a vegetarian omelet filled with “every vegetable in the house,” plus havarti dill cheese. Both omelets were flavorful and well-prepared, though the fillings were awfully skimpy. The veggies were crisp, not overcooked, but the bacon was soft and undercooked.
The lightly-toasted marble rye was excellent — not excessively buttered, which too often can ruin perfectly good toast. The home fries were less appealing; mushy, lukewarm, and tasting of stale paprika (and little else), they sat uneaten on both our plates.
My daughter’s plate-sized blueberry pancake was light, fluffy, and nicely crisped at the edges. There weren’t many blueberries — a point she brought up more than once during the meal — but overall, it was an excellent pancake, though I cursed silently as I was forced, once again, to pay a dollar extra for real maple syrup, in Maine, where it literally grows on trees.
The atmosphere at Brea Lu is homey and familiar. Books, knickknacks and local art line the walls in the two small dining rooms, and there’s a comfortable waiting area for those in queue. Which led me to wonder: Why wait for a table here when there are plenty of other options in town?
On the way out, I eavesdropped on a couple groggy, hung-over college guys sipping free coffee while they waited for a table. “This place has the best food,” one said. “I totally love that I can walk here.”
Ah, there it is! It’s a marriage of convenience. Brea Lu has decent food and it’s a nice, friendly place. If the greater-USM area happens to be your neighborhood, it’s a perfectly good spot to call your own. But if you have to get in your car to get there, as we do, there are plenty of better breakfasts in town. Sorry, Patrick.
— Dan Zarin
Brea Lu Café is open Mon.-Fri. from 7 a.m.-2 p.m., Sat. and Sun. from 7 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Breakfast is served all day.