The Snow Squall Restaurant
18 Ocean St., South Portland
Tucked under the Casco Bay Bridge, South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood has an inarguably cool name, but it doesn’t draw a lot of hipsters. Nestled among the condos and boat slips, the Snow Squall Restaurant in Knightville was a favorite of local families for decades before it closed its doors in 2005. Neighbors eagerly awaited the next incarnation of the enormous, vacant space the restaurant occupied, and this past November they were finally rewarded with the opening of … the Snow Squall Restaurant.
More than three months later, the Snow Squall still hasn’t had an official “grand opening” (it’s scheduled for March 13), but I figured they’d had enough time to work out any major kinks, so my family and I met up with some friends on a recent Sunday morning and headed across the bridge.
Upon entering, the first thing we noticed was how empty the place seemed. It wasn’t just that there was only one other table seated. With its high ceiling and sparse decoration, it’ll take a lot of customers for the vast dining room to feel occupied. Regardless, our party of seven was shown promptly to a table, where hot, fresh coffee was offered, accepted and delivered.
Prices on the weekend breakfast menu are higher than a typical diner but about average for a white-tablecloth-and-clean-silverware joint, ranging from $5.95 for two eggs, home fries and toast, up to $11.95 for corned beef hash. On Sundays, a separate brunch menu is also available, and there’s a specials board. (Yes, that is a lot of menus, now that you mention it.)
My friend Jen and I ordered from the brunch menu. An incredible-sounding frittata with crabmeat, tomato and brie ($11) proved soggy, bland and slightly undercooked. Jen’s spinach-and-tomato benedict ($7) showed more promise; the eggs were gently poached and the house-made focaccia was a nice departure from the standard English muffin. But a mediocre Hollandaise sauce left her disappointed. We both agreed that the crisp potato-and-sweet-potato home fries were the best part of our meals.
My wife ventured lunchward, choosing a warm-pear-and-apple salad with wedges of sweet potato on a bed of baby spinach ($10). Like the other entrees, the salad looked beautiful. Unfortunately, it was sodden with a strong, gingery, soy dressing that completely obscured every other flavor. When we left, my wife turned to me and said, “I need to go get something to eat.” Not a great sign.
Sticking with the standard breakfast menu, my friend Adam chose the corned beef hash. Again, the eggs were poached perfectly, and the home fries were nicely seasoned. The flavor of fresh brisket came through and wasn’t overpowered by excessive saltiness. But the uniform mushiness of the finely chopped ingredients ventured a little too close to the texture of canned hash for our tastes.
The kids in our group chose mixed-berry pancakes ($8.95 for a full order, $5 for a kid-sized portion) from the specials board. Lightly browned and loaded with berries, these could have been the meal’s high mark. Alas, apparently no one has been listening to me bitch for three years about places in Maine that don’t offer maple syrup. Do I really have to say it again? I have 12 maple trees in my yard. I invite you to tap them yourselves — no charge, just give us some freakin’ syrup, OK?
Coming off a 10-year stint as general manager of Portland’s Porthole Restaurant, Snow Squall proprietor Heather LaRou chose to keep the restaurant’s name, perhaps in a bid to woo locals who may have a sentimental attachment to the old place. That may prove to be a smart move, since local traffic will likely provide the lion’s share of business. But if the new Snow Squall is going to survive, it’ll have to draw from outside the neighborhood to keep its giant dining room full. And with so many great restaurants available just across the bridge, LaRou’s team is going to have to step up its game before that happens.
— Dan Zarin
The Snow Squall serves breakfast Saturdays and Sundays beginning at 8 a.m. Lunch and dinner are served Wednesdays-Sundays.