The Breakfast Serial

A scramble at The Bar of Chocolate Cafe. photos/Dan Zarin

The Bar of Chocolate Café
38 Wharf St., Portland

Tucked away on the cobblestone alley known as Wharf Street, the Bar of Chocolate Café does a brisk business in drinks, desserts and small plates before and after dinnertime. If an absinthe and a slice of bourbon chocolate torte in the middle of a Saturday afternoon is your thing, you probably already know about this hidden gem.

What you might not know — well, at least I didn’t — is that for the past couple months the BOC has been serving up one of the best Sunday brunches in Portland.

On a recent Sunday, my wife, 6 1/2-year-old daughter and I braved single-digit temperatures and headed down to the Old Port. The restaurant was nearly empty on this frigid morning, so finding a seat in the dim, funky café was not a problem.

Two mugs of strong, flavorful coffee ($2) arrived within minutes, by which time we had already read the one-page menu. Passing over the huevos rancheros (normally a favorite, but sometimes you’re just not in the mood for frijoles), the three of us zeroed in on some other promising options.

My wife ordered a scramble with smoked salmon, tomatoes and onions ($10), opting for roasted garlic toast instead of the standard bagel. It was a beautiful plate of food, expertly prepared and full of flavor. On the side, a modest portion of roasted potatoes, nicely crisped and delicately seasoned, complemented the eggs perfectly.

My daughter ordered the toasted bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon and onions — hold the smoked salmon, hold the onions. Diced tomatoes and a generous sprinkling of briny capers on top made my girl a happy camper, and $4 seemed a pretty reasonable price for happiness.

The menu description of the Eggs Benedict ($8) hinted that I was in for something special, but I was still unprepared for just how unbelievably good it was. Two thick, crusty slices of roasted garlic toast were topped with poached eggs, prosciutto and a light, lemony hollandaise sauce. “I’m getting that next time,” my daughter gushed after hesitantly trying one bite, then demanding another. “Me too,” agreed my wife, polishing off another quarter of my breakfast.

We all agreed it would be a crime to come to a place with chocolate in its name and leave without dessert. So we loosened our belts a notch and ordered a slice of chocolate cake with sea salt caramel ($6). It was, in a word, ridiculous. We devoured literally every crumb, and then my wife ambushed owner/baker Sarah Martin with a big bear-hug. (No, really. She stood up from her chair, walked over, and embraced one very surprised woman.)

Bite for bite, our meal easily earned the Bar of Chocolate a place in the top tier of Portland brunch spots. It’s just a matter of time before word of mouth attracts crowds, so I suggest you come early, and often. I, for one, will be back soon to try those huevos rancheros. I feel a frijoles jones coming on.

— Dan Zarin

The Bar of Chocolate Café serves brunch Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.