83 Exchange St., Portland
My wife and I have been fans of Local 188 for quite a while — they serve good drinks and great food, including some of the best pancakes in Portland — but we’re hardly alone, and the long waits and deafening acoustics have kept us from becoming regulars. So when Local chef/owner Jay Villani opened a sister restaurant in the old Portland Savings Bank building last year, I took notice. With its cool bar, hipster vibe and funky, Latin-inspired menu, Sonny’s was hailed as a welcome addition to the Old Port dinner-and-drinks pantheon.
Alas, with a small child and smaller budget, we don’t get out at night very much. But when we learned Sonny’s was serving weekend brunch, we had to leave the house and head down to Exchange Street.
Arriving just before noon on a recent Saturday morning, my wife, 7-year-old daughter and I were pleased to find plenty of available tables. We slid into a booth and ordered drinks, then looked over the menu. My wife ordered the Almond Earl ($8), a warm concoction of Earl Grey tea and Disaronno amaretto. My house Bloody ($5) was quite good, with plenty of horseradish and just a hint of cayenne, and the coffee ($2) was a strong and well-balanced brew.
My daughter has been on a huevos rancheros kick since she first tried the dish at Bar of Chocolate earlier this year. The huevos at Sonny’s ($8) did not disappoint. The corn tortillas maintained crispness beneath their blanket of cheese (getting the salsa roja served on the side probably helped as well) and the chef was kind enough to cook the ever-loving bejeesus out of her fried eggs, as requested. To my taste, the beans were a bit on the bland side, but the kid gave two enthusiastic thumbs up, so I’ll call that a win.
My ojos grandes ($8) — baked eggs, Manchego cheese and potato, with salsa verde — were full of flavor, though sadly I forgot to ask whether there was cilantro in the salsa (there was; I’m apparently among those who are genetically predisposed to detest the herb). That wasn’t their fault, and overall it was still a good meal. The grilled slab of cornbread on top was by far the high point for me.
Rather than order a single entrée, my wife chose to piece together her own meal. She started with the soup of the day ($3/cup), chick-pea stew with coconut milk. Mild, Moroccan-esque flavors of apricot, cinnamon and cumin combined for an outstanding soup that left her wishing she’d ordered a bowl. Next, she enjoyed a lightly-dressed house salad ($8) of fresh local field greens with apples, goat cheese and toasted pine nuts. On the side, her single blueberry pancake ($3) was crisp outside, fluffy in the middle, and (thankfully) served with real maple syrup. It wasn’t quite at the level of the pancakes at Local 188, but was an excellent flapjack by any other standard.
All in all, Sonny’s served up an excellent brunch. We found the atmosphere more comfortable than its sibling restaurant’s — even when all the tables filled up, we could still carry on a conversation. Villani has put together some interesting flavors you won’t find on many, if any, other brunch menus in town. We may not become regulars here either, but for a change of pace Sonny’s is definitely worth a visit.
— Dan Zarin
Sonny’s serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.