The Breakfast Serial

photo/Dan Zarin

The Grateful Bread Café & Bakery
781 Roosevelt Trail, Windham

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: I don’t like the Grateful Dead. The first time I heard “Truckin’” blaring from the rolled-down window of a smoke-filled ’74 Gremlin, I thought, “Hey, listen to that boring, crappy music!” — and despite some well-intentioned friends’ best efforts, that opinion has never changed. Sorry, but that’s just how it is.

So no matter how clever, Dead-related wordplay alone isn’t enough to get me excited about a new restaurant. On the other hand, after the Wake N’ Bakery was renamed Jack’s Place earlier this year, there was a noticeable shortage of hippie-pun-themed breakfast spots in Greater Portland.

Enter The Grateful Bread, which opened last May on Roosevelt Trail in North Windham. Inside there is a refreshing, albeit unexpected, absence of Dead memorabilia — no concert posters, no dancing bears, and not a tie-dye to be found. Indeed, the only connection to the band seems to be on the menu, which features breakfast specials like “The Jerry” and “Uncle Sam.” The décor is quite pleasant: a bright, sunny space with gleaming hardwood floors and understated artwork hanging on the freshly painted walls.

A friend and I stopped in for breakfast sandwiches — the aforementioned “Jerry” ($4.50, $6 with homefries) — earlier this summer on our way to Kezar Lake. Served on pillowy, homemade bulkie rolls rather than the traditional English muffins, both the bacon and the maple-apple sausage version were top rate. Eager to try a full-fledged breakfast, I brought my wife and daughter to The Grateful Bread on a recent Saturday morning.

Greeting us at the front door was a glass display case filled with delectable-looking cupcakes, doughnuts, whoopie pies, cheesecakes and loaves of fresh-baked bread. Encouraged, we made our way to an empty table. We waited about 10 minutes before we flagged down a frazzled-looking waiter and begged for menus, coffee, and a grilled blueberry muffin to start. Then we waited some more. The muffin arrived before the coffee, which is pretty bad form at breakfast-time, and subsequent coffee refills were slow to show up. It became increasingly obvious that the café was understaffed, but my wife had noticed a help-wanted sign out front, so we decided to cut the place some slack.

The house brew from Coffee By Design was disappointingly bitter, possibly over-extracted (a coffee nerd way of saying they didn’t use enough coffee grounds for the amount of water). The muffin was better — cakey and light, with a nice crisp top — but a bit on the sweet side.

My wife ordered “The Bread Head Breakfast” ($8), a three-egg omelet stuffed with maple-apple sausage, cheddar and red onion. Unlike the sausage I remembered from my sandwich, this version was greasier, sweeter and less flavorful overall. The red-potato homefries were crisp and nicely seasoned, but also a bit on the greasy side. The high point by far was the multigrain toast, sliced to order and baked fresh.

I designed my own “BYO Omelet” of sausage, mushrooms and pepper jack ($8). Or, at least, that’s what I asked for. Apparently our waiter mis-keyed it into the computer because what I received was an omelet with sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and cheddar. It was close enough not to warrant complaining, but to be honest, I’m not too crazy about cooked green peppers. I also found the sausage to be pretty bland, and ended up dumping a healthy dose of salt and Cholula hot sauce on top. But I loved the bread. Dense yet soft, the generously buttered honey wheat toast was definitely the best part of my meal.

My daughter ordered “The Usual” ($6.50), a basic plate of two eggs, bacon, homefries and toast. The eggs were cooked well, and the bacon was thick-cut and delicious, though she would have preferred it a bit crisper.

For dessert, my daughter and I split a coconut raised doughnut ($1.15), which was thick, chewy and cloyingly sweet. Unsurprisingly, she loved it.

The Grateful Bread won’t become my favorite place in this area for a sit-down meal — The Stone Dog Cafe just up the road has some of the best corned beef hash in the state — but if you’re headed out toward the lakes (or, soon enough, the slopes), be sure to stop in for a breakfast sandwich or to buy a loaf of bread to take with you. If you pass me on the way, please keep the “Sugar Magnolia” to yourself.

— Dan Zarin

The Grateful Bread is open Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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