The Breakfast Serial

photo/Dan Zarin

Samuel’s Bar & Grill
1160 Forest Ave., Portland

Calling something the “best kept secret” is a tired trope used by lazy writers who are out of ideas. Except when it’s true. Such is the case with Samuel’s Bar & Grill, whose weekend breakfast is, in fact, the best kept secret in Portland.

Why is it a secret? Let’s start with the location: smack in the middle of the hold-your-breath-and-pray-while-simultaneously-turning-left-and-merging-right clusterfuck of an intersection known as Morrill’s Corner. This is not a particularly picturesque part of Portland, though the area is also the home of two of the city’s best cheap-eats establishments, Susan’s Fish and Chips and Po’ Boys and Pickles.

Next, take a look at the bar’s website. The “hours of operation” are listed as 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week — not exactly breakfast time. There is no mention of breakfast anywhere on the site, which does list the extensive lunch and dinner menus.

But one of the advantages of writing about breakfast is that people who like breakfast tell me about their favorite places. And over the past few months, no fewer than three people have separately asked me whether I’ve ever eaten at Samuel’s. Don’t I owe it to you, my dear, hungry reader, to follow up on every lead, no matter how suspect?

So follow up I did, on a recent Sunday morning, after first calling to verify that yes, indeed, they do serve breakfast. “Plus, it’s buy one mimosa and get the second one for a nickel,” the helpful bartender informed me over the phone. Nice.

My wife, daughter and I nabbed a table near the bar and looked over the specials. In addition to the mimosa deal and “breakfast beer special” ($3.50 for a pint of Guinness), there were about a dozen food specials, including chicken enchiladas and rib-eye steak and eggs. The menu was also enjoyable to read, with commentary like, “French Toast: Invented by retreating soldiers” and “Eggs Benedict: The Pope’s favorite breakfast.” The prices were reasonable; most entrees are in the $7 to $10 range.

In the mood for a cocktail, but somewhat mistrustful of the quality of champagne likely to find its way into a bargain mimosa, I ordered a Bloody Mary, which was moderately strong and nicely spicy. I also ordered a mug of coffee, which unfortunately tasted like flavored coffee had been brewed in the same machine.

Blessed with the iron stomach of an eight-year-old, my daughter ordered sausage gravy, biscuits and eggs ($8.50) from the specials list. The eggs were cooked to her specifications, the biscuits were buttery and warm, and the rich, creamy gravy was studded with generous amounts of lightly spiced sausage. It was not nearly as salty as this dish often is. The homefries were pretty good, nicely seasoned and flecked with green peppers, but they lacked crispness.

My wife also ordered from the specials list, opting for a steak bomb omelet ($9.99) packed with flank steak, peppers, onions, mushrooms and cheese. She asked for provolone, but instead received the standard Swiss and an apology. The ratio of filling to egg was excellent, and healthy shakes of salt and pepper made up for the relative blandness of the dish. The thick wheat toast on the side was fresh, airy and surprisingly good.

I went for the corned beef hash breakfast pizza ($9.50), a thin, Greek-style pan-pizza crust blanketed with egg and cheese and topped with chunky hash. Like the omelet, it was a bit underseasoned, but doctored up with a little black pepper it was definitely the best dish of the morning. Bonus: the leftovers reheated well as Monday’s breakfast.

Portland has its share of upscale brunch spots and down-home diners, but Samuel’s represents a category that is much harder to find: the neighborhood bar with cheap drinks and a great breakfast.

The secret is out.

— Dan Zarin

Samuel’s serves breakfast Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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