3 Buoys Seafood Shanty & Grille
111 Cumberland Ave., Portland
Before I get into the whole “I would never know this place serves breakfast” bit — and have no fear, it’s coming — let me just cut to the chase. You have to go to 3 Buoys Seafood Shanty & Grille for breakfast. Tomorrow, if not sooner. It’s that good. If you don’t, and they decide to stop serving breakfast because business is too slow, I’m going to be pissed and will hold you personally responsible. Got it? Great, now we can get started.
I had never set foot in Buffalo Wings & Things, which previous occupied this little building on the corner of Cumberland and Washington avenues at the base of Portland’s Munjoy Hill. Maybe it just looked too sketchy (an impression backed up by its eventual health-code-violation-related closure), or maybe I just don’t like “Things” enough. Whatever the reason, I didn’t really miss it when it disappeared from Portland’s culinary landscape. And when 3 Buoys opened in its place a few months ago, I didn’t think much of it.
The concrete-block structure, painted a vivid Caribbean blue and adorned with multicolored buoys and caricaturized sea creatures, looks like a fried-seafood-and-chowder shack was airlifted from a far-off boardwalk and plunked down in a dingy intersection dominated by two gas stations. Not the kind of place you’d expect to find a decent breakfast, to be sure.
But when I heard they do, indeed, serve the morning meal, I figured it was my duty to check it out. And damned if it wasn’t the best breakfast I’ve had in ages. Turns out chef and co-owner Bill Park is something of a mad genius in the kitchen. Among his many experiences prior to opening the original 3 Buoys location in York was a turn in the competitive barbecue scene. After trying a sample of his spice-rubbed smoked salmon, I’m betting he’s got some trophies to show for it.
When I stopped in on a recent Sunday morning with my family and a small group of friends, one of the daily specials was pulled pork hash ($8.99). Smoked on premises (there’s a smoker on the patio), the pork had a deep, smoky flavor and the trademark crust that only comes with slow, low, dry heat. For the hash, Chef Bill mixed in finely diced carrots, onions and cabbage and griddled it to a crisp before topping with two perfectly poached eggs. The side of home-fried russet potatoes was also nicely crisped and well seasoned. And with a generous helping of sweet, tart, homemade mixed-berry jam, even the toast was completely gone by the time I pushed back from the table.
My friend Rose decided to try the “Irish Sailor” ($8.99). It was essentially the same as my meal, but instead of the smoked pork, hers was made with thin-sliced, homemade corned beef. The flecks of carrot and cabbage brought it all together. I’m telling you, don’t even try looking for a better corned beef hash anywhere else in town. You’d just be wasting your time.
My wife ordered another daily special, a steak bomb omelette ($8.99). She skipped the mushrooms and substituted cheddar for American cheese, but otherwise the huge, overstuffed omelette was served just as the chef intended. No cheap, shaved steak here; this was real roast beef, sliced paper-thin and griddled to perfection.
At just $6.99, my daughter’s “Deckhand” breakfast — one egg, one pancake, a slice of French toast, several pieces of bacon and a mountain of homefries — was a tremendous value. Real maple syrup was available on request, but she opted for the homemade jam instead. Chef Bill said he doubted she could finish the huge platter of food, but she rose to the challenge. I barely got a chance to sample any of her meal — the pancake and French toast were stone cold by the time I did — but the crisp, thin-sliced strip of bacon I managed to sneak off her plate was excellent.
Rose’s two girls joined my daughter at the kids’ table. One opted for a full order of French toast ($4.99) and the other ordered a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin ($2.99). Other menu items started at $1.99 for a basic one-egg breakfast and topped out at $11.99 for a lobster and cheddar omelette. We easily fed three adults and three kids, with beverages, for under $60 before tip. Good luck finding a better breakfast at those prices.
So what are you waiting for? I get it, you wouldn’t have thought of this as a place to go for breakfast. But it is, and it’s too good to miss. Next time I’m in the mood for smoked salmon or corned beef hash, I’m counting on 3 Buoys to be there for me. Otherwise, I’m coming after you.
— Dan Zarin
3 Buoys serves breakfast 7 days a week, starting at 8 a.m. Weekend hours are still somewhat in flux, so call first if you plan to go before 10.