Little Tap House
106 High St., Portland
For most people, Father’s Day isn’t much of a brunch holiday. Not like Mother’s Day, anyway, when you’ll find everyone and their mom waiting outside for a table. But I’m not most people. Not counting breakfast, brunch is my favorite meal. So this Father’s Day, I decided to let my wife and daughter take me out for brunch. (Like they do every year. It’s kind of a tradition.)
I’d been looking forward to trying Little Tap House since it opened in March. Located at the corner of High Street and State Street, in the longtime home of Katahdin and, most recently, the short-lived Plush, it combines three of my favorite dining trends: farm-to-table, upscale pub food, and really good beer.
We arrived around 11:30 to a nearly empty house. The updated space is bright, welcoming and airy, with gleaming pine floors and a chalkboard announcing the daily specials and draft beers. Grabbing a table by the window, we ordered two cups of strong coffee and pored over the double-sided menu. Although there were many appealing options on the lunch side, we naturally focused our attention on the shorter, but more immediately enticing, breakfast side.
My wife was drawn to the Drowned Eggs ($11), a bowl of rich, garlicky, roasted-red-pepper soup with sautéed spinach and tomatoes, topped with poached farm-fresh eggs. A crispy crostini made a nice garnish, but my wife found herself wishing for some toast to help mop up the tasty soup. Along with her meal, she had a side order of pickled vegetables ($3.50). The tartness and crunch of the cabbage, red onion and cucumbers were a welcome complement to the sweetness and uniformly soft texture of the soup and eggs. All in all, she declared her meal to be “the perfect brunch — truly halfway between breakfast and lunch.”
After considering, but ultimately dismissing, house-made granola clusters with yogurt and berries ($7), my daughter ended up choosing the Tap House Breakfast ($7). Two eggs were fried over-hard, exactly to the 9-year-old’s specifications. The generous pile of bacon proved to be some of the best we’ve had in recent memory: thin-sliced, crisp, meaty and not too salty. The homefries, made from locally grown potatoes, were seasoned perfectly. Again, some toast would have been a nice addition, but there was plenty of food as it was.
While I was initially tempted by steak and eggs ($13), in the end I just couldn’t say no to biscuits and gravy ($9). As it turned out, I made the right choice. Fluffy biscuits were smothered in silky gravy that was just salty enough to be addictive. In place of traditional ground sausage, the diced breakfast links were an unexpected but excellent addition to the dish’s flavor and texture. And with firm whites and warm, runny yolks, the two perfectly poached eggs on top showed off the chef’s finesse.
By the time our food arrived it was getting close to noon, so I decided to wash it down with a pint in honor of fatherhood and good journalism. Figuring anyone working at a place with “tap” in its name would have strong opinions about beer, I asked our server what he would choose to drink alongside biscuits and gravy. His suggestion was Daymark, a crisp pale ale with rye, brewed in Portland by Rising Tide. He was right — the ale’s mild hoppiness and citrus-y aroma provided a fine counterpoint to the richness of the gravy.
Driving through town after the meal, we couldn’t help but notice the long lines in front of restaurants like Local 188 and Hot Suppa!. Nothing against those places, but with a near-empty dining room right around the corner, there really is no need to stand outside for an hour waiting for a table. At least for now. Once word gets out about Little Tap House, it won’t be long before this place is just as packed.
Even on Father’s Day.
— Dan Zarin
Little Tap House serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.