The Breakfast Serial

Fried country steak and gravy. photos/Dan Zarin
Fried country steak and gravy. photos/Dan Zarin

The Royal River Grillhouse
106 Lafayette St., Yarmouth

Mother’s Day is the brunchiest holiday of the year. And unlike other Sundays, when the quality of the food should be your foremost consideration, on Mother’s Day the ambiance of a place can be just as important. Portland’s fancy hotel restaurants fill up quickly on this day, as legions of husbands and sons rely on white linen tablecloths, glass bud vases, omelet stations and inflated prices to help Mom feel special. Allow me to suggest an alternative.

The Royal River Grillhouse, on Lower Falls Landing in Yarmouth, feels fancy enough for a celebration while maintaining a comfortable, welcoming vibe. The two-level, post-and-beam dining room is open and airy, with views of the Royal River and boatyard, but not a tablecloth, linen or otherwise, in sight. There’s also deck and patio seating should Mom prefer to dine al fresco. On most Sundays, brunch at the Grillhouse comes with entertainment courtesy of the Tony Boffa Band, whose smooth jazz and soft-rock stylings can help cover any awkward lulls in the conversation. There’s no live music scheduled for this Mother’s Day, so come prepared with some conversation starters. (Here’s one: Did you know the name “Mother’s Day” was trademarked in 1912, two years before it was officially recognized as a holiday by President Wilson? And… discuss.)

When my wife, daughter and I stopped in a few weeks ago, a cheerful hostess escorted us to a table overlooking the river. We settled in with two fresh mugs of Grillhouse Blend, a custom brew by Coffee By Design.

breakfast_5.14_2The first order of business was to tackle the “build your own Bloody Mary” menu, which offers morning boozers thousands of potential combinations of vodkas, flavored mixers, salt/spice rims, and condiments ranging from pickle spears to barbecue ribs. I opted for their house vodka (I challenge anyone to taste the difference behind all the spices) and basic Bloody mix, celery salt, a strip of bacon and a blue-cheese-stuffed olive — practically a meal in itself, and a good value at $8.

The chef plans to offer a special menu on Mother’s Day, but we chose among the regular brunch options. There were many tempting offerings, including a breakfast version of the Monte Cristo ($12), banana walnut pancakes ($11), a gravlox (house-cured salmon) plate ($13) and a vegetable frittata ($10). I opted for the fried country steak and gravy ($16). In retrospect, it wasn’t a great choice. Though the eggs were poached perfectly, and the peppered white gravy was rich and not too salty, the breaded steak was so tough it was almost inedible.

My daughter chose the Grillhouse breakfast bowl ($11), a generous helping of home fries topped with bacon strips, fried eggs, hollandaise and house bacon lardons. The hollandaise was light and lemony, and the potato-and-sweet-potato home fries were nicely seasoned. The lardons — matchstick-size strips of rendered pork fat — were delicious, albeit kind of redundant alongside the crisp strips of bacon.

My wife was somewhat disappointed by her duck confit hash ($14). Her potatoes were different than mine and our daughter’s — they were underseasoned and not mixed with sweet potatoes. The eggs were cooked nicely, but overall the dish was a bit on the bland side.

There are plenty of places in and around Portland that offer better food for less money, so if that’s your yardstick, The Royal River Grillhouse may not top your brunch list. But the combination of food and atmosphere here makes this a worthy destination for holidays and other special occasions. Encourage Mom to build her own custom Bloody (or two). She’ll love it.

— Dan Zarin

The Royal River Grillhouse serves brunch on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.