The Breakfast Serial

photo/Naomi Zarin
photo/Naomi Zarin

East Ender
47 Middle St., Portland

Unlike most restaurant critics and food bloggers, who write almost exclusively about dinner, I chose long ago to make my way in the world of breakfast. Over the years, this path has led me to discover some great places I otherwise would have overlooked. And there’s another big advantage to focusing on the first meal of the day: check, please.

The difference between the cost of dinner at a diner and dinner at an upscale farm-to-table restaurant can be a hundred dollars or more. But breakfast or brunch prices at the same two places might differ by just a few bucks. That means I get to go out more often, and to better restaurants.

Case in point: the East Ender. Located in the “restaurant row” block of Portland’s Middle Street alongside Duckfat and Ribollita, the East Ender offers a creative brunch menu full of locally sourced ingredients — at prices not much higher than what you’d pay at Cracker Barrel.

My wife, 10-year-old daughter (and photographer) and I met up with some good friends there to celebrate Father’s Day. We’d called ahead, so our table for seven was ready in the upstairs dining room when we arrived. A festive holiday mood and the humid June weather inspired me to order a fresh cucumber Collins ($9), a fizzy cocktail of cucumber-infused vodka, mint, lemon and lime that tasted like summer in a glass. The rest of the grown-ups settled in with some hot, fresh coffee while the kids cheerfully sipped lemonade.

We started with a sampling of appetizers and side dishes. Crunchy, smoky trout fritters ($9) and hush puppies with maple sour cream ($4) satisfied our deep-fried needs, so we skipped the doughnut of the day, but we couldn’t pass up a warm chocolate-and-banana pop tart ($5). Best of all were the cheddar swirl buns with house prosciutto and hot pepper jelly ($7), a magical melding of salty, spicy and sweet flavors that still haunts my dreams weeks later.

Having read the menu online, we knew picking a main dish would be a tough decision. Bananas Foster waffles ($10), pulled pork over green-onion johnnycakes ($12), and a curiously tempting reinvention of a fried bologna sandwich ($10) all sounded fantastic, but would have to wait for another visit.

I was really looking forward to trying the East Ender’s rendition of chicken and waffles ($14), a classic combination I’ve been craving ever since District closed a couple years ago. The buttermilk-fried half chicken was close to perfect, with a crunchy, well-seasoned coating and moist, tender meat. Poured over the top was a sticky, delicious mess of maple syrup, hot sauce and crème fraiche. The malted waffle on the bottom was a decent vehicle for awhile, but eventually soaked up so much of the sauce and juices that it sogged out.

The other entrées, including a smoked brisket hash ($12) and a salmon gravlax plate ($13), were also good, though nothing topped the high bar set by the killer first course. We all left the East Ender happy and full. And really — can you put a price on that? Yes, of course you can. And it’s way less than dinner.

— Dan Zarin

The East Ender serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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