The Breakfast Serial

photo/Naomi Zarin
photo/Naomi Zarin

The Sinful Kitchen
906 Brighton Ave., Portland

Gluten free. Dairy free. Sugar free. Kosher. Halal. Vegan. Paleo. The reasons behind them vary — from medical, to ethical, to spiritual, to pseudoscientific fad — but dietary restrictions are becoming more common every day. And while decent alternatives are increasingly available, it can still be tough to find a good restaurant willing to accommodate those needs. Happily, The Sinful Kitchen offers a seriously tasty brunch that’s accessible to diners of all stripes — if there’s something you can’t eat, you can probably not eat it there.

The Sinful Kitchen opened earlier this year in the former home of La Familia, on outer Brighton Ave., in Portland’s Rosemont neighborhood. Chef and owner Dave Mallari, who has Celiac disease, well understands the plight of diners forced to avoid certain ingredients. He offers gluten- free versions of most menu items, and maintains separate equipment and prep surfaces for gluten-free cooking.

Thankfully, no one in my immediate family must follow such a strict dietary regimen, though we have friends and relatives who do. I consider myself lucky that I can eat pretty much anything (except fake maple “pancake syrup,” which isn’t really food anyway). But my wife has a lactose intolerance that keeps her from enjoying many of the butter-and-cream- laden breakfast treats she loves so much. So we looked forward to seeing what she’d find on Chef Dave’s menu.

On arrival, the bright, cheerful dining room with gleaming hardwood floors reminded me very much of Mallari’s previous Brighton Ave. eatery, The Blue House Café, which closed in 2008. The Sinful Kitchen has the same welcoming, casual vibe. We sat down to two mugs of strong coffee (Coffee By Design’s Rebel Blend), and began reading through the extensive list of brunch dishes.

We scanned past old favorites like Huevos Rancheros ($10), various traditional and non-traditional riffs on Eggs Benedict ($9.50-$14.50), and a Brunch Burger topped with a fried egg ($12). We also skimmed Dave’s nods to other diets, including a Vegan Tofu Scramble ($11.50) and Paleo Banana Walnut Pancakes ($12).

For me, the choice was pretty easy. I’m basically incapable of passing up a good Monte Cristo ($12). Served on French toast (and available on a gluten-free version for a small upcharge), the sandwich was piled high with thick-cut griddled ham and turkey, cheddar and Swiss cheese. It was an excellent rendition of the classic, lacking only the slight sweetness that typically comes from a dusting of powdered sugar. Maple syrup would have been nice for dipping, but I was feeling grumpy about having to pay extra for the real thing (it grows right here in Maine, dammit!). My meal came with a side order of homefries, which were buttery and lightly crispy, though just a touch under-seasoned.

My daughter’s choice seemed tailor-made for an 11-year-old. The Peanut Butter Cup Waffle with Chocolate Ganache ($11.50) was crisp, fluffy and wicked tasty (cloyingly sweet, to my taste). She ate every last tooth- destroying bite, along with three strips of thick-cut bacon and a side of homefries.

My wife loved the idea of a waffle, but was reluctant to tempt fate because of the butter and buttermilk involved. Thankfully, our server chimed in to let her know the gluten-free waffle was also dairy-free. She decided to piece together her own meal, starting with the waffle and layering on pulled pork (Mallari also runs a pig-roast catering business) and two poached eggs. The waffle wasn’t quite as good as the “glutened” version, but was still delicious, with a flavor reminiscent of county-fair fried dough. The pork needed a little salt to bring out the smoky flavor, and the eggs were slightly too well-done, but overall it was a good dish and a lot of food for $12.50.

The unlikely star was almost an afterthought: an order of homefries cooked with olive oil, instead of butter. They were even better than the regular potatoes, and totally unexpected — the chef overheard that she was eating dairy-free, and took it upon himself to make a custom batch just for her.

It’s just that kind of thoughtful, personal service that makes this place special. Yes, the prices are a bit on the high side, and there are certainly other places in town where you’ll find food that’s just as good, or even better. But if your diet is restricted for any reason, you’re unlikely to find a better brunch or more accommodating, friendly staff than those awaiting you at The Sinful Kitchen.

— Dan Zarin

The Sinful Kitchen serves brunch daily from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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