The Breakfast Serial

photo/Ernest Lombardi
photo/Ernest Lombardi

25 Preble St., Portland

When I go out for brunch, I’m usually in the mood for familiar fare. Traditional favorites like pancakes, omelets, corned-beef hash and biscuits-and-gravy are comforting ways to ease into a Sunday morning. Occasionally I’m in the mood for something completely different — dim sum, spätzle, Vietnamese breakfast pho — but other times I have no idea what I want, and that’s where Slab comes in. Portland’s “Sicilian street food” headquarters, which started serving Sunday brunch in November, has staked out the perfect middle ground: dishes that are deliciously different, yet comfortably familiar.

My wife and daughter and I recently met some friends there for brunch. I started with a cup of coffee that was smooth, strong and freshly brewed. My wife, fully caffeinated long before Slab’s 10 a.m. opening hour, ordered the Slab Bloody Mary ($10). This spicy, unorthodox take on the famous brunch cocktail — made with Ancho Reyes chile liqueur and Italian grappa, and garnished with pepperoncini and salame — set the tone for the meal to come.

We passed an order of blueberry cornbread ($8) around the table while we read through the menu. Lighter and fluffier than typical American cornbread, the almond­crusted focaccia was topped with a tart blueberry sauce and served warm, with whipped orange butter. I doubt I’d have been able to put away a full plate of it by myself, but a few bites as an appetizer made me very, very happy.

My wife ordered the “Not Bagel and Lox” ($11), an intriguing sandwich of pistachio salame rosa, cheddar, and artichoke ricotta, with just enough raw red onion to give it a spicy bite. It came on a toasted poppy-seed schiacciata flatbread that looked like a bagel but was much lighter in texture.

photo/Dan Zarin
photo/Dan Zarin

My daughter chose the meatball lasagne ($11). Stuffed with meatballs of pork and beef, three cheeses and a subtly spicy tomato sauce, it was not only incredibly tasty, but also large enough for two lunches’ worth of leftovers.

Our friend Ernest opted for the scrambled egg bread bowl ($8), a beer­battered and deep­fried Luna wedge filled with bacon, roasted onions and eggs scrambled with sour cream, then “layered with American cheese and drizzled with warm beer cheese,” with “Slab ketchup” (tomato sauce) on the side. It was damn good. Likewise, my potato crust pizza ($8) took familiar flavors and combined them in a creative way. A baked potato­and­cheddar crust was filled with Italian sausage, green peas, and a rich and spicy arrabbiata red sauce. I kept eating long after I was sated, but still had enough left over for Monday’s lunch.

Slab is best known for their Sicilian-style pizzas, and the brunch menu includes several versions ($12-$14). Measuring well over a foot in diameter and topped with four sunny-side eggs and other unconventional options (like slices of French toast or mac ’n’ cheese), these brunch pizzas are big enough to serve two. I’d love to try them, but wish the folks at Slab would offer single­-serve versions — in my experience, it’s nearly impossible to get two people to agree on anything first thing in the morning.

Slab successfully transforms traditional brunch ingredients into imaginative new dishes with bold flavors. There are at least a half dozen other menu items I want to try. The next time I’m torn between craving the familiar and the unexpected, I know exactly where I’m going.

—Dan Zarin

Slab serves brunch on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.