On a sunny and warm late-spring weekend, my 12-year-old daughter and I arranged to meet some friends for brunch on Portland’s Eastern Promenade. Some social-media recon revealed that the SaltBox Café — a “tiny house” converted into a mobile kitchen/food truck — parks on the Prom four days a week, so we made plans to rendezvous there.
When we arrived, shortly after 9 a.m., the neighborhood was still nearly silent, save for the low hum of the truck’s generator. I ordered a cup of coffee, and the amazingly cheerful woman at the window, somehow surmising that I’m something of a caffeine connoisseur, explained that though the beans were “nothing special, just Downeast Coffee” (a fairly large commercial roaster), they were “brewed with love.” I’m still not totally sure what that meant, but it was a damn fine cup of coffee that transcended its humble origins.
We spread out on a nearby picnic table to eat. I’d chose the Crab Cake Croissant ($8.95), a rich and well-seasoned homemade crab cake served, on this particular day, with extra-sharp cheddar and ginger-hollandaise sauce on a split-and-grilled croissant. I added a farm egg and fresh, peppery greens ($1.20) for what turned out to be a near-perfect breakfast sandwich.
My daughter enjoyed her BBQ Pulled Pork Breakfast Burrito ($7.95) with Monterey jack cheese, sautéed black beans and scrambled eggs. The flavors were excellent, if a little on the sweet side. She would have liked something to vary the uniformly soft texture (bell peppers or jicama, maybe?), but happily devoured the whole thing.
My daughter’s two friends each had toast with Nutella ($2.95) and The Basic ($4.95), an English muffin sandwich with egg, cheese and breakfast meat. Both were solid, if not especially imaginative, choices, and well executed. Our adult friend, lamenting the lack of gluten-free options, had resigned herself to ordering an egg-cheese-and-bacon sandwich — hold the bread. But the happy woman in the window, having overheard her lament, offered to use the last two slices of gluten-free bread from her personal stash. It was a generous and welcome gesture, and perhaps in the future the proprietors will make room in the tiny house for a full loaf.
As we were packing up to leave, the Urban Sugar Donuts food truck — which, conveniently, parks right behind the SaltBox Café — was opening for the day, so we ordered a couple boxes of mini doughnuts ($5-$7 for six) for the road. The maple-glazed variety was absolutely delicious. I thought the lemon-glazed was even better, but my daughter wished it was “lemonier.” We all agreed that these tiny treats — crisp and still warm from the fryer, pillowy and light — were the perfect finish to a perfect morning.
— Dan Zarin
The SaltBox Café is usually parked on the Eastern Prom, at Congress Street, Thursday through Sunday, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., but it’s a good idea to check their Facebook page in advance. Urban Sugar Donuts’ schedule is a bit less predictable, but they also typically post their locations on Facebook, and their website is urbansugarcafe.com.