The Breakfast Serial

Corned beef hash at Bayside American Cafe. photo/Naomi Zarin.

Bayside American Cafe
98 Portland St., Portland

Seems like there’s a new restaurant opening in Portland every week. It’s impossible to keep up; I can only afford so many breakfasts out, so the impulse is to try as many new places as I can. And a lot of those places are really, really good. But the thing is, all this shiny newness doesn’t come without a downside. It makes it far too easy to forget the old standbys, yesterday’s favorites. And that’s too bad, because some of those places have been quietly putting out some damn fine meals, year after year.

When we moved to Portland 15 years ago, Bintliff’s American Cafe was the first restaurant my wife and I visited for Sunday brunch, and it was great. We ate there at least once a month. The morning our daughter was born, a friend stopped at Bintliff’s for a smoked salmon platter and brought it to my wife in Mercy Hospital.

But a year or two later, we pretty much stopped going. Having a toddler in tow turned a potentially long wait — sometimes up to an hour on weekend mornings — into a major deterrent. Also around this time, a bunch of small, funky places like Hot Suppa! and Caiola’s began to crop up around town. The 21st century Portland food scene was off to the races, and we sprinted to catch up.

Fast-forward to 2017. The scene is bigger than ever, but Bintliff’s, renamed Bayside American Cafe (but still under the same ownership since 2003), is still serving breakfast till early afternoon in its original location on Portland Street, across from the main Post Office. When my family wanted to go out for brunch during school vacation week, the Cafe was the first place that came to mind. I hope it’s still good, I thought.

And it was.

Many of the items on the extensive breakfast/brunch menu haven’t changed since the old days. After a nicely spiced Bloody Mary ($7), my wife ordered the Cafe’s famous corned beef hash ($15 for a full order, $10 for a half). The well-seasoned dish has three kinds of potatoes, big chunks of brisket, and lots of crispy bits. With two perfectly poached eggs on top and a thick slab of wheat toast on the side, this quintessential brunch plate still ranks as one of the city’s best.

Dark chocolate waffle. photo/Naomi Zarin

My daughter and her friend were both in the mood for something more decadent. A dark chocolate waffle ($11), served with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, was crisp, light and, surprisingly, not overly sweet. The lemon blueberry French toast (one for $5, two for $9, three for $11) was custardy and delicious, topped with tart lemon curd and sweet wild blueberries. My only gripe was the $2.25 upcharge for real maple syrup. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is Maine, where the stuff literally pours out of the trees, and anyone who is content with the industrial food product called “pancake syrup” is wrong.

In addition to the classics, the menu has some new twists since our last visit, like my bacon, cheddar and scallion pancakes with bourbon maple syrup (one for $5.25, two for $9.25, three for $11.50). I loved the sweet/salty/savory flavors of the fluffy, plate-sized cakes, though I couldn’t get through two of them before crying uncle. I washed them down with multiple cups of excellent custom-blend coffee from Portland’s Coffee by Design ($2.50).

Nostalgia aside, this was an excellent brunch, on par with many of the newer, “foodier” places in Portland. I’m sorry it took me a decade to return to this old standby. I won’t make that mistake again.

— Dan Zarin

Bayside American Cafe is open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Breakfast and brunch are served all day.

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