The 5 Spot
935 Congress St., Portland
When I asked Keith Costello of The 5 Spot how his place was different than some of the other new restaurants in Portland, he didn’t mince words. “I’m not giving you a quail egg on a cracker for fifteen bucks. This is frickin’ food!”
Not that Costello minds fancy restaurants. But when the Philadelphia native and his wife, Rosetta, opened The 5 Spot in May on Congress Street, across from Pizza Villa and the Greyhound station, they aimed to make it accessible: a casual vibe and good, cheap food — period. “We wanted to re-create something from the past,” Keith said, “that corner joint in South Philly where everyone went, where you could just hang out and get a good sandwich.”
And that’s exactly what they’ve done. The authentic Philly cheesesteaks (made with real Cheez Whiz) and $5 hoagies are the main attractions, but Keith’s killer breakfast sandwiches are not to be overlooked. They’re also cheap, just $5 (a “five spot”), including a cup of unfancy but passable coffee.
I wasn’t able to make it in after 10 a.m., when the shop opens, but Keith offered to come in early so some friends and I could check it out. “I live nearby,” he said. “Sometimes I’m here early, and if I’m here, I’ll feed ya.”
The breakfast sandwiches are served on a soft, fresh hoagie roll, and include a fried egg and choice of cheese and meat. Foregoing the familiar bacon, ham or sausage, I opted for the Pennsylvania Dutch specialty known as scrapple. Described by Keith as “kind of like polenta with pork scraps,” this flavorful, slightly salty, low-brow delicacy was sliced thin and fried to a crisp on the griddle. It was, in a word, amazing. I had mine with sharp provolone, which is another rare sandwich option around here; my friends chose American or pepper jack. All agreed the sandwich was delicious, especially dressed up with some of the wide variety of peppers and hot sauces available on a counter.
Costello also offers another regional breakfast favorite: the pork roll, egg and cheese, a sandwich made semi-famous by Ween (see “Frank,” from The Pod). A pork-based deli meat originally processed in New Jersey, where it’s called Taylor ham, pork roll is a bit saltier than scrapple but similarly sinful.
Keith’s larger-than-life personality fills the small shop. He tells stories peppered with colorful curses while tending the grill, singing and dancing along to Motown and doo-wop, stealing kisses from Rosetta. He clearly loves his job. “I fry up a pound of bacon and cook the onions in the fat,” he announced. “Every morning I turn twenty pounds of onions into ten pounds of candy!”
The 5 Spot’s hours don’t fit my weekday breakfast schedule, but, luckily, the breakfast sandwiches are served all day. Quail eggs, not so much.
— Dan Zarin
The 5 Spot is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.