703 Congress St., Portland
When the sun goes down in the afternoon and the chill air seeps through your apartment’s drafty windows, it’s time to get cozy. Some days that means drinking tea while swaddled in blankets on the couch. Other days it means getting the hell out of the house for a belly-warming dinner in a fragrant restaurant.
Hot Suppa fits that bill. The Congress Street eatery (which dropped the exclamation point from its name after a recent redesign) is renowned for its brunch, but come dinnertime they serve up comfort foods — fried chicken, mac and cheese, poutine, shrimp ’n’ grits — in a snug, intimate (yet endearingly quirky) atmosphere. Plus, the prices are right for couples aiming to spend less than a Grant (before tax and tip). Pours of house wine are just $5 (the red is a particularly good blend from Portugal, called Porta 6) and you can get a better-than-average cheeseburger for as little as $8.
We ordered a couple appetizers and an entrée to share, kicking things off with the charbroiled oysters ($12). Cooking oysters is always a gamble. Heat tends to make them more fishy and robust — you lose the refreshing, briny, refined pleasure of the raw animal. But if this richness is played up, cooked oysters can rival raw. As Julia Child wisely and famously said, “with enough butter, anything is good.” Hot Suppa drowns their oysters in garlicky butter, tops them with parmesan and serves them with French bread to make a luxuriously satisfying dish.
The deviled eggs ($6) came in two styles: Sriracha and bacon. The bacon ones tasted strongly of smoke flavoring, not bacon. We preferred the Sriracha eggs, which were rosy pink and just barely piquant.
The fried chicken ($16) didn’t disappoint. The pieces were huge and coated in a divine batter: crisp, crunchy, and ever so slightly sweet. We chose collard greens for the side. Salty, meltingly soft, and spiked with bits of ham, they were a perfect match. For an extra, second side, we ordered coleslaw ($3). Coleslaw should either be bright and vinegary or rich and creamy. This slaw was soggy and flat — skip it.
Such hiccups aside, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Hot Suppa. The service was friendly and efficient, and the room was warm in every way. I look forward to exploring another corner of the dinner menu, and there are plenty of chilly evenings ahead.
— Hannah Joyce McCain