390 Congress St., Portland
Over the years, I’ve eaten my share of hotel-restaurant breakfasts. I’ve had plenty of hotel meals that were OK — not bad, but definitely not great. Even at pricy “boutique” hotels, the restaurants can seem like an afterthought, designed and operated to serve guests who are too rushed, too tired or too hungover to look for somewhere better to eat.
With that mental baggage in tow, I stopped into Union, the restaurant inside the Press Hotel, in downtown Portland, on a recent Friday morning with my wife, our 14-year-old daughter and one of her friends. We started with hot drinks. The coffee, from Portland’s Coffee by Design ($4), was top notch, and the hot cocoa ($5) was rich, intensely chocolate-y, and topped with delightful, velvety pillows of whipped cream.
My Eggs Benedict ($15) was a master-class example of the classic brunch dish. The toasted English muffins were topped with textbook-perfect poached eggs, griddled local ham, and a delicately smooth and lemony hollandaise sauce that was so good that I’d consider drinking it by the glass if it wouldn’t kill me. On the side was a dish of tender, lightly spicy fingerling-potato homefries.
My daughter’s vanilla brioche pain perdu ($13), served with cinnamon and local maple syrup, was among the best plates of French toast I have ever tasted. Crisp, sweet, and perfectly cooked through to the center, it somehow managed to be both light and decadent.
Though technically too young to be a millennial, my daughter’s friend has a thing for avocado toast, and Union’s version ($14) did not disappoint. The fluffy “shaved” hard-boiled egg, creamy ricotta salata and peppery radish provided a welcome variety of textures and flavors, but it was the tart, salty, preserved lemon emulsion that elevated this dish to a higher plane. Likewise, my wife’s smoked salmon ($17) started with a familiar mix of flavors and transformed into something new. Served on square slices of pumpernickel toast, the combination of shaved egg, pickled onions, briny capers, petite greens and “everything spice” was absolutely delicious, and anything but traditional.
Union also has a brunch menu, available after 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, that skews more toward lunch than breakfast. I’m tempted to try it some weekend, but in the meantime I’ll be content to keep coming back for breakfast whenever my budget allows. Whether you’re staying in the hotel, trying to impress a client, or just wandering around town, you’re unlikely to find a better morning meal any day of the week.
— Dan Zarin
Union serves breakfast Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.