The Breakfast Serial

Pork Belly Benedict at Wilson County Barbecue. photo/Dan Zarin

Wilson County Barbecue
82 Hanover Street, Portland

Patio season has arrived, dear reader, and it’s about damn time. Even in the pre-pandemic before times, my family preferred to eat al fresco whenever the weather allowed. These days, an outdoor dining area is one of our top considerations when picking a restaurant.  

Enter Wilson County Barbecue, now in its third year in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood. Its patio is one of the city’s largest, with several oversized picnic tables and two cozy fire pits. Add the alluring scent of wood smoke and plentiful parking and it’s an easy sale.

The North Carolina–style, whole-hog barbecue at Wilson County has earned the place glowing reviews from diners and the local press. When I heard they also do weekend brunch, I was all in. My wife and I made plans to meet friends there on a sunny Saturday morning last month.    

Like many restaurants in these after times, Wilson County operates with fewer front-of-house staff than one would likely have encountered before. On arrival, we found our own table, scanned a QR code to pull up the menu, and went inside to order at the bar. When it was ready, we carried our food and drinks outside, and we bussed our table when we were finished. This “new normal” may not be ideal, but it worked smoothly enough.

My wife and I started with drinks: a nicely spicy Bloody Mary ($11) for me and a smooth, boozy Old Fashioned ($13) for her. Coffee was disappointing; for $4.50 I expected better than a mug of average-quality brew with a single-serve plastic cup of Coffee Mate.

Wood-smoked barbecue may be the headliner at lunch- and dinnertime, but surprisingly, it’s nowhere to be found on the brunch menu, which mostly offers classic Southern breakfast staples with a few nontraditional twists. 

Our friend ordered the Pork Belly Benedict ($21), featuring crispy, funky pork belly along with two perfectly poached eggs and a light, lemony hollandaise. For her, the highlight was the side order of smooth, salty Cheese Grits. 

Her husband got the Breakfast Sandwich ($13), pairing a generous slab of pork belly with a fried egg and American cheese on a fluffy biscuit. Unfortunately, the kitchen was out of the tri-color potatoes they use for home fries, so he got a side of barbeque-spiced, crinkle-cut French fries instead.  

I ordered Sausage Gravy & Biscuits ($11). The mild, slightly peppery gravy was creamy and decadent, with plenty of big chunks of sausage. I didn’t mind paying an extra $1 to add eggs, but my over-easies were over-cooked and I wished I had ordered them poached.

My wife went for the Chicken & Waffles ($16). The two housemade waffles were crispy, light and slightly sweet, with real maple syrup served on the side. The boneless fried chicken breast was well seasoned, but dry. 

We all shared an order of Hush Puppies ($6), deliciously crispy balls of fried cornbread batter. The only puzzle for us was the pair of dipping sauces: neither the whisky butter (which tasted like plain whipped butter) nor jalapeno ranch dressing (which tasted like plain ranch) felt like it belonged on the plate.

A bowl of Banana Pudding ($7), loaded with chunks of banana, crumbled vanilla wafers and whipped cream, was the perfect way to cap off our unapologetically high-calorie meal.

I hope Wilson County will find a way to expand the brunch menu to include the barbecued meats they’re renowned for, maybe in a benedict or hash of some sort. In the meantime, with Memorial Day in the rearview and another gorgeous Maine summer ahead, I’ll gladly stake out a spot on the patio at dinnertime.   

Wilson County Barbecue serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

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