When it comes to trying new breakfast places I’m always up for the task. This is because most breakfast places are sadly, not worth becoming emotionally invested in. I go to new places with the hope that I’m going to see something new, something fresh, or for the love of all things pewter…something just done well. Unfortunately I can’t remember the last time I went to breakfast and came away saying wow, BREAKFAST! Then along came “Hot Suppa” in Portland Maine…and now when it comes to deciding where I should go for breakfast, I’d happily make the hour drive each way.
Breakfast, the thought usually invokes a sigh immediately followed by a laundry list of past and present awful restaurants that I have to sort through to get to the lesser of the evils. They all have the same menu of simple favorites that in theory should be easy to execute, but almost always come up short. You know the places, I don’t have to name them because invariably they’re all the same. Wow, wafer thin bacon that is pre-cooked and tastes nothing like bacon. This always makes me ask for the owner or manager so I can proceed with a five minute lecture on everything that’s wrong with restaurants today, and a good dose of embarrassment for whomever happens to be unlucky enough to be with me.
The Cat seldom cares as he is usually done with his breakfast at this point and has headed to the parking lot let the air out of that BMW’s tires because the owner cut us off on our way to the parking space. I look around at the sheepish people ordering this awful bacon and settling for it in lieu of what bacon once was…long slabs of crispy fat with nice bits of lean, and rounded out by smoky and salty goodness. I say these people are sheepish, but I’m not sure it’s being very fair to sheep… these people probably aren’t as smart or assertive as sheep.
Hash browns, these are potatoes that have been shredded, julienned, riced or diced and then pan fried or grilled until brown. It’s in the name of what they are and yet, somewhat mysteriously most places I go to for breakfast still manage to serve hash whites! There is no excuse for this food sin as most of these places aren’t even going through the trouble of actually doing the slicing, grating, dicing, etc… they’re simply throwing them frozen on the grill and undercooking the hell out of them.
Corned beef hash should be my favorite breakfast dish because I love everything that goes into it. When I make it at home I error more to the side of English “bubble and squeak” as I always have cabbage, potato, corned beef, onion and carrots left over from a boiled dinner. Most restaurants don’t bother going through all the trouble of actually cooking the carrots, or the onions, the potato or even the corned beef. Why bother going through all that trouble when all these restaurants feel all you really and truly need for proper corned beef hash, is a can opener.
In all fairness I’ve had this canned product before and I’ve even bought some to take with me camping, on a mountain, in New Hampshire, in January when it got down to nearly minus twenty degrees F. I also bought Beef stew in a can and liked them both for what they were, calorie packed food that would help keep my body from turning into a Pav-sicle. But when I am at home or in a restaurant, have unlimited gas for cooking, and readily available ingredients for what must be one of the easiest meals to make on the planet… it is unforgivable to buy it in a can then serve it to anybody other than a would be freezing person.
Eggs are not easy, go ahead and read it again I’ll wait. Eggs are not easy, and you can learn a lot about a cook by the way the cook eggs. Ok, let me show you how eggs aren’t easy. Fried eggs that are laced and crispy brown around the edges with a hard yolk, to runny whites and unset or even broken yolk are some of the many fried egg sins. Scrambled that are either a runny mess or cooked to super- ball consistency that we’ve seen served to us and piled into buffets. Poached that look like Picasso’s “femme en pleurs” on an acid trip, or cooked to have the look and texture of a lamb testicle, without any of the flavor. Eggs are not easy because you can’t hide your mistakes when you’re cooking one item. Technique and practice is the remedy to this disease, unfortunately nobody seems to know they’re sick.
I was in Portland eating at one of my favorite restaurants. I always sit at the dinner bar which overlooks the kitchen so I can chat with the cooks and it’s always a good time. The sauté guy smiles at me and using his head, points to the couple beside me. The woman is saying “are you alright” to her date that is just about to nod off into his brussel sprout salad. He is clearly comfortably numb, but on the up side not bothering anybody. She looks over to me somewhat embarrassed and says, “It’s nothing a little Hot Suppa corned beef hash can’t fix tomorrow.” I was looking confused at his plate trying to figure out how bacon and apple brussel sprout salad was going to become hash tomorrow morning but she interrupted…”You know on Congress Street, Hot Suppa?!” “They have the best corned beef hash.” With this comment, I knew where I’d be eating breakfast.
I arrived at Hot Suppa not knowing what to expect. I had driven by several times but never thought to stop for breakfast. I’ve been to several other places in Portland but so far, have always been disappointed. On several occasions I’ve ended up having breakfast at whole foods which would either be a bowl of noodles or some kind of lunchtime sandwich and chips… not a super breakfast. The place was very purple, and also very busy with a great laid back vibe. The customers all seemed to be local which is always a good sign, and I got a booth quickly as I perused the dinner menu. I was confused as the dinner menu seemed to be a riff on southern/Cajun food. This was the same as another failed breakfast place I had been to in the area, and that ended poorly.
I ordered coffee and looked over the breakfast menu already knowing what I was going to get. Pretty standard breakfast fare except they have waffles instead of pancakes and they also have 7 grain porridge along with a breakfast burrito and “HOLY CRAP, real bacon! They accidentally tried to deliver a plate to my table that had bacon the size, shape and thickness of my 7th grade Rossi ROC 210cm skis! For those not well versed in late 70’s ski equipment, suffice it to say the bacon is beautiful. I ordered up my breakfast (Corned Beef hash with poached eggs, hash browns and rye toast) I asked for the dinner menu to read while I waited.
Sufficiently impressed by the dinner menu and the Bacon I saw earlier, I was cautiously optimistic about breakfast. When it arrived I began to tear up a bit while I took a couple of pictures. Perfect, absolutely perfect to look at in every way except I noticed only one poached egg, the waitress assured me the chef had messed one up and the other would be out in seconds. I couldn’t understand what I was hearing so I asked her, “He did what?” She said, “The egg wasn’t right so he’s doing another one.” I can’t remember when if ever, I’ve heard a waitperson say a cook wanted to make something right for breakfast. Usually they will put it in front of you as if, I dare you to tell me it’s wrong.
The food tasted as amazing as it looked. The hash browns were brown and crisp, but at the same time fluffy with a hint of creaminess. The corned beef was shredded and the carrots were still a bit toothsome with potato and onion serving a supporting role as the corned beef was the star being both perfectly cooked and abundant. The marbled rye toast was a perfect complement to the meal as it was local and very tasty. Just a really super breakfast all around, and I’m blushing a bit because I feel giddy like a six year old school girl about breakfast again, and it’s about time! I can’t wait to try everything on the menu.
So if you’re within, oh I dunno…three hours of Portland Maine and you’re looking for something to eat for breakfast, wing on in to Hot Suppa and get some Corned Beef Hash, you’ll be glad you did. Don’t go to that same old place that doesn’t care about you or your breakfast food, daring you to find something wrong with it then further daring for you to speak up about it. You know afterwards you’ll feel more ashamed than a whore in church on Sunday after just getting paid. I’m so excited about this place, I can’t wait to go there for dinner!
703 Congress St.
Portland, ME 04102