Hot Suppa in Portland might seem like an unusual choice for happy hour. Many locals know it as a popular brunch spot (voted best brunch by The Portland Phoenix this year), or where you would send someone craving a plate of corned beef hash, fried chicken or other down-home Southern-style favorites.
But there’s a bar, even if with four stools, and there’s a happy hour – a really good happy hour.
Every Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. all drinks are $1 off (house cocktails, beer, wine), as well as oysters on the half shell for $1, crispy calamari, smoked marinated chicken wings, St. Louis spareribs, all for $5 each, New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp for $6 and seasonal bruschetta for $4.
The restaurant itself is understated (and somewhat hard to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for). A half a block down from Local 188, Hot Suppa is housed in an old red brick building with a black awning and subtly tinted front windows. If not for the “open” flag that waves during business hours and sandwich board parked on the sidewalk, it often looks like the joint is closed.
A porch door swings open to what is often a large gathering of people waiting in the small atrium where stacks of newspapers linger and framed covers of Bon Appetit and Down East magazines stretch across the exposed brick walls. “Best Bloody Mary!” they boast; “Their corned beef hash is Portland’s best breakfast dish.”
In short, the place doesn’t scream bar. But come back during the week, sometime after 4 p.m. and walk through the entranceway, into the dining room, and the first thing you’ll see to the right is indeed a bar – six beers on draught, a fully-stocked liquor shelf and even an espresso machine.
The bar stools might be occupied by one or two loners and the booths – all eight of them – will likely be full with fans of the restaurant’s Double Double (double cheeseburger), or a classic New Orleans Po’Boy sandwich, mac ’n cheese, ribs, falafel salad or any number of Cajun-inspired comfort foods.
If there’s one thing to try with a pint of beer, it’s the cheesy grit fries – cheese grits breaded and deep-fried, served with spicy aioli – perhaps Hot Suppa’s answer to the dreaded mozzarella stick.
The cocktail and wine lists are impressive, considering the restaurant’s aforementioned brunch scene. There are 11 wines and 11 cocktails to choose from (remember, all $1 off at happy hour), such as the New Fashioned (Maker’s Mark, muddled orange, lemon and liquor-infused cherries, and Peychaud bitters over ice for $8.50). The drink isn’t so much new as it is strong. The bartender recommends the Sweet Tea (Firefly Vodka over ice and garnished with lemon).
Since 2004, brothers Moses and Alec Sabina set out to create a restaurant that’s known around the neighborhood as a “food institution.” With write-ups in regional and national magazines, they’ve already reached much farther than the Portland peninsula, but Hot Suppa has somehow maintained a laid-back, funky diner feel, fit for locals and curious travelers.
Claire Jeffers is a freelance writer.