SOUTH PORTLAND — The chefs from Vignola Cinque Terre came to play, and they hit it out of the park their first time on the field.

The buzz at the Incredible Breakfast Cook-Off Friday was all about the Portland restaurant’s savory smoked brisket hash patties with scrambled eggs and pea shoots, Italian cheese fonduta and salsa verde. This was their first time at the cook-off, and they took home first place.

The cook-off, held at Sea Dog Brewing Co., marks the launch of Maine Restaurant Week, which officially begins Sunday and runs through March 14. For $25 a ticket, guests wandered the restaurant Friday, sampling dishes from the participating chefs. They then voted on their favorites – each guest got two votes, and the winner was tallied.

The runner-up for Friday’s event was four-time winner Lisa Kostopoulos of The Good Table in Cape Elizabeth with her crème brûlée French toast (served with fruit to alleviate some of the guilt), the same dish that’s swept her to victory in years past. This year, she also brought along a twist on the original, a maple bacon bourbon pecan French toast for which she replaced some of the butter with bacon fat and scattered the French toast with pecans and bacon.

Third place went to the host Sea Dog Brewing Co. for its chorizo, corn and egg tart, featuring filo dough filled with Mexican chorizo, corn relish, eggs and cheese baked until golden brown. Chef Matt Tremblay created the Mediterranean-Mexican mash-up.

The popular cook-off was a noticeably more low-key event than in years past; usually, it sells out ahead of time – this year, there were still some tickets to be had at the door. Yet like Kostopoulos, most of the chefs upped their game, serving particularly imaginative dishes. (Breakfast trend that’s still hot: candied bacon.) Chef Isaac Aldrich of the Sebasco Harbor Resort served a decadent bacon and chocolate chip waffle, topped with candied bacon that had been dipped partially in chocolate. It was covered with Jack Daniels maple syrup and whipped cream.

“You can’t go wrong with bacon, and you certainly can’t go wrong with booze,” Aldrich joked.

Last year’s winner, Eve’s at the Portland Harbor Hotel, brought a new dish and a new chef. Last year’s winning pork-belly waffles were replaced by chef Anthony St. Peter’s spiced and stuffed banana bread French toast, topped with strawberry-banana preserve, candied pork belly and pistachio-curry chocolate.

Lee Skawinski, chef/owner of Vignola Cinque Terre, said chef Mitchell Ryan’s smoked brisket hash patties are a regular item on the restaurant’s brunch menu, but were tweaked for the competition.

“We do poached eggs at the restaurant,” he said, “but today we’re doing scrambled, pea shoots and a little cheese fonduta.”

Paige Driver and Chelsea Hogan sat at a booth, surrounded by small plates of breakfast food. They are both students at the University of New England in Biddeford and bought tickets at the last minute, after reading about the event on MaineToday.com.

“We’re dedicated breakfast eaters,” Driver said. “We like breakfast food.”

Driver was partial to chef Kevin Cunnnigham’s strawberry balsamic crepes from Marché in Lewiston, and the cinnamon nun pancake with cream cheese frosting prepared by chef Nicole Steinmark of Bintliff’s American Cafe in Portland (which, incidentally, is changing its name to Bayside American Cafe).

“We ate that in, like, one bite,” Driver said.

“We didn’t even have time to enjoy it.”

While Driver has a sweet tooth, Hogan was partial to savory dishes, such as the maple sausage wrapped in a blueberry pancake and served with a farm-fresh egg by the Brunswick Hotel & Tavern.

In the end, all four of the young women’s votes went to Vignola Cinque Terre’s smoked brisket dish.

Other competitors this year included: Gary Leech from Congdon’s doughnuts in Wells and chefs Darla and Doug Neugebauer from Marcy’s in Portland, who brought a variety of grilled muffins.

Tickets are still available for Maine Restaurant Week’s closing event, The Signature Event, on Sunday, March 8.

The food and cocktail pairing competition will be held at Prime Mercedes-Benz in Scarborough.

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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