Wednesday, March 12, 2014
I love good corned beef hash and eggs with all the fixings. So, several weeks ago I set out to see which Portland restaurant makes the best version of this classic American breakfast and brunch staple.
I picked four popular brunch haunts that serve corned beef hash. I considered the dish as a whole: the flavor and presentation of the hash and the quality of the eggs, toast, home fries and bread. But ultimately the hallmark of great hash is its crust or “bark”--the outer crusty surface that holds it together. I’ve rated each spot with 1 to 5 stars as the best.
My first stop was Local 188, where it’s always SRO at brunch. The portions are huge, prices moderate and the food is downright good.
But their hash ($9) was weird. Alongside the excellent fried eggs, home fries and terrific Wolferman’s English muffins sits a small soup bowl of hash. The menu describes it as Caribbean spiced. It’s really a stew, which for this hash hound did not past muster as corned beef hash. Rating: 2 stars.
The hash ($10.95) at Hot Suppa was all show but no substance. It looked great (perfect outer bark and crust) but it was dry, stringy and tasteless and served with unusually small eggs and mediocre toast. Rating: 1 star.
At the Front Room for brunch this past Saturday I remembered that I had excellent hash and eggs ($10) here when they opened years ago. Presently the hash is still good: moist, plenty of tender chunks of corned beef, onions, potato and great crust. But it was bound together with a mustard sauce that was overwhelming. It is, however, a nearly perfect hash if you love mustard. The poached eggs were nearly overcooked but still somewhat runny, and my bread choice was a biscuit—two huge, delicious buttermilk biscuits as crunchy as scones. Rating: 4 stars.
On Sunday morning I headed over to Marcy’s Diner (47 Oak St.,207-774-9713). This is the apocryphal counter coffee shop that has graced the corner of Oak and Free streets since the 1930s.
Under new ownership since 2011, owners/chef husband and wife Doug and Darla Neugebauer have resurrected Portland’s ultimate greasy spoon. For me Darla reigns as the queen of the city’s short order cooks.
Her hash ($7) is a regal 5 stars. (Go, too, for the platter sized pancakes, huge omelets and other inventive breakfast/lunch dishes served until 2 pm.)
Why is her hash so good? It’s unadulterated and with purity of flavor and texture. The corned beef is boiled until fork tender, cut into chunks and mixed with plenty of potatoes and onions. It’s baked for four hours in all of its cooking liquid and fat. It’s then ready for the grill top where Darla develops the “bark” for each serving. The home fries are also perfect (ask for extra crispy), great eggs cooked sunny side up and Texas toast lathered with melted butter. How good is that!
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.