Tuesday, March 11, 2014
What makes Becky’s Diner so popular is its authenticity. To Portlanders and tourists alike it’s the salty symbol of the city’s working waterfront, no matter the prevaiing political or economic climate.
The diner also remains the common ground where summer tourists, lobsterman, lawyers, local politicians and business people come for the same thing: a solid, wholesome meal.
The food is always good and well prepared. Their chowders are hearty and full of local fish in a milky, zesty broth flavored with salt pork and thickened with potatoes. It’s where I go for a simple grilled cheese sandwich, or a no-frills burger and fries.
Of course breakfast is its claim to fame. Big platters of eggs, hash, home fries, bacon, ham and sausage come any which way you want them. I love their grilled Italian sausage with eggs, buttered toast and great home fries.
I feel remiss, though, that I never realized that Becky’s is open for dinner, serving a full-fledged menu of starters, entrees and desserts until 9 o’clock. The regular menu stays in force all day and you can pick whatever you want from each section.
The other night I convinced a friend to join me to have dinner there. We arrived at 7:30 and the place was packed--every booth taken in both rooms. There were families , couples, young people and seniors and a few booths where diners were eating solo. We had no choice but to sit at the counter, which was virtually empty in both sections.
Becky's Diner at dinnertime
The long list of specials that night included an appetizer of pan-seared seafood cakes with remoulade sauce; and such entrees as broiled local haddock with a creamy mushroom and red onion sauce served with salad and choice of potato and vegetable ($13); baked stuffed 1-pound lobster with crumb stuffing ($20) and beer battered haddock with tartar sauce ($12.95).
All the specials and entrees come with a homemade biscuit or Italian bread. You can also get any of the breakfast dishes, but home-fries are not served after 4 PM.
The regular menu had all the typical, lovable dishes, Circa 1950s, of American home cooking in all its glory: grilled ham with pineapple ring, meatloaf with beef gravy, turkey with sausage stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy and broiled haddock with lemon and buttered crumbs and a lot of fried fish platters with clams, scallops or fish fillets.
Other than soup, appetizers are less exciting. But we ordered the mozzarella sticks with cheese and marinara dipping sauce to share. These were not really very good--the cheese being stringy and tasteless.
Mozzarella sticks with marinara dipping sauce
Main courses were much better. My friend had the special beer battered haddock, which the waitress described as having a very thick crust around the fish. Out came this humongous piece of fillet, as big as a tree log enveloped in its shiny batter coating and served with a mountain of great mashed potatoes and a side of creamy Cole slaw.
Beer batter dipped haddock
I had a simpler dish of broiled haddock with lemon and buttered crumbs. The fish was flakey, cooked just right and the lemon-scented crumbs were perfect. I chose the twice-baked potato and Brussels sprouts with bacon as my sides. The potato was so big it looked like a beached dirigible. The flesh from a giant spud was scooped out and mixed with a kitchen sink of spices, sour cream, onion and plenty of bacon. It’s put back into the skin and baked until crisped and puffed. The boiled Brussels sprouts were still firm and nicely smoked from the bits of bacon. The buttermilk biscuit was classic.
Broiled haddock with buttered crumbs and the great twice-baked potato
Excellent Brussels sprouts with bacon
For dessert we shared Grapenut pudding. It was a little light on the cereal filling, but it was creamy and tasty.
For $45 for two including two soft drinks, this is the best deal in town
Very good Grapenut pudding
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.