January 14, 2013

Dine Out Maine: The Bayou Kitchen's a brunch joint worth the early visit

By SHONNA MILLIKEN HUMPHREY

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The Bayou Kitchen is a popular spot with diners who favor the blend of Cajun and Creole flavors it applies to its breakfast and lunch options.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

DINING REVIEW

THE BAYOU KITCHEN, 543 Deering Ave., Portland. 774-4935; bayoukitchenmaine.com

****1/2

HOURS: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday

PRICE RANGE: $2.50 to $9.75

BAR: No

CREDIT CARDS: All major

VEGETARIAN-FRIENDLY: Yes

RESERVATIONS: No

BOTTOM LINE: The Bayou Kitchen has been serving Louisiana-style breakfast and lunch favorites to Portland for more than 23 years -- for a reason. Until Portland has a uniquely Cajun or Creole sit-down dinner restaurant, those looking for a bayou influence must content themselves with earlier hours, but the upside of this schedule is an authentic bayou flair applied creatively to brunch favorites. Go, and I doubt you will be disappointed.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:

* Poor  **Fair  ***Good ****Excellent *****Extraordinary.

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

Both the gumbo and jambalaya are served with homemade cornbread or biscuit. (Side orders cost $2 and $1.75, respectively.) The biscuit is the thick and substantial type, and cornbread is offered in plain, jalapeno and blueberry varieties. This isn't the cakey cornbread though; it's crispy -- as if toasted on the grill. Mmm, again.

Louisiana classics noted, the Bayou Kitchen is a brunch joint, and the menu is filled with egg and griddle options. My personal favorite is the Cajun Scramble ($9.75) with crawfish, Andouille sausage, sliced jalapenos and cheddar.

Aptly named, it is a plateful of eggs cooked as requested (I like mine cooked hard) with enough heat in the abundance of peppers to power a furnace. And if I needed even more heat, both Tabasco and local Maine-based Lost Woods hot sauce bottles graced the table.

The Tri-Sausage Scramble ($8.75) was the same scramble concept but made with Andouille, Polish, and Chorizo and cheddar. Add a side of bacon -- three of the biggest, tastiest, crispiest, perfectly-cut pieces in town -- for $2.50.

The best, though, is the Custom Pancake Shop. (Let me emphasize this again: custom pancake shop. I was in carb heaven.) Choose from ginger, coffee, pecan, blueberry, banana, chocolate chip or granola. A short stack costs $6.50; tall, $8.75.

We chose pecan, and I was initially apprehensive because of the large box of Gold Medal Complete Buttermilk Pancake Mix sitting on the counter bar. Pancake mix seemed like cheating, but whatever the base ingredients, the result is an enormous pancake of atypical consistency. Rather than light and spongy, these pancakes were light and biscuit-y. Almost like a shortbread, but a shortbread filled with toasted pecans. (Add $1.75 for the real Earth's Pride Organics maple syrup.) Now that I know what pancakes can taste like, I plan to return. It was a pancake epiphany.

From start to finish, the Bayou Kitchen was a warm and casual respite from the winter chill.

Service was a perfect blend of friendly and sassy, and the food prepared with an expert and subtle hand. Flavors were layered, and the menu showed an intelligent blend of options -- each representing the Louisiana theme, but not catapulting it into caricature.

I will be back, earlier next time, to linger and savor.

Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a Maine freelance writer and author of the novel "Show Me Good Land."

 

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