July 18, 2013

Eat and Run: Brian Boru, Portland

The food is both scrumptious and substantial, our reviewer finds.

My friend was distraught. He had just received a phone call informing him about a death in the family. It was not unexpected, but the news still cut deep, and caused tremendous grief.

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Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Patrons often visit Brian Boru in Portland for the brews, the friendly atmosphere and the music. But there’s also good food available – and plenty of it.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer


WHERE: 57 Center St., Portland; 780-1506

HOURS: Food served 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

CHEAPEST GRUB: Cup of soup, $3

WAIT: 15 minutes

PARKING: Very limited off-street parking


RATING: ****

Based on a five-star scale

We talked for a few minutes outside, then decided to grab a bite.

I took him to Brian Boru, one of my favorite bars in all of Portland. Check that, all of Maine. Whenever I have company, I like to start my bar tour of Portland at Brian Boru. The atmosphere is friendly, the beer is good, and the music is almost always exceptionally fun, especially when North of Nashville starts cutting it up.

But this occasion was somber.

We settled inside at one of the oversized tables near the back, with enough privacy so my friend could talk openly if he wanted. We each ordered a beer, toasted his dearly departed and then settled in to the task of deciding what to eat.

It occurred to me that in all my years of buying rounds at Brian Boru, I had never actually ordered food. I had no idea what was on the menu, and could make no recommendations. But my buddy likes to eat, and so do I, and the food that I have seen come out of kitchen always looked plentiful and robust.

After much consideration and weighing guilt vs. desire, I opted not for a sirloin burger with bacon and Swiss, which I craved, and settled (dare I say compromised?) on the pulled pork sandwich, featuring North Carolina cider barbecue topped with slaw and served on a fresh bun.

Always a friend of beef, my buddy ordered the half-pound cheesesteak, served on a long roll. (No kidding, right? Like a half-pound of anything would come on a short roll?)

He raved about his sandwich, and it looked really good, with thinly sliced steak and oozing cheese and grilled onions. I believe he managed to down the whole thing. He did not offer me a bite to sample, but I trust from his contented sighs that he found the sandwich satisfying.

My barbecue was outstanding. I loved the zesty flavor of the barbecue sauce, and I really appreciated that the slaw came as part of the sandwich instead of on the side.

The slaw tempered the tender barbecue just enough to create a nice contrast in flavors and texture, and was not at all juicy to dampen the bun.

Both sandwiches came with hand-cut fries.

My take-away: A-plus for presentation and taste, but pricey. My sandwich was $8, his was $9.

That is not overly expensive, but those were among the least expensive options on the lunch menu. My coveted burger would have cost me $11, and the meatloaf sandwich -- my next option -- was $10.

But, you get what you pay for. I ate every bite, and I had no regrets. I loved my sandwich.

I'm just surprised that it took me 10 years of buying drinks to finally order food.

The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $10.


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