Monday, March 10, 2014
As a breakfast food fanatic, I'll take substance over style any time. I'd rather have the restaurant staff focus on attaining perfection with my over-easy fried eggs than spending a lot of energy arranging the artwork on the walls.
Server Debbie Thibodeau serves breakfast at Brea Lu in Portland.
Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
Brea Lu on Forest Avenue is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.
BREA LU CAFE
WHERE: 428 Forest Ave., Portland; 772-9202
HOURS: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily
CHEAPEST GRUB: One pancake, $3.25; cup of chili, $2.95
WAIT: Five to 10 minutes
PARKING: On street
HANDICAPPED ACCESS: Yes
Based on a five-star scale
However, if I can find a breakfast place with both substance AND style, I'll gladly take it. And that's what I've found at Brea Lu Cafe.
Located on a busy part of Forest Avenue not far from Oakhurst Dairy in Portland, Brea Lu has been a neighborhood landmark for 20 or more years. But even if you've been there before, it's worth a return visit.
As soon you as walk into the old storefront, which looks sort of Art Deco from the outside, you're struck by the interior details, including pressed-tin-type ceilings and shelves full of books, knick-knacks and pictures of the city's past. A back room has exposed brick and a wood stove, making it very cozy in winter.
On weekends, you might have to wait, but they have four benches set up in front with newspapers, magazines and games at hand. So the wait is pleasant.
Despite the cheery disposition of the place, what impressed me most was the dedication to breakfast-food excellence. I like sunny-side up eggs. And I know it's not easy to get them perfect – yolks full of juice, not overcooked, whites cooked just enough, not runny and not burned. Every time I've gotten them at Brea Lu, my sunny-side up eggs have been perfect.
On a recent Sunday morning, my eggs also had the biggest yolks I had ever seen. My two pieces of Italian bread toast could not soak all the yoke, so I used my home fries too.
I ordered the homemade corned beef hash with two eggs, home fries and toast ($7.95). I like canned hash just fine, but this was definitely not canned, and that made all the difference. There were tender, meaty pieces of corned beef and big pieces of potato. It was neither greasy nor chewy, but was just right, as were the potatoes. Sometimes diner home fries stay on the grill too long and get a really hard edge to them. But these were lightly fried, and tasted fresh.
One of my dining companions had two scrambled eggs with bacon, home fries and toast ($5.95), and the size of the egg yolks made it seem like there were three or four eggs on the plate.
I also like breakfast places where you don't have to get huge portions if you don't want them. We were about to order two blueberry pancakes ($4.75) for a child when our waitress told us one ($3.75) would likely be enough. She also told us we could get it shaped like a teddy bear head, with ears, if we wanted.
Our waitress was right -- one pancake was plenty big enough, and very good. We were also able to get pure maple syrup for $1 extra.
Brea Lu is open for breakfast and lunch, hence the name, but the menu is heavy on breakfast. There are burgers, club sandwiches and chili, but most of the menu – and the most creative parts of the menu – are about breakfast foods.
Under the "speciality omelets" section, for instance, there was one with peanut butter, mushrooms and cheddar cheese ($6.95). Not something I'd line up to try, but I admire the creativity.
There is an omelet with potato, cheddar, sour cream and bacon for $8.95, which I'd like to try. There's also a chili-filled omelet for $7.50 and a Hawaiian omelet with pineapple, ham, sour cream and cheddar for $7.95. Other omelet varieties include a Greek, a Mexican, a Western and a Mediterranean. You can pick your own ingredients as well.
You can also build your own breakfast burrito, beginning at $4.95. For meats such as hash, bacon or sausage, add $2. Other breakfast specialties include Belgian waffles, French toast and eggs Benedict.
The Features staff of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram anonymously samples meals for about $7.