Scratch Baking Co. in South Portland is a true neighborhood gem, a place where people who live between Willard Beach and Meetinghouse Hill gather for friendly chats and great fresh-baked treats.

But the quality and fairly low prices of the bakery’s goods makes it a deserving destination for anyone craving bagels, fresh breads, from-scratch pizza or hard-boiled egg sandwiches.

With the weather getting warmer (eventually, we hope), Scratch is a good place to keep in mind for picnic fare. It’s only a two-minute walk to Willard Beach and South Portland’s other oceanfront areas. Or you can sit on the bench in front of the shop to eat your cookies or snacks, and watch the activity in Willard Square.

The place is especially good for a quick breakfast, with egg sandwiches, muffins, bagels, coffee cake and a variety of other goodies for sale.

The egg sandwiches are $4.75 and are made ahead of time, using hard-boiled eggs so they can sit on the counter for a while. There’s no waiting while they’re made; just pick one up and go, though they sometimes sell out early.

The sandwiches are made with whatever bagels are fresh that day, then stuffed with hard-boiled egg, meats, cheese and/or vegetables. On a recent morning, one offering was a smoked ham, egg and baby spinach combo with a mix of whole grain mustard and mayonnaise. Another had egg, provolone cheese, baby spinach and red pepper mayonnaise.

The bagels alone are worth the trip. I had a sea salt bagel ($1.25) that was as big and as good a bagel as I’ve had. I’m not the world’s biggest bagel fan, but this one made me want more.

It was chewy (but not too chewy) and buttery tasting on the outside; light and airy inside. The sea salt added a warm flavor, and was not as salty as I thought it might have been. Cream cheese cost $1 extra, and came in a container big enough to cover a couple of bagels at least.

Selling cream cheese containers and not having staff put the cream cheese on is a time-saver for staff and customers. It’s one of the reasons there is virtually no waiting at Scratch — just pick, pay and go.

Browsing Scratch’s counter, it’s hard to lay off the sweet treats. So I also sampled a blueberry sour cream coffee cake ($2.50 for a huge slice), a raspberry shortbread square ($1.50) and a breakfast bar ($1.75) made with oats, dried fruits and a hint of maple. All three were superb.

For lunch, if bagels and baguettes aren’t enough, Scratch does 4- by 8-inch rectangular slices of fresh-made pizza ($3.75), served cold on the counter.

Scratch also sells coffee, wine, cheese and various things that go with bread. To see the full range of breads and pastries, plus the daily bread schedule, go to scratchbakingco.com.

 

The Features staff of The Portland Press Herald anonymously samples meals for about $7.

 

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