As chefs from 10 local restaurants face off this morning in the fifth annual Incredible Breakfast Cook-Off – the official launch of Maine Restaurant Week – one big question hovers over the event like a pancake in mid-flip.

Will the reigning queen of the contest finally be toast?

Lisa Kostopoulos, chef/owner of The Good Table in Cape Elizabeth, will be back once again to defend her long-running title at the cook-off, which is always held at Sea Dog Brewing Co. in South Portland.

No doubt the place will be packed, with hungry breakfast lovers smelling blood along with the sweet scent of maple syrup. The culinary battle usually sells out, with proceeds going to charity. Last year’s competition drew about 300 people and raised $4,200 for the United Way of Greater Portland. This year’s beneficiary will be Preble Street’s anti-hunger and homelessness programs.

For $22.50 a ticket, guests get to wander the restaurant and graze from table to table, sampling all of the chefs’ dishes. Then they vote on their favorites, and a winner is crowned at 8:45 a.m.

Kostopoulos and her “bring-you-to-your-knees delicious” Creme Brulee French Toast won the cook-off three years in a row (in 2012, by a margin of just four votes), and then last year tied for first place, nearly knocked out by a plate of sweet potato corned beef hash topped with Hollandaise and a sunny-side-up quail egg.


The wildly popular French toast dish is back in the ring this year, but this time Kostopoulos faces some stiff new competition. Usually there’s more than one version of eggs Benedict, corned beef hash or French toast to split the votes. This year, there’s two waffles in the mix, but otherwise all the dishes are very different.

And they lean on the savory side. Chefs are bringing six savory dishes and four sweet, which could affect the outcome if there are more men in attendance than women. Some people believe that men tend to favor savory breakfast dishes, while women favor sweet.

The Creme Brulee French Toast will be up against dishes as varied as Fried Chicken & Waffles from the East Ender and Churros with Chocolate Sauce from El Rayo. One of the more ambitious dishes, an Irish Breakfast Fritatta served by Ri Ra Irish Pub, consists of egg baked with mushrooms, Irish vintage cheddar, roasted tomato, Irish rasher bacon, Irish banger sausages, and a sampling of black and white puddings.

The other competitors are Bintliff’s in Ogunquit, Congdon’s Doughnuts in Wells (who always brings a giant “cheeseburger doughnut” and last year served chocolate-covered bacon), Eve’s at the Portland Harbor Hotel, Little Bigs in South Portland, Sea Dog Brewing Co. in South Portland, and the Tavern at the Inn at Brunswick Station.

Kostopolous’ French toast has become such a thing over the past four years that the chef refuses to share her recipe.

But back in 2010, Kostopoulos told the Press Herald that the rich dish is made with French bread that’s soaked overnight in a mixure of cream, sugar and eggs. Brown sugar and a little Grand Marnier line the bottom of the pan, giving the finished dish that bruleed effect.

Top with lots of fresh fruit, and you have a winner.

At least until 8:45 this morning.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:mgoad@pressherald.comTwitter: MeredithGoad

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