SOUTH BERWICK — The Early Bird Cafe is a small-town treasure. Operating in the heart of South Berwick, the little cafe serves big, hearty breakfasts and brunches, and does so with a smile, thanks to its friendly and welcoming staff.

I stopped in for breakfast to go before a busy day of work, and found the food to be very good, the service exceptional and the overall experience resoundingly positive. Here’s why: The cafe exudes a happy vibe. The Early Bird is operating for takeout only, so my experience started with a phone call right at 8 a.m. when the cafe opened. (The name is a bit of misnomer for this early riser.) I placed my order and arrived a few minutes before I was told it would be ready.

The cafe was clean and colorful, with many pieces of artwork hanging on the walls by a variety of local artists – paintings, photos and glasswork. On a large chalkboard above the kitchen were the words, “NO ONE is free UNTIL WE ARE ALL FREE.” Sunlight drenched the street-facing windows, creating a spectacular array of light and shadows. I was there only briefly to pick up my food, but I felt like I had walked into a space where I wanted to stay awhile.

I had friendly conversations with the person who helped me at the counter, the cook who prepared my food, and another customer – an older man, who appeared a bit down on his luck and who was greeted by name and given a place to sit and a cup of coffee.

The Classic. Photo by Bob Keyes

My order consisted of the Classic breakfast sandwich, with two eggs, American cheese and bacon on an English muffin ($6.75). My wife, Vicki, opted for the Screaming Eagle, also with two eggs, bacon, spinach, avocado, jalapeno cream cheese, sriracha and cheddar on an asiago bagel ($8). Twelve-year-old Luke went for the pancakes with bacon ($8).

The Classic was perfect, by my taste. The egg yolks were still slightly runny, the bacon strips were plentiful and crisp enough for me, and the cheese melted and gooey. Vicki’s sandwich was massive, with overflowing greens and cheese, and she immediately saved half for later. She liked her sandwich, commenting only that the bacon was a little chewy and she had to search for the avocado among the spinach greens and cheese.

Luke had nothing but good things to say about his two fluffy pancakes, which were the size of a dinner plate. He gave them a 9 on a scale of 1-10. He gave the bacon a 4, because he also said it was too chewy. But from my perspective, that’s a tough grade. In my book, on a scale of 1-10, bacon starts at 7 and only goes up from there. He must be spoiled by his mom’s cooking.

For a small cafe, the Early Bird offers a lot. The breakfast menu is larger than I expected, with a variety of specialty sandwiches, burritos, crepes and daily specials. The lunch menu is limited, with the choice of just a few sandwiches – grilled cheese, tuna salad, BLT and PB&J. It has freshly-baked muffins and coffee from Carpe Diem in North Berwick.

But what sets the Early Bird Cafe apart is its sunny attitude. These days, it’s worth waking up early – or anytime – to share time and space with friendly, caring people.

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