With the new Nom Cafe, which opened in April on Forest Avenue in the old Yobo space, add a new cuisine to Portland’s extensive mix: Bulgarian.

The breadth of Portland’s food scene never fails to amaze me.

The breakfast/lunch cafe is a partnership between Som Mantasut, who grew up in Thailand, and Genko Stanilov, who grew up in Bulgaria.

“She’s the reason we’re serving Bulgarian,” Stanilov said about Mantasut, his girlfriend, talking to a customer who was picking up a take-out order at the counter on a recent quiet Monday afternoon. “She said, ‘You got to cook Bulgarian. You got to cook Bulgarian.’ I thought, ‘Bulgarian? That’s just grandma food.’ Turns out, she’s right. People like it.”

Count me among the likers. I enjoyed a hearty lunch of kyufte (mild Bulgarian sausages) and fried eggs ($15) and its side salad of admirably fresh greens (though I might have preferred to go full-bore Bulgarian and with a side of shopska, which the menu describes as a “refreshing Bulgarian salad of heirloom tomatoes, scallions, cucumbers, feta and parsley”).

Pat’s Meat Market supplies the beef and pork for the sausages, which are flavored with cumin and red pepper flakes and formed into very thin rounds about the circumference of the bottom of a pint mason jar. The eggs were perfectly cooked, releasing a gush of yolk into which I dragged slices of the excellent bread from Rosemont Market that came with the plate.


A fried eggplant sample with a classic pepper-tomato spread at Nom Cafe. Photo by Peggy Grodinsky

The service was warm and attentive, and everybody felt like friends. I arrived by bike, a little sweaty, a little out of breath. Mantasut rushed to get me a glass of water, and then a second. After I gulped the second glass down, too, she placed a pitcher of water on the table with a smile. When I had a hard time choosing between the eggs and sausage, and parzhen ($9), deep-fried eggplant slices with lutenitza – a vegetally sweet dip made from reduced red peppers and tomatoes – the server brought me a sample of the latter, gratis. After a few minutes, she returned to ask how I’d liked it. Why didn’t I think to mention I was also having a hard time choosing between the eggs I ended up getting and the eggs panagura, a dish of poached eggs with sheep feta spread, paprika-infused oil and dill ($14)?

Stanilov, too, came over to ask if I had any questions, and when I did – about the wall decorations – he was eager to introduce his homeland. The hanging fabric, he said, showed the colors of traditional clothing from the area where he grew up. He showed me some of the clothing on his computer screen, and he bantered knowledgeably about Portland’s food scene, encouraging me to try the borek at Coffee Me Up (I have; highly recommended).

Nom Cafe’s fried dough with feta and honey. Photo by Peggy Grodinsky

Maybe my favorite part of my Nom Cafe lunch, though, came long after lunch. I’d biked home with a box of to-go mekitsi ($10), packaged up to make the trip in my backpack, which they did without a problem. The menu describes mekitsi as “crumpets served with Maine honey.” At 5 p.m., feeling peckish, I rapidly dispatched two of the three. Each round of deep-fried dough encases a generous amount of very creamy sheep’s feta cheese. The saltiness of the cheese played beautifully against the sweetness of the honey.

Nom Cafe also offers several American-style brunch options, like granola ($12), waffles ($13) with optional fried chicken, avocado toast ($13), and breakfast sandwiches ($9). All of them sound tasty. But for now, until I’ve exhausted the possibilities, my motto when I visit Nom Cafe is “I got to eat Bulgarian.”

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