Morning munchies

Three West End eateries open for brunch
By BRIAN DUFF  |  June 18, 2008

Five Fifty-Five | 555 Congress St, Portland | brunch Sun 10:30 am-2:30 pm | Visa/MC/AmEx/Disc | 207.761.0555

Local 188 | 685 Congress St, Portland | brunch Sat-Sun 10 am-2 pm | Visa/MC/AmEx/Disc | 207.761.7909

Caiola’s | 58 Pine St, Portland | brunch Sun 10:30 am-2:30 pm | Visa/MC/AmEx/Disc | 207.772.1110
Not everything that feels good at night seems right in the morning. The light of early day can reveal things the lamps of the evening obscured.

Recently three restaurants on the westerly end of the Portland peninsula — Caiola’s, 555, and Local 188 — have invited this examination by offering brunch. For the most part each makes the transition very well — though each in different ways. Five Fifty-Five successfully dresses itself down for brunch. Local 188, already dressed down, seems to handle brunch more smoothly than its dinner service. Finally Caiola’s, efficient and effortlessly elegant at night, is precisely the same in the morning.

With its balcony closed and the white tablecloths removed, 555 feels very different in the daytime, more like a nice diner. But the menu, which arrived with tiny sour-cranberry scones and squares of lemon pound cake, quickly reminds you of where you are. The first page lists fancy drink specials and rarefied cheeses. A tropical mimosa was nice with just a bit of spice, and not too much fruit.

While it's not a cheap brunch (mostly $11 and up) a half-order of the stuffed French toast was substantial and under $5. The runny sweet-honey ricotta squeezed out between slabs of toast that had been egged with restraint. Tender sour bits of rhubarb were the best thing about each bite. Scrambled eggs had formed the smaller curds that result from cooking with any vegetable that releases water — in this case arugula and asparagus. Pine nuts added a bit of crunchy-meaty mouthfeel, though we wished they been roasted a touch. A warm popover was fluffy, crisp, and light. Poached egg “sliders” were more high-concept and great to look at if tough to eat. But the ingredients (poached egg, sweet smoked bacon, greens, cheese, and bread) were terrific even as they spread out across the plate.

Local 188 looks more relaxed than usual in the morning. The space is so huge that even with a number of diners it felt like a calm and lazy day. The food was good brunch fare — substantial and inexpensive. Pancakes and cinnamon buns looked huge as they arrived at other tables. We tried some very good scrambled eggs with lots of smoked salmon, capers, and dill. The flavor of the firm eggs got lost a bit, but there was little enough cream cheese to prevent the whole thing from becoming a mushy blend of tastes. A satisfying Cuban hash picadillo was essentially a pair of nicely poached eggs over some spicy sloppy joe and some damp corn tortillas underneath. Grits, slightly sticky, improved greatly with a bit of butter and salt. The dark, bitter coffee was the best of the bunch.

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