Go for the doughnuts

The French Press is making a name for itself
By BRIAN DUFF  |  March 25, 2010

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GENEROUS SIZE The turkey, bacon, avocado sandwich.

If you take the best route toward downtown Westbrook from Portland, your last turn is a left at the Dunkin Donuts. A few blocks along you pass the French Press Eatery, a new breakfast-lunch venture from the folks at The Frog and Turtle. The French Press occupies the conceptual space matching its geographic location: to the left of Dunkin Donuts — more local, more artisanal, but hitting the same basic notes. DD is a folksy-named donut shop that now makes its living off coffee sales. The French Press is named after an epicurean method of brewing coffee, but is already best known for its doughnuts (they prefer the correct spelling).

These doughnuts are something else. They would be tall even if the hole was not perched on top. The “Elvis” — topped with bananas, halved and stuffed with peanut butter, and covered in chocolate, looked like some kind of sundae. Even through all the accoutrements, you could sense the fundamental soundness of the doughnut itself — the golden, crunchy-but-not-oily exterior, the dense-but-not-heavy interior, the not-too-sweet dough absorbing the rich chocolate sauce. A honey-walnut doughnut was more straightforward, and made it easier to appreciate its hot-crispiness. The honey sauce did not overwhelm you with sugars.

Doughnuts like these are probably best as a rare treat, and the more likely staples are the breakfast and lunch sandwiches. The menu indicates that breads are made on site, but it was hard to detect home-made charms in the bagels, croissants, and English muffins that frame the breakfast sandwiches. The 10 varieties are mostly built around a fried egg and cheddar. We tried a few good sandwiches, but they don’t reach the level of the doughnuts. The egg gets off the heat just at the moment that the yolk is about to give up its creamy texture. The classic comes with a nice salty patty of sausage with a touch of spice. More interesting options included the “frenchy,” with a creton spread of ground pork and mostly sweet herbs like clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The spread had the tang of vinegar, but got a bit overwhelmed by the dijon. A “diable” sandwich, which featured a thick wedge of tender ham, was not very spicy despite its diced jalapeno. For a few extra dollars the sandwiches come with a cup of coffee and some very good — crisp-edged and pillow-centered — homefries.

Lunch sandwiches come with a side of fries, hot chips, or pasta salad, which helps assuage your chagrin that the price can creep toward $10. One $9 sandwich was a pretty straightforward turkey (plenty of it) with bacon, avocado, and sprouts — on toasted slices of a seedy home-made wheat. Somewhat more interesting was a muffaletta sandwich, piled high with slices of four different varieties of cured pork — all pretty mild. It was topped with a generous smear of olive tapenade, and several varieties of mild white cheese. The bread resembled focaccia and pleasantly crumbled during eating. If you get lunch to stay, the hot potato chips — straight out of the lard — are your best bet. For lunch to go, a pasta salad offered the genuine tang Miracle Whip seeks to imitate, along with bits of red pepper and spinach.

It’s a pleasant place to sit, however, so try those chips. They have done impressive remodeling work, and the space has sort of industrial-loft meets mill-town charm, with a high inlaid ceiling, brick walls, and big windows. An imposing curved counter, adorned with deco touches, dominates the room, and leaves space only for a row of window-side tables.

Despite their name, Dunkin barely pushes donuts anymore — it’s the coffee and breakfast sandwiches that dominate the advertising posters in the window. Perhaps the French Press pulls an analogous bait-and-switch, since I saw no one, on repeated visits, drinking the variety of coffee that gives the shop its name. Everyone goes for the drip (which featured a good dark blend). The appeals of the artisanal only go so far, I guess, and the French Press will do well if it continues to find the right balance between gourmet and popular tastes.

Brian Duff can be reached at bduff@une.edu.

THE FRENCH PRESS EATERY | 855 Main St, Westbrook | Mon-Sat 8 am-4 pm | Visa/MC/Amex/Disc | 207.887.1040

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