The brunch quandary

In Portland, there's always one more place you haven't tried
By LEISCHEN STELTER  |  February 3, 2010

It's an ongoing Sunday predicament: I've just woken up (hopefully significantly later than during the work week) and I need some serious calorie recapture, but where do I go for my most coveted meal of the week? Perhaps it's because Sunday represents the inevitable start to the week or it's simply the need for a good morning meal, but I tend to put an unwarranted amount of pressure on the Sunday brunch experience.

Fortunately, there seems to be an endless number of places to try in Portland. So many, in fact, that I keep discovering well-established restaurants that I didn't even know served brunch. One of those places was Vignola. Generally thought of as a dinner-only destination with its darkened interior, expansive windows, and lengthy wine list, Vignola offers an Italian-inspired brunch menu on Sundays from 10 am to 4:30 pm. The hours alone are accommodating. During my brunch endeavors, I've found that many restaurants favor a 2 pm closing, which often conflicts with my leisurely approach to this meal.

For my first Vignola brunch experience, my companion and I were fortunate enough to score the coveted corner table with its padded bench seats and great viewing of the cobbled crossroads of Dana and Wharf streets. Even in the light of day, the restaurant maintained a darkened and intimate, yet personal atmosphere — a critical component to all dining experiences, in my humble opinion. When we first arrived, the restaurant was fairly empty, but over the course of our meal the place slowly filled up.

At first I was a little confused by the menu categories. It listed a variety of starters (such as deviled eggs with smoked shrimp, arugula, radishes, and smoked paprika for $6) as well as salads and pizzas from its dinner menu. While all of these items sounded delicious, I had a brief panic attack thinking I wasn't going to have a more traditional, breakfast-oriented brunch. As it turns out, it was merely a language issue.

Failing to take the time to properly read the menu, I immediately asked the server about breakfast items. She kindly informed me that the term "Colazione," which was one of the last categories, was Italian for "breakfast." Obviously the coffee hadn't kicked in yet, because in my skimming of the menu I had misread it as "calzone."

So, panic aside, I chose the Vignola omelette with tomatoes, basil, bruschetta, and Vignola potatoes. The potato part alone was worth it. In addition to using a mixture of potato varieties, including purple potatoes, it also had olives, roasted red peppers, and capers mixed in. While these additions certainly added a strong olive-oil component to the dish, frankly, what is an Italian meal without a good dose of olive oil? My companion went with the shirred eggs with applewood-smoked bacon, herb cream, tomato conserva, and bruschetta served in a hot skillet. The yolks were soft with no pockets of uncooked whites and the flavor of the smoky bacon melded nicely with the herbed eggs. The tart flavors in the tomato conserva helped cut the richness of the egg and bacon.

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