29 August 2009

the farmer's table

dining date: 08.22.09 
eatery: the farmer’s table on the corner of commercial street and dana street 
web: the farmer's table
pricing category: definitely not cheap – probably one of the more expensive brunches you’ll find in portland 
guest critic: just the three of us
overall grade: C+
the lowdown:
- the farmer’s table is “the new mim’s.” although, we hesitate to call it that, since we never actually ate at mim’s…or any of the other restaurants that have been in that location for that matter. and there have been quite a lot of them in the past several years. in fact, the lore around these parts is that that location is actually cursed for restaurants…
- if you live in portland, be ready to suddenly feel like you’re a visitor in your own town, as this restaurant is smack in the middle of tourist central.
- being the savory-leaning brunchers that we are, the thing we loved most about this place is that there was not a single sweet breakfast item on the menu. no pancakes, no french toast, nada. we approve of this decision.
- we all appreciated the variety of local meats on the menu, and thought it was very nice that they mentioned all of the farms by name in the food item descriptions.
- pretty great people-watching opportunities from either of the two street-side outdoor patios. the plethora of table umbrellas was also greatly appreciated on this blazing hot and humid august day.
- we’re sad to say that our service was not quite what it should have been. while our waitress didn’t drop the “f-bomb” all over us (like our pal over at the frog and turtle), she barely spoke to us, was fairly unfriendly, never once asked how our meal was, and generally made us feel like she was doing us a favor by waiting on us. overall, none of those are good attributes for a server at a restaurant where you could easily drop at least $20 apiece for eggs and coffee.

- they do have a full bar in the restaurant…although none of us tried a bloody mary or mimosa.
the food

the benny girl
- the eggs benedict with smoked salmon, tomatoes, red onions and hollandaise, homies and tea
- grade: C+
"as a “born and raised” local portlander, i generally try to avoid commercial street like the plague in the summer – it’s just a little too crowded for my taste. but since having brunch on a saturday greatly limits your restaurant options, we decided to brave the tourists and give the farmer’s table a whirl. we did go adorned in disguises, however, in case any die hard becky’s fans from down the street happened to recognize us. so, my old roommate once said that oppressive heat and humidity is like walking around inside of someone’s mouth. gross, yes…but also a totally accurate description. well, the day that we ate at the farmer’s table was just that kind of day. and at first, i thought that maybe my experience at the farmer’s table was being tainted and skewed by the fact that hot and humid days make me very crabby and turn my brain into mush. but no – when it struck me that i was actually looking forward to leaving the restaurant and venturing back out into the sticky city air, i quickly realized that the fact that i loathe humidity had little bearing on my not-so-great mood while dining…the farmer’s table can take full credit for the crappiness of my experience. as we mentioned in the above low-down, our service was so sub-par that we didn’t tip 20% or more for the very first time since the inception of The Breakfast Club. (trust us, the 18% tip that we left instead is making quite a statement in our minds!) i don’t need to go into detail about our server – you probably get the gist from the above description, right? we tried to give her the benefit of the doubt at the beginning and chalk it up to either being very tired, very hot, or very hungover…but i”m sorry – no amount of fatigue, disdain for heat and humidity, or booze the night before is an adequate justification for basically throwing a customer’s plate at them or forcing your patrons to telepathically speculate the meaning of your non-verbal communication! and you know, i would’ve let some of that slide if the food had actually made up for the poor service. when you look at the menu, you assume that the prices (benedicts ranging from $12 - $14, “the usual” breakfast is $9) are directly proportionate to the quality and taste of the food, right? well, about two bites in, i realized that the prices were actually directly proportionate to the cost of rent for that location. i got the distinct impression that the price i was paying for eggs had more to do with my scenic view of the harbor than with a creative and tantalizing taste for my palette. there were two pluses about the dish: the english muffin was tasty and grilled nicely, and the smoked salmon was delicious. but that’s it. the hollandaise was so sparse that i couldn’t even taste it, the homefries tasted like mcdonald’s french fries (sans grease), and the worst part was that i was basically served two hard-boiled eggs on top of muffins. the yolk was completely solid. even my “over-hard” compadre acknowledged that poached eggs are not supposed to be like that. over-cooking a poached egg is a sure-fire way to ruin a benedict…and a bad benedict makes me very grumpy – particularly one that i’m spending $14 on. grr. the tea presentation was alright – the mini spoon that came with the honey was actually the highlight of my meal. sad, no? overall, my experience at the farmer’s table was highly disappointing. people who come to portland for the first time may be blinded by the great scenery on the picturesque commercial street and be more accepting of a barely mediocre brunch, but if this restaurant wants to make it through the winter with us mainers, they really need to step it up…a lot."
the usual
- brie, mushroom and pepper omelet with toast and homefries, coffee
- grade: B-

“world's smallest omelet. let me just start right there. i know that these days people are counting their pennies and wondering why they never registered those rusty pickups in their front yards in anticipation of cashing those clunkers in for the big bucks, but this was one doggone tiny omelet. i realize that the price of eggs has gone up, and i guess there's a slim chance that the chickens are shrinking, but for a nine dollar meal, crack a few eggs. my fillings were fine, (though i always feel that cheese selection shouldn't really count as one of your omelet fillings), the mushrooms and brie were both delicious. the coffee was terrible, and my mug yawned emptily as the minutes ticked by between refills. the toast was reasonable, well toasted and moderately buttered. my homefries needed to be dowsed in salt, pepper and ketchup to even remember what they stood for. dry chunks that looked like they'd been lazing about under a heat lamp all morning, sweating out whatever makes potatoes delicious. a sorry state of affairs, especially considering the price tag. i probably should have ordered a bloody mary. regardless of the lovely waterfront views and the architecturally interesting building, these prices are rampant. and you already know all about our server, who i felt a bit sorry for initially, but got over it when she begrudgingly dropped off our food and abandoned us for the rest of the meal. i suppose everyone has off days. and finally, the name 'the farmer's table' conjures up images of a bountiful harvest, of careful selection of ingredients, of support for the local guys sweating it out day after day to bring us delicious meat, eggs and produce. i saw none of that while brunching at this restaurant, save the couple of local cheeses given shout-outs on the menu. it's summer in maine by golly, by and large the easiest time to bolster menus with piles local veggies and to remind eaters of where that food comes from. i realize that this may just be an assumption on my part: i know that many restaurants in maine operate in much the same way, and that i don't give them the crap i'm giving this one. i guess i just mistakenly thought the name meant that the restaurant was serving food from a farm, not from a box shipped in from peru. i would love to see this restaurant pull through and succeed, though only if they step up the food to match the prices. even i, orderer of the cheapest menu option of all time, don't mind splurging on something truly lovely from time to time. just not on dry taters and mini-omelets. wee-ow.”

wild toast
- coffee, omelet with tomato, brie, and mushrooms, rye toast, homefries

“… zucchini, cucumbers, pattypans, oh my! beets, onions, leeks, oh hi! … asparagus, oh no! you’ve gone by! truly, a wonderful time of year we have. so many options, so much to work with. the sun was shining, the umbrella just right, the salt from the ocean mingling with out-of-stater’s old spice and the aftermath of their friday night. and then upon perusal there seemed to be a shocking revelation…this farmer’s table was a table set in either canada or queensland, peru or sysco's shoe. how and why? where the!? what is asparagus doing on my menu!? this is august. yes asparagus is still growing but it is a veritable jungle of ferns and froth. a massive fortress of 6 foot tall exploded foliage….not something easily tucked into an omelet. (especially an omelet from this joint….read on) so i ordered an omelet (ok, so you didn’t have to read on that far), which included tomatoes (in season, but badly hurting due to the crazy rain which you all know about and the blight that decimated 90% of the crops around here), mushrooms (which were very good) and brie (locally made). along with this came homefries and toast (i opted rye….obviously) and what else did i order? come on loyal fans, i know you know what you know i know which I know you know and that is that i ordered coffee. my daily choice (I know coffee isn’t a local option, but I am reasonable and can make some exceptions) was presented. unfortunately, as “The Usual” agreed, the coffee was on the terrible side. next came our meals. let me just touch upon this little itty bitty thing…i’m sure our server is a very nice person, pays her parking tickets before she gets the boot, possibly was a winner of a “teen who cares” award, uses a nice conditioning product, calmly listens to each side of an argument before coming to a decision, wears flip-flops in all showers, not just the local Y, drives a tofu-combustible compact, ….what i’m trying to say is i’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt. but she did go something like this “hhuurrrumph(ff)” when she went to set down some food. that was a little unfortunate. the other unfortunate thing is this: i live here in maine, i've felt the tough economy, i've been aware of the fact that my dollar isn't going quite as far as it used to, and this was illustrated in my omelet. yes loyal fans, my omelet. are the chickens toughing out the slow economy too? did their eggs get smaller due to the whisperings of an economic downturn and the dirty “r” word? or is the farmer's table in cahoots with a pullet farm? whatever the explanation, my omelet was under...weight? malnourished? or did I hear someone say “one low self-esteem omelet coming right up!” “wild, whacky new craze sweeps through the old port, have you tried the mini-omelet?” “you should of bought it when you saw it at the farmer's table (only if you bring an extra egg to slip onto your plate when the server isn't looking)”, “if I had a nickel for every time a penny was tossed into the ocean i'd have a enough money to buy a breakfast at the farmer's table.” “hello, do you like my hat? no I do not, goodbye, goodbye.” (ok, that's a line from a great children's book called go dog go by P.D. Eastman) back to breakfast. my homies tasted like old french fries. not like they were actually made from real potatoes from real farmers from real farms on a country road near you. but rather, from a frozen bag from sysco. my toast was uninspired but fine. my omelet, what little there was, was pretty good. light on the brie, and gone before you know it. (kinda like the server who was not really to be seen.) so this is my advice: become a venue for local food from farmers in the area. serve local bread from down the street. get better coffee. keep the location and the prices but make it worth the prices you are charging. the farmer's table, you are young. resilient. “babies bounce” is a phrase i like to say (i do not advocate this and certainly do not recommend you try it). you could be so good. and you owe it to yourself and the city of portland to be outstanding and inspiring.”

27 July 2009

miss portland diner

dining date: 07.26.09
eatery: miss portland diner on marginal way
web: miss portland diner
pricing category: not exactly rock bottom diner pricing, but not too expensive. pretty pricey for sides of swine [flu], however…
guest critic: it was just the three of us for this epic comeback reunion
overall grade: B
the lowdown:
- for those of you who don’t know, the miss portland diner was a fixture in this city for many years…before it was most likely condemned for being a filthy, disease-infested, run-down health hazard. luckily, a man came along and bought the historic train car a couple of years ago and restored it. now, the people of portland can once again eat in the really cool train car that once starred in that 1993 mel gibson movie. thank god.
- we would recommend waiting (if necessary) for a table in the train car – way more atmosphere than the addition that was built, which is reminiscent of a hospital cafeteria. okay, slight exaggeration…it wasn’t nearly as hospital-like as becky’s, but it was rather sterile. and there’s a big plasma TV in there, which we think is quite unnecessary for a diner.
- the booths are definitely good for your postureread: slightly erect and uncomfortable (that’s what she said).
- the two coffee drinkers amongst us concur that the brew was quite exceptional for a diner.
- we liked that there were a couple of mini boxes of cinnamon toast crunch and lucky charms on display. benny girl definitely contemplated ordering one as an appetizer.
- the service was really good – friendly and attentive. and our waitress even got a little sassy with us and made a joke about us taking too long to order. we liked that…especially since she didn’t throw the “f bomb” at us in the process.

- you can watch people run on the treadmill across the street while you stuff your face with hollandaise and homies. if you’re feeling a little skinnily-challenged after breakfast, you can either jaunt across the street to the gym or do sprints in the large parking lot (like wild toast did).

- the bloody marys left a lot to be desired…since sadly, there weren’t any on the menu.
the food

the benny girl
- the traditional eggs benedict (there were FOUR benedicts on the menu – unheard of for a diner!), homies and tea
- grade: B
"first of all, i’d like to start by saying that i’m so happy to be back! you all may think that we just abandoned our responsibilities of being the truth-telling brunch critics that we are. but that is FALSE. i, unlike my two TBC partners, haven’t abandoned anything. not a day went by that i didn’t think about the The Breakfast Club and shed a tear of longing for our leisurely and snarky sunday tradition. waking up this morning and heading out to meet my two TBC compadres once again made me feel like all was right with the world finally. and it seemed that gracing the miss portland diner with our omni-presence would be the most fitting way to re-enter the scene. i’ve wanted to try the new miss portland diner ever since i first heard that it was re-opening…but i dutifully waited for the TBC reunion and never set foot in the renovated train car until the usual and wild toast returned from their escapades in other lands. being the only portland native in The Breakfast Club, i’m also the only one of us that had ever eaten at the original miss portland diner. knowing that the entire diner used to be just the train car, i’m not totally sure how i feel about the addition that they tacked on for more seating. i suppose i understand their reasons for doing so, but it doesn’t feel totally authentic and the atmosphere of the addition doesn’t really match up with the feel of the train car. i wasn’t sure what to expect when our friendly hostess led us into the train car, since the last time i’d been in there years ago, it was quite possibly the dirtiest restaurant i’d ever eaten in. however, i was pleasantly surprised to see that the train car was very clean while still looking historic and unchanged. nice authenticity. and getting a view of people on treadmills who are unknowingly being watched while they run is pretty cool too. alright, i suppose i should actually start talking about the food. let me start by saying that the reason that i was most excited to have the miss portland diner as our big comeback review was because i expected it to be horrible. i hadn’t heard the greatest of feedback from people i know who have gone there, so i was excited…since we all know that the worst breakfasts yield the best reviews. however, it really wasn’t that bad. seriously. i wouldn’t say that it was the best breakfast i’ve ever eaten, but it certainly was no becky’s. it was good solid diner food. first off, i was extremely surprised (actually shocked) that there was not just one, but FOUR benedicts on the menu. seriously, when has that ever happened at a diner?! the irish benedict scared me (a benny with corned beef hash made me dyspeptic to even think about) and the crab one was definitely out of the price range of what’s acceptable to spend on a diner breakfast, in my opinion. that left me choosing between the traditional benedict and the florentine with spinach and tomatoes. although i wasn’t really in the mood for canadian ham, i thought i should get the traditional benedict since it was my first review in over a year. (actually the real reason is because i was leaning towards the florentine but i really wanted meat and was unwilling to pay the $3.50 that they charge for a side of bacon). anyway, the food came rather quickly and i was happy to see a healthy portion of homies next to my hollandaise covered poachies. the homies were decent – nothing amazing, but good enough. they had good flavor, but could’ve been cooked more in my opinion. the benedict was pretty good – well poached eggs, perfectly grilled english muffins, ample serving of sauce – but there was definitely something off about the hollandaise. it was super salty – enough to conjure up memories of wild toast’s epic review of local 188 – and it was lacking that lemon essence that i love so much about a good hollandaise sauce. it was definitely better than any hollandaise that i’ve ever had a diner though…so bonus points there. wait – have i ever had hollandaise at a diner before? hmm. i will say that the first half of the benedict was better than the second though. when i cut into the second egg with my fork, i was disappointed (and slightly grossed out) to see the clear jiggly globules around the yolk that indicate an undercooked egg. no one likes an uncooked and runny egg white. big faux pas. i know that it can be hard to perfectly poach an egg, but it is rather crucial in a benedict to at least get the whites cooked. just because it’s swimming in hollandaise, doesn’t mean you can cover up and hide the globules. but again, while it was not the best benedict i’ve ever had, it was certainly well above diner benedict par. the “black tea” (not sure what kind) was fairly well presented. i was given a nice blue mug, a tea bag and water in a little metal creamer that was acting like a teapot, and a little plastic souffle cup of honey with a lid. slightly wasteful in the packaging of the honey, but cute and miniature nonetheless. our server was friendly, personable, attentive and quick with the refills of hot water and coffee for the others. all in all, it was a pretty decent experience. it wasn’t quite as epic as i had hoped our comeback review would be, but it’ll do. i will tell you what was epic though – seeing the ugliest shoes in the world later on at marden’s. breakfast with TBC, going to marden’s and taking all day to write a review – like i said, all’s right with the world again!"
the usual
- 2 eggs over-hard, wheat toast, homefries and coffee
- grade: B
"i guess The Breakfast Club has been dead in the water for a bit now, well, say a year or so. not because we are lazy, or because we suddenly got tired of eating food in the mornings. no, none of that. just other things to do. we actually don't get paid to do this, surprisingly... but anyway, heading off to breakfast with the team today was extremely normal despite the lapse in time. i guess the only thing out of the ordinary is that benny girl was waiting at the restaurant ahead of us. she was literally there at the exact time we agreed on, which i have to say has never happened before. so confusing, but very nice, i must applaud her. so, we headed inside and decided to wait it out for a table in the train. the addition is reasonably nice, but very run-of-the-mill and looks more like a blase country cafe than a diner. our table was ready shortly, and the very friendly hostess showed us in. our waitress was at the ready to provide the all-important coffee and tea respectively. i dug my yellow coffee mug, sort of an updated classic in the color of yolk. the train part of the diner is certainly the better section, charmingly old fashioned and classic, with bit of retro flair. as we waited for the food, our very friendly server graciously refilled our cups with the extremely decent coffee. i happen to absolutely love forthcoming coffee refills. they make my day. and have the potential to make or break a review. now if only someone would invent the bottomless bloody mary... anyway, the food arrived in reasonable time and looked pretty fantastic. a generous portion of homefries sidled along one side of the plate next to thick, wonderfully well-buttered toast and a pair of eggs. i'll start with the eggs, as they were the low point of the meal. they were a bit slick tasting, a bit oily rather than greasy and eerily soft and floppy. the homies were more than adequate, plenty of flavor, and nicely sized chunks. the toast was exceptional by diner standards. so i guess i just have to say, i'm not used to this kind of thing from a diner. in portland your diner options are pretty much the tasty, low budget, no-nonsense marcy's or the overpriced, surcharged, wildly popular becky's. i certainly know what my pick is. and now there's a new option in the mix, ready to rev up the competition a bit. while the majority of the prices at the MPD are not rock-bottom, they are certainly competitive with, ehem, other popular diners in town. i've heard of a number of people having negative experiences from this place, but perhaps they were still working out the kinks. i've been told breakfast was an a.m.-only affair for a bit, but it's now served all day, which is i have to say obligatory for a diner. i must say that this place was a pleasant surprise on a rainy sunday morning. so much so that i wasn't really able to make any snarky remarks in my review. the few i could make were aimed across town. oh well. i guess it's not such a terrible thing to have a tasty breakfast served by friendly people in an old train. it's just less fun to write about."
wild toast
-“the backbay breakfast” (2 eggs, rye toast, homies, bacon, french toast, the kitchen sink, coffee, hot sauce)
- grade: B
"there are so many things i wish to write. do i begin by telling you about how we went to marden's? no, that must be the creme brulee (burnt cream) of my review. today i write for you. i will remark on hunger. on a sesame street character. merchandising ideas....who knows. i, am wild toast. i will unveil my true colors. my odor. i am made of the stuff olympians and mathematicians can only dream of. i am the mystery of mosaics. the magician who pulls lincoln logs and old school pogs from my whimsical and biennially flat-plaid top-hat. i eat yolks like you for breakfast. (i think that could be a pretty sweet bumper sticker) (you can quote me) (and start a breakfast fund for your favorite review team) so....where was i? oh yeah, we decided to put food into our mouths this morning. we wanted to eat. a hunger ripped at us. "food!" we chanted. we bellowed. in unison. "foooooooood" put that bacon behind my ear! douse my thirst with liquid stuffs. "aaaagggggghhhqqqhgggghhhhh....... " (think of cookie monster). and now, i shall begin. it has been a long time, too long in fact since we gathered together and made our dear fans' day. today is that day. i do this for you. my sacrifice is your safety blanket. so necessary and wholesome. so familiar and loved. regret is not in the word breakfast. only break and fast and if you jumble up the letters it spells krab-feast, fak-breast, and barf-steak. and i do not regret going to miss portland diner. our service was excellent. frequent refills of decent coffee. and as the usual mentioned as well, our mugs were really quite nice. simple, vibrant, relatively comfortable, and the best thing, i never saw the bottom of my mug. my meal arrived in a timely fashion and conversation eased for a moment or two until after my second bite of my french toast. you know, most things i'm beginning to believe are at their best on the exterior. the heel of a fresh baked loaf of bread is the chewiest and most wonderful portion of a bread that you've only a few moments before pulled out of the oven (caution, do not actually try this in a literal "few moments" of time. it will burn you and leave you blistered and miserable. please wait at least a few minutes before devouring your fresh bread. also the bread needs time to finish baking, so it doesn't want to be hacked into prematurely.) so.... potato bits, the portion on the eastern side of my plate were nibbled at (by me) (not some mouse or anything). they were fine. nothing spectacular but not at all bad. they didn't taste inspired or have any resemblance to summer. perhaps a medley of nasturtiums and tiny whole new potatoes would have been nice. my toast was good. fine. you know, it was toast. not wild or anything. but they served my over-easy eggs honorably and didn't run from the yellow fight. and when i shouted "i eat yolks like you for breakfast" my toast stood up a little straighter and i noticed the men and women across the street in planet fitness pick up the pace as they ran on the treadmills. that must be so frustrating.....running and running and in the end, you haven't made any progress. kind of like this review....i haven't even gotten to talking about my french toast yet. i've been derailed. hoodwinked. a conspiracy is set in motion. how can i have taken up so much of your valuable time and not really even given you the very information you are craving?! this is ludicrous. preposterous! so my french toast was not very good. as i was trying to say earlier, the first bite, the outside bite, the crust, was edible. but somehow the inside was mushy. not like just been sitting around forever mushy but like raw batter mushy. i know folks. that doesn't make sense. i know this. but perhaps it soaked in the egg/milk bath a little too long and got a little pruny? i'm not sure. i just know that was the low point of my meal. everything else was either ok/fine or good. eggs and toast = good. coffee = good. homies and bacon = ok/fine. french toast = not so good. that's it folks. that's all i needed to say in the first sentence. thank you for bearing with me. i won't even go on to tell you about marden's, except to say that it'd been a real long time but they still have the best selection of off brand discounted trapper-keepers this side of the "L.A. region".