Breakfast and brunch, breakfast on the go, disappointing meals, sea dog brewing

Breakfast at Sea Dog Brewing

You’re supposed to feed a cold, right? When I woke up this past Sunday with a full blown case of a head cold, I wanted nothing more than a huge, lumberjack man sized breakfast. But, that’s not quite what I got. Trouble is, we had to catch breakfast out near the mall in South Portland and, well, the options for an a.m. meal are woefully lacking (Why is there not a diner out there? Can someone explain that?). There’s IHOP, Cracker Barrel, Friendly’s, Tim Horton’s, Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, Burger King and Sea Dog Brewing. Neither the Missus or I will step foot into a Cracker Barrel for personal reasons and I’d take a Denny’s over IHOP any day.  I wanted something with a little more sustenance than any of the other fast food places could offer, so we were left with Sea Dog.


I loved Eggspectations when it lived in the space that now houses Sea Dog. Sure, it was a chain, but it always tasted like it wasn’t and their endless list of Benedicts appealed to the Hollandiase sauce whore in me. With Sea Dog, well—it truly only came down to there being nothing else as we killed time waiting for the Sprint store to open.

The Missus ordered the Breakfast Bruschetta, a combination of ‘sauteed mushrooms and flavorful arugula on a grilled crostone, topped with two poached eggs and truffle hollandaise.’ Now, we don’t expect much when it says ‘truffle hollandaise,’ we’re not talking about the deft hand of Steven Corey or Sam Hayward in the kitchen at Sea Dog. We’re realistic. However, one would expect some semblance of truffles to be present, at least in the form of a strong (hell, even mild) mushroom flavor. The hollandaise was cloyingly lemon flavored and, beyond that, it was reminiscent of those instant Knorr packets you can pick up at Hannaford.

I ordered the ‘Homemade Corned Beef Hash,’ which was described on the menu as “It’s our specialty – Corned beef hash and root vegetables with two poached eggs, toast and homefries.”  Where do I begin? With the fact that their interpretation of root vegetables consists of some onion slices and less than a dozen shriveled half moons of carrot seemingly tossed in after the fact or the fact that this is supposed to be their specialty?  The corned beef was a unseasoned pile of dried cubes, the only moisture coming from the oil it was heated with. There was no crust from being heated on the grill, there was no herbs or black pepper. There was no flavor. Do you see the splash of red across the eggs? That’s Frank’s Red Hot which was a necessary element to bring any bit of flavor to everything you see on the plate. If I had thought of it, I would have even added some to the toast because my sourdough was, not surprisingly, lacking in sour. It was, however, slathered in a good half stick of butter, which does wonders for my shiny coat.

If their bare minimum attention to the quality of their breakfast, which they serve daily, is any indication, the only draw to actually darken the door of Sea Dog Brewing may be for a pint and their multiple big screen TV’s in the bar area. Just eat before hand.

Sea Dog Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

dessert, ridiculous food, salted caramel ding dong cake, this is why we're fat

Salted Caramel ‘Ding Dong’ Cake

Sometimes I get these fanciful ideas in my head — like the notion that I went through more than one semester of baking classes or that I had proper pastry training when I prepared desserts for a local restaurant many years ago.  Truth is, my baking is always part recipe and part prayer, like so many home cooks. Bon Appetit brought this recipe to my Facebook page and I gave in to my gluttonous lust for salty caramel and gave it a whirl at home, using the Tahitian vanilla beans from our Marx Foods Challenge. One note before you even start–this is an all day affair, and it’s recommended that you let the cake sit overnight before topping it with the final layer of ganache, so make room on schedule to accommodate a good amount of–mostly inactive–prep time.

Salted Caramel ‘Ding Dong’ Cake
adapted from Bon Appetit

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup hot strong coffee
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs

Caramel Ganache ingredients:
9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/8 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling and Assembly ingredients
1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Special equipment
Two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides; a 9-inch-diameter springform pan

Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat the cake pans with nonstick spray, line the bottom of the pans with parchment-paper rounds and then spray the paper with more nonstick spray. Putthe cocoa powder and chocolate in a medium bowl and pour the hot coffee over. Let stand for 1 minute then stir, making sure there are no lumps. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and put the bowl aside. 

Whisk the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder in salt together in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream the sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing fully between additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the dry ingredients to this bowl in 3 additions, alternating with the chocolate mixture in 2 additions. Begin and end with the dry ingredients. Divide the batter evenly between the pans and smooth the tops with an offset spatula.

Bake the cakes until a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let the cakes cool for about 10 minutes (they will deflate slightly). Run a butter knife around the pans to loosen the cakes and invert the cakes ontothe racks. Peel off the parchment and let the cakes cool completely. Flip the cakes over.

If needed, trim the cakes–using a long serrated knife–to remove any bumps or imperfections.

Caramel Ganache:
Put the chocolate and salt in a medium bowl. Stir the sugar and 1/4 cup water in a medium deep saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium and cook without stirring. Swirl the pan occasionally and brush down the sides with a wet pastry brush. Cook until rich amber in color, about 9 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually add the cream (the mixture will bubble a lot). Stir over medium heat until the bits dissolve. Pour over the chocolate in the bowl and add the vanilla. Stir until the mixture is smooth then cool slightly.

Place 1 cake layer in a springform pan then  pour 1 cup of ganache over. Chill inthe refrigerator until set, about 30 minutes. Cover the remaining ganache with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature on the counter.

Filling and Assembly:
Place 2 tablespoons of cold water in a small heatproof metal bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over. Let stand until the gelatin softens, around 10 minutes.

Pour a bit of water– around a 1/2-inch–into a small skillet set over medium heat. Transferthe bowl with the gelatin to the skillet. Stir until the gelatin completely dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside.

Place the chilled cream and powdered sugar in a large bowl and scrape in the seeds fromthe vanilla bean. Beat the cream until soft peaks form and add the gelatin. Beat the mixture until stiff peaks form.

Spoon the cream filling over the chilled ganache on the cake layer in the pan and smooth down the top. Very gently, place the second cake layer on top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill until the cream layer is set, at least 6 hour–but, overnight is preferred.

Remove sides from springform pan. Using a knife or offset spatula, scrape off any filling that may have leaked out from between cakes and form smooth sides. Transfer cake to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet.

Rewarm the remaining ganache until just warm. (I set a metal bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water until just warm, not hot.) Pour the ganache over the cake, using an offset spatula to help spread the ganache, if needed, to cover the sides of the cake. Chill until the ganache is set.
(The cake can be made 2 days ahead.)

Sprinkle the cake with flaky sea salt.

(originally posted with 37Cooks)

2012 look back, a single pebble restaurant, Eventide Oyster Co., food bliss, Pocket Brunch, restaurant grace, seoul sausage kitchen, year end review

2012–A Very Tasty Year

2012, as stated in the Obscure Holiday Cocktails post, was a very good year, personally, for the Missus and I. It proved to also be a fantastic year for food.

Some of the highlights this year were:

Eventide Oyster Co..   For a ocean side town, the lack of a good oyster bar in Portland has always been puzzling to me. Sure, you can pick up a dozen at J’s, Street and Company and Old Port Sea Grill, but they all fall short of the mark. Then, this past summer, Eventide was opened by the new owners of Hugo’s and it was like the heavens opened up and the food Gods smiled down upon us. Finally.  From the cured arctic char with bagel crisps to the luxurious house mayo based lobster roll, The Missus and I couldn’t stop ourselves from doing happy little food dances in our chairs every time we visited. We’ve gone a handful of times since it opened and not one dish, or oyster, disappointed.  And, when you go, save room (I know, it’s a lot to ask) for an order of their deep fried french toast. You’ll thank me later.

In June, The Food Network, came back to Portland and brought along the second to last stretch of their Great American Food Truck Race. It was a timely appearance as the discussion of food trucks in the city had been a hot topic since last fall. They landed smack in the middle of the Old Port and drew a huge crowd during their brief evening stay (and even more the next when both trucks hit the waterfront).  Seoul Sausage Company, a Korean BBQ truck from L.A., killed it with kimchi. The above pictured ‘TaTa’s’ were a personal favorite, along with the spicy kimchi balls.

In late July, The Missus and I took a work/vacation field trip to Vermont for the 2012 Vermont Cheesemakers Festival and indulged in treats unavailable in Portland. While we were there for endless nibbles of Vermont cheese and spirits, the city treated us to a plethora of hearty, tasty fare. For us, A Single Pebble was above and beyond the highlight. Good, inexpensive and un-Americanized Chinese food seems to be one of the few gaps in town and we were left pining for their ‘Three Cup Chicken” and “Cherry and apple wood smoked Beef Chow Fun.”

It cannot be said that chefs in Portland don’t support, appreciate and love their local farmers. It’s evolved into a relationship where one seemingly cannot exist without the other. Restaurant Grace took this adoration one step further by beginning to offer a menu utilizing a full lamb from North Star Farm. While many restaurants will use a cut or two from a local farm, Chef Sueltenfuss creates an entire 4 course menu for diners. The Missus and I were there for the premier of the menu–along with other area food writers–and had the unique pleasure of sitting across from Phil and Lisa Webster, owners of North Star Farm. You could see the pride on their faces as they watched us enjoy every last morsel served. And they have every right to be proud, their lamb is some of the best I have ever tasted.


The year was nearly over when The Missus snatched us up a seat at the most sought after table in town–Pocket Brunch. I’ve had a bit of a struggle writing up a review of this because the experience was extremely surreal. We, and about fifty others, gathered at Geno’s on a snowy Sunday for a 4 1/2 hour ‘Game of Thrones’ styled brunch.

I’ve never read a word of the books or have watched a moment of the series. Truthfully, we were there with hopes that there would be suckling pig. It was a truly reasonable thought, I mean, Joe Ricchio and Nolan Stewart were the guest chefs for the afternoon.

We were greeted at the door by the extremely funny and endearing hostess, Erin “McNallica” McNally–who would later lead a very heated session of ‘Game of Thrones’ trivia. She was dressed in full costume and armed with a very real dagger. As we entered the foyer, she handed us all our scrolled up menus and our goblets–mason jars–for the day. She entertained the gathering crowd until she was given the Ok to let us pass through the heavy red curtain that was keeping us from the excitement inside. The people of Pocket Brunch nailed it when they hooked up with her as hostess. She lead the trivia portion of the day and you could tell that she would have aced it. She also stressed to us that if we wished to have our glasses filled, all we had to do was yell “WENCH!!!!” into the air and our needs would be met by one of the servers scurrying around.  We loved her so much that we’re actually thinking of asking her to officiate our wedding this summer. Stay tuned for that one.

After the curtains were raised, we were allowed into the bar area which was deemed ‘beyond the wall’–which really only makes sense if you’ve seen the show/read the books/or immersed yourself in the Wiki for GOT. There we were greeted by Tandem Coffee’s cauldron of brewing Harewa Gatira, their Ethiopian roast. The Missus opted for a “Blood of My Bloody Mary” as it was way too early for her to be around so many people. Thank God for social lubricant.

First course was a table set with ‘Pocket Bacon’–which was crisp Guanciale and Fortified Fruit Crispels with a lavender honey coating. Sadly, we were so taken in by the sights and endless looping of the GOT soundtrack that we didn’t realize that the table we had walked past was part of the first course. Then we spotted people walking with small plates and realized that the massive loaves of bread, piles of bacon and crisps were fair game.While I do love me some crispy pork jowl, the crispels and rustic bread were my favorites of the first course. The lavender honey was gently done, not leaving a trace of the soapiness behind that can befall anything containing lavender. They were dainty and enjoyable, especially with the Tandem coffee. The bread, dense and hearty, was ripped off in chunks–as you would expect it to be–and showcased the deft hand that Josh Schier-Potocki (one of the great minds behind Pocket Brunch, along with his wife, Katie, Joel Beuchamp and Nan’l Meiklejohn) is known for with any flour based good.

Second course was a warming, “Dothraki Wedding Stew” that was thick with lamb and couscous and sweetened with prunes and honey.  It was the perfect true start to the meal on such a cold December day in Maine.  One could easily fatten themselves up for the coming winter on a stew like this. This brunch had the added dimension of wine and beer pairings, and a Montelpulciano D’Abruzzo was chosen to pair with the lamb. Sadly, I did skip any alcohol for the day (which was probably a good idea as I would have been overly schwilly at the end of the 4 1/2 hour meal).

Third came the Dove and Parsnip pie, served with a side of Dandelion greens and Pomegranate.This is the one time, all day, that the choice of venue may have worked against them. Because Geno’s is obviously NOT a place that serves food, the logistics of keeping several dozen mini-handpies warm without an alto shaam must have been a nightmare for the crew and the dough on the pie suffered for it. It was dry to the point of taking away from any enjoyment that may have been had from the filling. There was also not enough sauce on top to make a difference for it. It was a bit sad because I’m sure, if proper warming units were available to them, it would have been amazing. The small side of greens and pomegranate were a nice touch, though. Dandelion greens can be so bitter, but they were beautifully dressed with the pomegranate. For this one, locally produced Oxbow Brewing’s “Saison Noel” was chosen and I’m going to say that it was well enjoyed by my table mates as it didn’t linger long in their mason jars.

Now, where the pie had it’s missteps, it was immediately forgiven–and forgotten–once the next course came out. Dubbed “Quail Leggs” on the menu, we were served a lovely fried quail egg with a side of watercress and dollop of caraway creme fraiche.

Then this happened:

Joe Ricchio went around to every table and served guests the most succulent quail leg I’ve ever had. I’m not even sure how it was cooked–grilled, smoked, roasted… I have no friggin’ idea. It didn’t stay on my plate long enough to find out. I tore at it like a dog with a new bone. I may have eyed the string to see if there were any left and if seconds were out of the question. The quail egg may had been a tad too cooked, as my yolk was firm and not runny, but–again–logistics most likely played a role. The watercress and creme fraiche were simply done, but nearly as enjoyable as the quail leg. Proving that the simplest of preparations can prove to be the most enjoyable.The pairing for this course was a dry mead from R. Nicoll/Fiddlers Reach in Bath, ME.

It was around this time that little vials started appearing in peoples hands. These were the work of Nan’l Meiklejohn. There must have been at least 100 bottles in the case he carried around–it was truly a case of ‘pick your poison’ as he had no idea which bottles were which, but he knew that there nine different elixirs:

1) gentian liqueur w/green cardamom & allspice
2) cherry eau de vie w/hibiscus & coriander
3) caraway liqueur w/caraway seeds & witch hazel root
4) ginger liqueur w/dried orange & sarsaparilla
5) allspice liqueur w/vanilla bean
6) anise liqueur w/cacao nibs, cassia chips & cayenne
7) elderflower blossom liqueur w/rosehips & pink peppercorn
8) orange liqueur w/schisandra berries & cloves
9) violet flower liqueur w/juniper berries & wild cherry bark root. 

We have yet to open ours, so we may never know what we chose.

The second to last course brought the highlight of the meal, a due of boar leg and belly served atop a rustic hard tack plate with a side of sage and currant compote. For the first time in the day, the crowd grew silent, completely immersed in the dish. The dish before made us feel like royalty, but this made us feel like kings. Both presentations of the boar were juicy and perfectly cooked (in the lot in back of Geno’s on a grill).  The compote was a wonderful compliment, adding a bit of savory sweetness to each bite of the meat. Bunker Brewing’s Boondock Scotch Ale was poured by the wenches, but you could tell that they wanted to abandon their duties and dive mouth first into our meals.

The final course came around 3 o’clock and The Missus and I were stuffed beyond belief and ready to drift back home and catch an afternoon nap. Our marathon meal was finally coming to an end, but it did so on a very satisfying note.   The buckwheat crust brought a near savory element to the small slice of fig tart, which was perfectly sweetened. If I had been able to move at that point, I would have gathered myself another cup of Ethiopian roast from Tandem. But, I was too full–and too satisfied–to do so.

As we trudged back out into the snowy afternoon, I quietly reflected on what a unique dining experience we had just sat through. Not only had we just had the longest meal I could recall attending, it struck me as to what made the afternoon so enjoyable–it was fun. People were eating, imbibing and genuinely enjoying themselves without a care in the world. There were no pretentious airs…no shitty attitudes towards the staff (I think you’d have been tossed if you pulled an attitude–this WAS Geno’s, after all). There was a collective appreciation from everyone in the room. Something I feel is lacking in our “Foodie” (sorry for dropping the ‘f’ word) culture. We take so many meals for granted…we forget that the experience should be enjoyable and fun.

Thank you, Josh and Katie Schier-Potocki, Joel Beauchamp, Nan’l Meiklejohn, Erin Mcnally, Joe Ricchio and Nolan Stewart for reminding us to have so f’ing fun. Hope to see you at the next Pocket Brunch.