Monday, September 9, 2013

The Front Room (Portland, ME)

I have previously discussed my affinity for The Corner Room, and in that review I mentioned having had brunch once at its sister restaurant The Front Room, which was very good.  This morning, I had brunch there again, this time with a couple of my siblings and their significant others, The Front Room being one of a rare group of restaurants that offer a brunch menu every day.  Once again I enjoyed myself, though it fell short of my memory of just how good the shrimp and grits with poached eggs I ate all those years ago (back in 2008) was; this could well be because of the natural tendency to inflate memorable experiences over time, whether good for bad, but I suspect it was just a better meal that time.

Today I went with poached eggs again, but this time they topped homemade corned beef hash, with an English muffin on the side.  I love corned beef hash almost as much as I do grits, and I honestly love it in all forms, including the stuff from a can (I know, I am pathetic, but if you griddle that up so it's crispy and a little burnt, it is just flat out delicious, especially with some maple syrup mixed in after cooking), so when I see it on a menu, it is very difficult for me to avoid making it my order.  This was legitimately homemade, no cans here, and it was really enjoyable, but it could easily have ended up better if there had just been a few alterations.  The beef was flavorful, but a little stringy, with a pulled pork like look and feel.  The potatoes, which are the key part of any hash in my opinion, were far too soft, which led to a very homogeneous mouth feel when combined with the essentially pulled beef.  Add in the poached eggs and all you have is soft, soft, soft; my teeth barely felt needed until I got to the English muffin (which was...well, an English muffin; may have been a Thomas', may have been homemade, but it did not have anything distinguishing about it).  The best part of the meal was absolutely the poached eggs, which were just right, with the shape, consistency (firm but pliant exterior, super runny interior), and flavor you want out of poached eggs that are clearly fresh.

As I said, I ate here with a couple of my siblings, including my sister who works at another one of Portland's upscale restaurants, and her boyfriend, who is a cook at the same establishment.  Among the things that came up multiple times this past weekend as I visited was the owner of the "Room" restaurants, Harding Lee Smith, who has recently been the subject of two scathing articles in The Bollard, a local independent publication in Portland.  See below for the links.  These articles allege verbal, physical, and emotional abuse of employees in both public and private, while acknowledging the continued patronage of Smith's now four restaurants (including the newly opened Boone's Fish House and Oyster Bar) by people who can find nothing positive to say about Smith as a human being.  Personally, I feel that every story has two sides, and I have a very hard time giving much credence to the articles in The Bollard because of the clear intent of the author; while every story may well be true, it is hard not to be skeptical of much of the issues because of the clear axe-grinding nature of the stories.  I've put the link to another article, this one in the Maine Sunday Telegram (aka the Portland Press Herald) from a few months ago, that is much more complimentary, though it does not give much mention to the negative allegations The Bollard focuses on.  I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but my one interaction with the man, when he was working the antipasti bar at The Corner Room my first time there, was incredibly positive and I really enjoyed the brief time my sister and I spent talking to him, not to mention the unanticipated free cheese he added to our order without any reason to do so other than that he seemed to think we'd like it, and of course the accompanying good will that comes from such actions.

July 1 Article from The Bollard
September 2 Article from The Bollard
June 2 Article from the Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald


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