In a city bursting with innovative food, Dutch’s in Portland, Maine, is a classic throwback – The Boston Globe

Some restaurants make you happy. They aren’t innovative or fancy, really. They’re just tasty and reliable — a little shot of sunshine in a blanket of clouds. Think about it. You probably have such a place: the trusty hot dog stand, the deli that always overdoes it on your favorite condiment, the diner where the Coke always seems fizzier.
For me, that place is Dutch’s in Portland, Maine. Portland has a much-ballyhooed food scene, especially for a city its size. Just this year, three Portland chefs earned James Beard: Best Chef Northeast nominations, out of five regional contenders. Not too shabby.
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In a town brimming with oysters and bone marrow toast, Dutch’s flies below the radar. It’s a counter-service spot that looks straight out of 1955, “American Graffiti” meets “Back to the Future”: turquoise Formica counters, peach-and-beige floors, a modest navy awning beckoning the bleary-eyed in a quiet part of town.
Get in line for the best greasy breakfast of your life. You will order at a counter, and the throng might move a little bit sluggishly, but this is to your benefit: all the more time to peruse the list of temptations mounted on the wall. You won’t eat healthfully here, so don’t even try. Instead, consider: a chicken biscuit smothered in velvety sausage gravy; a ham and cheese sandwich with a slather of rich pimento; a breakfast burrito erupting from its casing with crispy, burnt-at-the-edges hash brown squares.
The popover Benedict is a true revelation, a mountain of indulgence overflowing with egg yolk lava and streams of Hollandaise. Eggs Benedict is a risky proposition: Done poorly, the Hollandaise grows skin and the eggs resemble stubborn rubber tires. But you’re in good hands at Dutch’s. They start with a buttery, eggy popover, ripped in two and hollowed out. Next come the eggs, poached to quivering perfection — one poke with a fork and they spill forth like liquid gold. They’re coated in a buttery shell of Hollandaise, fresh and hot. I ordered mine with a thin slice of smoked salmon and lettuce, a burst of salty freshness to cut all that cream. You’ll also want to swipe a bottle of Dutch’s house-made hot sauce off a nearby table: sweet, thin, garlicky, a punch in the mouth.
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There are no frills here. You will find no perfunctory spring mix garnishes and or smoothies. (They do, however, offer an “anti-oxidant” Screwdriver made with blueberry syrup, which really says all you need to know about the place.) Remember how, in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Pottersville bartender Nick tells Clarence the Angel that his tavern serves “hard drinks for men who want to get drunk fast”? Dutch’s serves big breakfast sandwiches for hungry Mainers who don’t mess around.
You will need to fetch your own silverware from a canister that may or may not be full. You will bus your own table and deposit a runny-egged platter into an abyss with its stickily stacked brethren. But you’ll leave happily stuffed and fully sated. Even in a fabulous food town, Dutch’s is worth saving room for.
Dutch’s, 28 Preble St., Portland, Maine, 207-761-2900, www.dutchsportland.com
Kara Baskin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.
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