1.23.2005

Cafe Espresso, Portsmouth NH

I'll admit it. I have a huge prejudice against restaurants in strip malls. The atmosphere of the strip mall would never inspire confidence. Really, being flanked by Blockbusters and dry cleaners and that other random yet important business that you actually go to (in this case, Eagle Photo's new location) doesn't naturally lead one to think, hmmm, let's sit down and have a nice relaxing meal. Instead, one is thinking, how fast can I get out of this parking lot?

So it was only because I was waiting for Eagle Photo to open one morning that I popped in. And I was wrong. I can admit that, too. Cafe Espresso, while located in a strip mall, does inspire one to forget that Eagle Photo errand and sit down and have a nice relaxing meal.

My first visit (out of three) was the best. It was on a weekday, at 8:30 in the morning. The place was very busy (don't these people work? and who was I to be asking) but there were several empty tables in the front section and I got a seat immediately. What I like so much about Cafe Espresso is their interesting and changing specials. Breakfast, one of my favorite meals, can get boring. So it is nice to see some interesting things. I had a hard time deciding so my waitress gave me her opinion. I ended up with a regular menu item, the Ranchero ($6.30), hash and poached eggs on English with caramelized onions and a good hollandaise. It was the caramelized onions that got me. A really winning combination. And the potatoes. Why are great home fries so hard for most restaurants? These were perfect little chunks of red bliss potatoes, very moist and thoroughly cooked, with lots and lots of crispy brown griddled bits. Wonderful.

Second and third visits were not quite as heavenly, though I still find it a good breakfast place. They offer a couple variations of a piggy breakfast, which gets you a bit of everything. My second breakfast (a Sunday morning) was the French toast piggy (about $7.00), with French toast, home fries, eggs, and meat. I really can never choose French toast over egg creations, even though I adore French toast. This French toast was a bit too raw, and made with generic thin white bread. Some really thick bread would've been more to my liking, but I would have settled for cooked. The eggs were fine, but the home fries were also underdone compared to my previous visit. Still moist, still no raw potato, but where were the delicious brown crispy bits? Woe is me.

For the third visit (Saturday morning) I had the Old Crow special ($6.30). Griddled English topped with sausage patties topped with poached eggs topped with sausage gravy. The eggs were perfectly poached little balls of goodness. I have great respect for perfectly poached eggs. The sausage, well, if you like sausage, is it ever bad? Of course it wasn't homemade or anything, but they did have the decency to give it a nice crisp exterior when they griddled it. The sausage gravy was decent. Instead of ground sausage, which I prefer, it had cut up bits in it, and the flavor wasn't very exciting, but it wasn't gluey or too heavy. The potatoes were again moist and cooked, but lacking in the yummy browned bits that sent me to Nirvana that first visit.

On the second visit B had something that was supposed to have Andouille in it. If it was Andouille it was the worst Andouille in the world. I think it was kielbasa. On the third he had a hash, poached egg, bagel and cheese sauce concoction. The cheese sauce was despicable. It had separated and become both greasy and gritty and tasted nothing of cheese. The hash is fine, not special, despite the fact that the menu calls it "longhorn hash" whenever it is mentioned.

Seacoast Eats has a link to their menu, but it seems horribly out of date. Many more items are on their menu now. At least the address and hours are correct.

Despite these failings, Cafe Espresso is overall a fine place to eat breakfast, even on a weekend. For one thing, even when the food is not great, it is fine. It was never (except for that cheese sauce) gross. Sometimes that's all you can ask, and in many a breakfast spot, more than you can ask. And being in a strip mall actually provides a couple of additional pluses: the parking is ample and never a struggle, and the restaurant itself is fairly large with plenty of seats. Combined this means you don't have to walk far in the cold, or stand in the cold while waiting for a table on a weekend. And finally, the waitstaff is stellar. There are plenty of them, they are prompt without rushing, attentive without being overbearing, and generally do their job well.

1 comment:

Marc said...

I'm generally not a fan of restaurants in strip malls, either, but sometimes you do find a "diamond in the rough," so to speak. One example down in the Boston area is Pho Yuen Dong in Quincy, which is in the middle of a rather ugly shopping center, but it is probably the best Vietnamese restaurant I have been to in the Boston area.