March 20, 2010

So-So Brunch at Caiola's

Ed. Note: Caiola's has changed hands since the writing of this review and is now Chaval.

A few weeks ago, when my friend Elizabeth was visiting, I took her to Caiola's for brunch. Allegedly, the best brunch in town. Alas, I found this superlative to be overstated. I know the best brunch in town. It can be found at Bintliff's. (And yes, I edited the photo below so the sign actually said "Caiola's." There was a wicked glare.)

On this particular Sunday morning, I made a reservation just a few hours before we stopped in. We had a short wait to be seated, and were put in a cozy corner behind a half wall separating the bar from the restaurant. The ambiance at Caiola's is nice—rustic, with colored glass, wall sconces, seasonal greenery, and a cute retro Pine St. sign over the bar.

As we ate, we watched patrons being led through the kitchen, which made me curious about the new seating section that requires kitchen access.

Uke and her partner shared the Warm Lost Bread served with Maine Maple Syrup ($7) and let us have a few bites. By far, the best dish of the meal, it was like the love child of custardy French toast and bread pudding. Served warm, with fresh berries, and coupled with endless cups of hot coffee, I thought the meal was off to a sure start.

Elizabeth had a house-made cinnamon and sugar Pop Tart ($3) and a side of maple bacon ($4) for her meal. As a big lover of French Toast for brunch, she was looking for something sweet (Caiola's doesn't serve French Toast, but has plenty of other sweet options). It was right about then that I kicked myself, realizing that Bintliff's has quite an extensive French Toast and pancake menu.

The Pop Tart wasn't too special (it didn't help that I was under the impression that it was a strawberry Pop Tart, and only found out it wasn't later, when I said, "It didn't taste too much like strawberry!" and Elizabeth informed me that it was because, in fact, there were no strawberries in it), but Elizabeth reported that her maple bacon was nice, thick-cut and sweet.

I ordered the veggie benedict ($11), a version of which I enjoy over at Bintliff's. I get the veggie hash, topped with 2 poached eggs, and add Hollandaise sauce. Caiola's comes on toast with a side of home fries. Unfortunately, my eggs were overcooked (with hard centers) and my toast too crispy. I had to work to cut it with my fork, and then it gave me Captain Crunch mouth. All in all, an unremarkable dish.

Brunch is a complicated animal, I realize. Tastes are highly personal, kitchens are very busy, and usually you're hungover, which can make you even more sensitive to service and food issues. But I don't find brunch to be Caiola's strong suit (admittedly after only one try). With other strong contenders for Best Brunch in Portland, I think I'll stick with a restaurant whose kitchen is more in line with my tastes.