363 Fore St., Portland
Other than cold leftover Pad Thai straight from the takeout container, I’d never had Thai food for breakfast before today. In my defense, I had no idea what I was missing. I mean, who knew, right? (Other than 70 million Thai people, that is.) It’s not like the Thai restaurants I passed on my morning commute were ever open for breakfast — at least not those in Maine, or Boston, or even Los Angeles. A year after opening in the Old Port, Cheevitdee introduced a brunch menu unlike anything else in Portland. And that’s a good thing.
My friend and I arrived early by brunch standards, just after 9 a.m., a full hour after their opening time. The place was empty. We scanned the drink menu while air-drumming to a (slightly incongruous) alt-rock soundtrack. I ordered the Caprioska ($8.50), a simple cocktail of vodka, lime and brown sugar. With three or four wedges squeezed into a small glass, the drink was dominated by lime, but I like lime, so it worked for me. The coffee ($3), on the other hand, was brewed too weak for my taste.
The breakfast section of the brunch menu includes both a la carte items and “brunch set” combo meals. For a first-timer like me, the brunch set list made a potentially difficult ordering decision much easier.
I chose Brunch Set #4 ($12). The centerpiece was kai kata, an iron skillet with two sunny-side-up eggs topped with bacon, Chinese sausage, ground chicken, scallions and soy sauce. The eggs were well cooked, with crispy edges and runny yolks, and the overall flavor balance of salt, fat and umami was outstanding. The moo ping, grilled pork skewers marinated in soy sauce and palm sugar, were tender and delicious. The third element, sticky rice, was just that: plain, sticky white rice. There was a ramekin of dipping sauce, intended to go either with the pork or the rice, but it tasted more of fish sauce than I’d like. The side order of dry toast, while perfectly fine, felt unnecessary.
For my friend, Brunch Set #1 ($10) proved to be a good choice across the board. Her set also included kai kata, special-ordered with scrambled eggs (she’s mildly yolkphobic). The shumai, a steamed dumpling filled with pork and shrimp, was one of the best I’ve had in Portland, and the sweet soy dipping sauce was so good I stole the leftovers for my rice. Two small doughnuts, called pathongko, were a high point of the meal that she was kind enough to share. They were light, fluffy, crisp, and not at all greasy. The lightly sweet, pandan-leaf custard dipping sauce could easily become addictive. I enjoyed the last couple spoonfuls smeared on my toast (bread with custard cream is also a $5 a la carte option).
Other tempting menu items, like jok(a.k.a. congee, a savory rice porridge) and the custard-filled steamed buns will have to wait for a future visit. And there will definitely be future visits. “In Thailand, breakfast food is not set in stone like in America,” a note on the menu reads. “You can find anything to eat in the morning, just like you would at night.” Next time, I might even order some pad Thai to go.
Cheevitdee serves breakfast Friday to Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.