23 Forest Ave., Portland
A friend of mine who grew up in Bulgaria texted me the other day about a new restaurant downtown serving Bulgarian food. It’s called Nom Cafe and it opened this spring next to Portland Stage on Forest Avenue, in the space most recently occupied by the Korean restaurant Yobu.
“Delicious,” she wrote. “Yummy authentic fare.”
Good enough for me. The next morning I called in a takeout order and brought it home to share with my wife and daughter.
None of us had tried Bulgarian food, which draws influences from Greek, Persian, and other regional cuisines. We all found the menu both appealingly different and comfortingly familiar.
I ordered Eggs Panagura ($14): two perfectly poached eggs served over a velvety sheeps-milk feta spread, drizzled with paprika-infused oil and sprinkled with fresh dill. For an extra four dollars I added diced kyufte, a meatball-like Bulgarian sausage. On the side was hearty sourdough toast, which I used to mop up every last bit of that amazing feta spread.
My wife started with an order of parzhen ($9): crisp slices of breaded-and-fried eggplant served with Lutenitza, a savory-sweet spread of tomatoes and red peppers. For her main course she chose Belgian waffles ($14) with berries and maple syrup. The waffles themselves were pretty good, but the boneless fried chicken ($5) stole the show — it was tender and crispy, with a compelling blend of spices and herbs.
My daughter ordered mekitsi ($10). The menu described them as “crumpets served with Maine honey,” but they weren’t the slightly chewy cousin to English muffins that she’d expected. Instead, they were discs of honey-drizzled fried dough stuffed with a cottage cheese filling. They were tasty, but super rich. Shopska ($10), a lightly dressed salad of cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, scallions, parsley and feta, provided welcome contrast.
To be fair, some items traveled better than others. Next time, we might carry our food to nearby Congress Square if the weather allows, or ask for sauces and syrups on the side if we’re bringing it home.
Our family is avoiding indoor dining right now, but Nom Cafe’s dining room is comfortable and bright, and we look forward to a visit in the future. One way or another, there will be more Bulgarian brunches to come.
Nom Cafe is open Monday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.