11 Brown St., Portland
BRGR Bar was a welcome addition to the Portland scene when it took over Margaritas’ former downtown location last year. What’s not to love about a messy burger made from local, grass-fed beef, washed down with a boozy “adult” milkshake? Since it opened, however, the Portsmouth-based restaurant’s second location has gotten mixed reviews: uneven food quality and spotty service. When I found out BRGR Bar serves brunch on weekends, I tried to ignore the reviews and go in with an open mind.
After a Sunday morning visit with my family, I agreed with the critics. Not only was the preparation inconsistent, but most of the food was heavy and greasy — ideal for mopping up after a night of heavy drinking, but not for a family meal.
The best things came from the bar. At $4, the house Bloody Mary was a bargain. If you like ’em spicy, which I do, you’ll be doubly pleased. Four bucks will also get you a mimosa (regular or blood orange) — another great deal in a town where a decent brunch cocktail can sell for up to twice that sum. My daughter enjoyed her sea-salt caramel and pretzel milkshake ($6), one of a handful of non-alcoholic options. It was sweet but not cloying, and the bits of pretzel made for a pleasant texture contrast (that is, until they turned soggy after about 20 minutes).
My daughter ordered Huevos Anchoros ($14), which turned out to be the best of our three meals. Two fried eggs and chunks of a flavorful veggie burger–like patty of quinoa and lentils were topped with a combination of ancho chili aioli, tomato relish and Sriracha that provided substantial heat. The intense spiciness was partially offset by cool crème fraiche, avocado and cilantro. Beneath it all, the deep-fried flour-tortilla chips were deliciously crisp and salty, but so grease-laden that my hungry teenager could barely finish half of them.
I chose “Tot of the Morning to You” ($12), an enormous portion of super-crisp tater tots topped with a single egg, bacon and hollandaise sauce. The bacon was thick, meaty, and not overly salty, but the rest of the dish was a disappointment. The egg was overcooked, the hollandaise was lackluster in flavor and broken to the point of graininess, and the proportions — at least 80 percent potatoes, 20 percent everything else — made it seem more like a side dish than an entrée.
My wife stuck with the restaurant’s theme and ordered the only burger on the brunch menu. The “Bun Jour” ($14) was topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, and hollandaise sauce, and served on fried brioche “French toast” in lieu of a bun. Once again, the idea was good but the execution fell short. The burger, ordered medium-rare, came out well done; the fried egg was missing and had to be requested from our server; and the bread was so oily that my wife started surreptitiously scanning the room for a defibrillator. Instead of fries, she chose a side salad of fresh field greens, lightly dressed with a tangy balsamic vinaigrette that helped cut through the grease.
Our meal had some redeeming elements: we thoroughly enjoyed the cool, retro-industrial decor and ’80s tunes. But while I’d consider dropping in for a milkshake sometime, I probably wouldn’t go back for brunch unless I had a serious hangover to cure.
BRGR Bar serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.