It's been nearly a year since Boston restaurant queen Barbara Lynch opened Sportello, her lunch counter in Fort Point Channel. In those months, she's won widespread (but hardly surprising) praise from all corners for her focused, soulful Italian dishes—but only last week did Sportello start brunch service, adding egg dishes and French toast to a list of lunchtime favorites.
There are quite a few ways to experience Sportello, There's a takeout counter packed with pastries and cookies; there's coffee to go. The open, airy room also houses a few four-tops, but the real action is at the long, winding counter, with two runway-like promenades; waitstaff serve right from that bar. (That comes in handy when you want an extra wine list or another basket of bread; your server will just duck right down and get it!) That service space phases right into an open kitchen, and at brunchtime, you'll watch eggs cracked and pancakes flipped as you wait. It makes for a lively meal, and though groups of more than four might have a hard time, corner seating makes any smaller party feasible.
And the food? The duck hash ($16) kept a fatty tenderness while gaining a perfect crisp, with light, almost fluffy potato chunks and eggs poached to runny bliss.
An almost excellent Taleggio panini ($13) appears from the lunch menu, a sandwich of fully melted, slightly funky cheese paired with a mostardo of root vegetables—carrot, beet, turnip. One side of the sandwich was perfectly crunchy; the other, sadly tough. I'm tentatively diagnosing day-old bread, though I hope this isn't the case; it's too pricey and professional a restaurant to cut corners.
Given Sportello's Italian slant, the gnocchi ($18) were a disappointment: somewhat gluey, leaden, a sense not helped by their heavy cream sauce. Gnocchi are tricky creatures, and these were far from terrible, but I'd expected much better.
Brioche pain perdu ($14) was a fine French toast, its four-sided sear securing a bread puddling-like interior so soft, one could imagine it might spill out otherwise. It's topped with punchy stewed prunes and mild whipped ricotta—too mild, in my opinion, though I appreciated that it didn't overwhelm the dish.
Though the brunch menu isn't cheap, dessert prices are quite gentle, if you're looking to go out on a sweet note. Best of the desserts was a thick and intensely chocolatey cake ($3) with a sprinkle of sea salt. Our waitress asked if the gentleman who ordered said cake wanted a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of salt; I sighed, inwardly, when he chose to keep it pristine. But there's only so much a brunch orchestrator can impose her will. Pick your battles. Chocolate cake should not be a vehicle of anger or strife.
Both cupcakes ($2) will delight cupcake fans: peanut butter helped by a trio of halved peanuts and a generous pinch of salt; the mint chocolate, by the creme de menthe in the frosting and nicely moist cake base. A lemon square ($2) was easy to finish, with a tender cookie base and soft, not rubbery lemon filling with a strong citrus punch, but wasn't exactly memorable. The peanut butter Rice Krispies square ($2) was tasty, in a bake-sale way—but also a bit stale, in, well, a bake-sale way.
Hits and misses; more hits than misses. As far as the food goes, it won't unseat my go-to Boston breakfast: Mike and Patty's in Bay Village. But as a sunny, spacious alternative, it'll do nicely. At brunchtime, light streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The lunch-counter looks seems more excitingly modern than needlessly casual. The easygoing, playful service starts your day on a cheery note. And playfulness pairs well with French toast.