Who'd ever guess that really great bagels existed in Maine, not to mention from a dude who first learned bagel-making in Montana? Josh Potocki, now 33, first opened 158 Pickett Street Cafe (yup, at 158 Pickett Street) in South Portland about ten years ago. "There was nothing here for bagels. Well, Mister Bagel, but those suck."
158 Pickett Street Cafe
158 Benjamin W, Pickett Street, South Portland ME 04106 (map)
So he did the trial-and-error thing, building on what he learned at a cafe back in Montana and eventually, the bagel recipe just clicked. He's now making 30 dozen a day—and selling out of them.
"People freak out, it's kind of funny," he said. "We'll run out, some days at noon, and the same person will be back here first thing the next morning." Admittedly, I was one of those freaker-outers after reading about these supposed "Best Bagels in Maine" (wait, was I wasting a meal that could be spent on lobster rolls?) but luckily there were still some sitting in the chicken-cage-looking bagel bin near the register.
The Everything bagel, which has a few more things than your typical Everything (like fennel seed and sea salt) usually sells out first. But even if there's just a garlic or onion left, you'll still be happy.
Now don't go in here expecting New York-style bagels—they're really more like baguettes, but bagel-shaped. Crunchy on the outside with a chewy, air-pockety inside, they have their own unique flavor thanks to the sourdough starter (he's been using the same once since they opened). You chew it and totally forget you're eating a bagel. Boiled and baked the night before, they get some crispifying time on the grill once they're ordered.
The same yeasty bread cells are about a half-mile away at Scratch Baking Co., where they also bake (and inevitably sell out of) bagels. Co-owner Allison Reid actually started at 153 Pickett Street with Josh, but split off to do her own thing about four years ago, taking a little wad of the bread starter and bagel recipe with her.
But Scratch doesn't make them into ridiculously good breakfast sandwiches (they're more of a bakery-bakery with brownies, cookies, and other sweets). You'll have to go to Pickett Street for those.
The bacon-egg-and-cheese is a classic—thick-cut bacon that gets caramelly-sweet around the edges with a scrambled egg, and melted cheese. If you're feeling edgier about your breakfast sandwiches, get the egg, prosciutto and pesto ($5.25). Or if you're feeling pro-chickpea, get "the Hippie," which comes with a thick layer of hummus and a whole garden on top. Or you can just go the flavored cream cheese route, like the chili garlic one (if hot sauce and cream cheese gave birth).
Everything is the served in metal cake pans, pretty much the most underused type of plate.
If it's nice out, grab a picnic bench in the backyard overlooking the boats (the cafe was a boating supply store in another lifetime) or one of the patio chairs out front. But, and no offense to fresh air, then you'll miss the mishmash of decor inside—a Starry Night painting by Josh's grandpa, a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey poster, a string of deer twinkle lights above the register—and the joke-cracking staff.
They are a hoot, not to mention covered in tattoos. In conclusion, bagels plus Maine plus tattoos equals delicious. Never thought that equation would exist.