In Portland, Chef Lee Harding Smith has renovated a Room for every occasion. The moody Grill Room proves a match for meat cravings and cocktails. The bustling Corner Room fits the bill for power lunches and pre-show appetizers. And The Front Room? For my money, the Munjoy Hill bistro is all about brunch and beer (albeit not together).

The Front Room's mussels can't match its Brunch items. Thanks for the photo, Kate!

The Front Room's mussels can't match its Brunch items. Thanks for the photo, Kate!

The latter reason drew me to the East End eatery a few days ago to meet my friend Kate (of The Blueberry Files). When a chill hits the air, The Front Room’s welcoming bar warms with conversation and cheer. Laughing locals and the rhythm of a martini shaker can sustain me through March.

But, while the atmosphere sings, dinners at The Front Room have never set my toes a’ tingling. A recent dinner there with Adam yielded a good, but unremarkable, meal of roasted half chicken and cedar-planked salmon. So, my expectations were properly aligned when Kate and I ordered a bowl of mussels and two salads – Caesar for her and spinach for me.

Featuring mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, onions, and feta, my salad was tasty and filling, but the vinaigrette lacked a certain zing. The mussels – set in a stew of garlic, wine, tomatoes and herbs – were well-cooked and plentiful. They did not, however, secure a spot on my top five list (see previous post). Nothing about the basic broth overly impressed either of us.

No, it is brunch where The Front Room truly shines. I’ll patiently wait the half-hour required to procure a plate of Baked Beans & Brown Bread on a Saturday morning. Served with a basted egg, the massive pile of maple-basted beans coats thick chunks of hearty Boston-style bread – delightful. Other morning winners include a rich Potato Gnocci with spinach, bacon, two poached eggs and hollandaise; and a baked egg dish with cream and parmesan.

My Front Room bottom line: Brunch – Yes. Mussels – No.

North Star Music Cafe on Urbanspoon