There’s one key ingredient not in the food that makes a restaurant special:  Fun. And we had a lot of that at Portland’s Hot Suppa.

Our friend Rusty Atwood recommended brothers Alec and Moses Sabina’s small, 40-seat restaurant, and we owe him big time now. This is a very special experience.

Located at 703 Congress St. in the west end, Hot Suppa is a popular breakfast and lunch place, and we originally planned to eat lunch there. But after taking a look at their dinner menu, we changed our minds. And we are so glad we did.

Portland has many high-end, fine-dining restaurants (and sure, we enjoy those!), but at Hot Suppa you get fine dining without the high prices. If you are looking for taste, value, uniqueness and friendly atmosphere, this is the place to dine in the big city.

Take one step into Hot Suppa and you know this will not be a boring dinner. Bright full-wall mural paintings greet you in the entryway, and the restaurant’s brick walls are the backdrop for colorful paintings and tall beautiful vases of artistic arrangements. It is a small intimate restaurant, and a restaurant of character offering great food at reasonable prices; in other words, a great find.

This is the restaurant for you if you like southern food. It brought back fond memories as we thought of the great food we ate in New Orleans.

In a conversation with Mo, the brother in charge of the chef end of things, you can hear his passion for cooking and in creating a restaurant that can be competitive to Portland’s many great restaurants. Created six years ago, Hot Suppa has become well-known to many in the Portland area.

Everything on the menu sounded tempting, from the Cuban and Poor Boy sandwiches, to the BBQ beef brisket and BBQ pork. As always, we asked the chef if there were certain dishes we should try. His response was, “Do you want me to just feed you?” Yes!

And feed us he did, with small samplings of appetizers, soup, salad, entrees and dessert. If I’d have closed my eyes, I might have been able to imagine myself someplace a whole lot warmer than Maine on this chilly night!

I loved everything on the platter of appetizers, especially the fried green tomatoes. I’ve never had one I’ve liked before, and now I’ll be craving them. (I think it was the remoulade that made them so perfect.) I also loved the St Louis-style BBQ Ribs. The dry rub they used made them incredibly flavorful, without the grease of regular ribs. Choosing a favorite from their three dipping sauces was difficult, but the South Carolina mustard sauce won for us. I will be ordering the St. Louis ribs when I come back!

The Cajun Jambalaya was made with chicken, smoked kielbasa sausage and Cajun rice. Spicy, but not overly so. The smothered pork dish served with a sweet sauce was one of the specials that night. Tender and delicious.

Like many southern-style menus, theirs offers a choice of side dishes. The hard part will be making up your mind if you want cornbread stuffing, braised collard greens, baked beans, cheddar mac ’n cheese, and on and on. The entrée offering of the Plate of Three Sides might help you with your indecision. They have a nice variety of gluten-free items available, duly noted on their menu.

Going along with their comfort-food theme, dessert was a bread pudding. But their bread pudding included chocolate and was served with a warm maple sauce and whipped cream. Mmmmmm.

I can’t think of one restaurant in Maine that offers authentic southern food and as Alec, the brother on the business side of things said, this is the type of food that really came from America. Celebrate it and try Hot Suppa the next time you’re in Portland.


Rusty said we had to try the gumbo but he didn’t tell me to bring along a fire extinguisher! Wow, this is hot stuff — too hot for Lin, but I loved it. It’s chock full of chicken, andouille sausage, white rice and complex flavors. Mo attributed the heat to some kind of powder — perhaps the same powder I use in my muzzleloading rifle!

The gumbo will be a sure thing for me the next time we visit. For one thing, it goes well with their modest but good selection of beer, including some personal favorites from Shipyard and Gritty’s. This trip I tried Arbito’s Turbodog — dark and delicious.

I loved the Creole mustard in the Boudin balls, an appetizer of deep-fried Cajun port and rice sausage. I loved the smokiness of the Cajun Jambalaya, and the sweet sauce that covered the perfectly cooked, smothered pork entrée. Actually, everything Mo sent out to our table was unique and delicious.

While tables turn over here quickly at breakfast and lunch — everyone being in a hurry these days — no one is rushed at dinner and we spent a leisurely two hours there. Expect to wait a bit — no reservations are taken — but it didn’t seem like anyone waited too long while we were there.

Judging by the crowd the night we visited, the Travelin Maine(rs) are late to the party at Hot Suppa, but the good news is that the party goes on. Join it soon!

IF YOU GO . . .

ADDRESS: 703 Congress St., just south of Longfellow Square
PHONE: 871-5005
HOURS: Breakfast and lunch seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. (except Sunday when they sleep in and open at 7:30 a.m.) Dinner Tuesday – Saturday 5 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. Happy hour 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday – Saturday includes $1 oysters with mignonette.
PARKING: Parking in Portland can be challenging. All of the parking for Hot Suppa is on the street — but if you are clever, you’ll notice other available parking nearby.

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