Linda

A family lunch before our daughter headed home was the wonderful excuse for meeting at Hot Suppa. We’d been telling the kids how much they’d love this restaurant, so it was great to experience it all together. And yes, they came to love it.

Since my first visit here, I still dream about their fried green tomatoes. So imagine how happy I was when the chef sent out a plate of them before we’d ordered anything. There were “oohs” and “aahs” all around the table, agreeing that these were indeed perfect.

The tomatoes are double-battered before they are fried, and with the deft hand of the cooks, the batter is well-seasoned. Once cooked, the crusty outside combines perfectly with the soft, tangy tomato inside. A remoulade of mayonnaise, capers, cilantro and a dash of hot sauce send these off the charts.

With the five of us at the table, deciding what to order became a jumble of ideas. Holding firmly to the idea of more tomatoes, I split another side order of them with George and then ordered the thing on the menu that had my attention immediately — the Fried Green Tomato BLT. It was amazing, of course.

There was a lot of sampling as the family shared all the wonderful flavors of Hot Suppa. One of my favorites was the grits special that came flavored with bacon and jalapenos and was so light it looked more like a quiche. Served with eggs and an arugula salad, this dish was deliciously different.

Hilary

The food at Hot Suppa is southern cooking with Maine flair. Staples, such as fried green tomatoes, grits, mac and cheese and collard greens are in many of their dishes. Some dishes are completely southern: chicken and waffles or po’ boy sandwiches … however, Maine ingredients make their way into many of the plates.

The po’ boy, for instance, can be filled with fried sweet Maine shrimp, which you can wash down with a cocktail featuring Allen’s coffee brandy — a Maine staple. On our visit, I was wholly impressed with the specials of the day: baked cheesy grits, and a smoked duck breast sandwich topped with gruyere, baby arugula and a cranberry chutney on toasted baguette.

The sandwich was sweet, smoky and addictive — by far my favorite of the meal. And the baked grits special — a generous portion of creamy, cheesy and crunchy grits — was something I had never tried before. I am anxious to try cooking it at home for myself.

Many dishes were transformed from the southern classics I’m familiar with by using a few small ingredients. The corned beef hash is spiced with fresh thyme, giving the dish an herby aroma and earthy flavor. The baked grits special was spiced with jalapenos for just a mild kick (yum!), and the macaroni and cheese had a little spicy sriracha sauce to liven it up.

Apart from the food, you should come to Hot Suppa for ambiance. The place was full the whole time we dined, making for a bright and boisterous atmosphere, which, when surrounded by the bright and colorful paintings by Angela Ferrari, gave the restaurant a decidedly New Orleans feel. If I hadn’t had a window view of the snow banks outside, I would have thought we’d left Maine.

Hot Suppa boasts some pretty incredible dinner specials, as well — the happy hour featuring $1 oysters especially caught my eye. That’s a deal you can’t find anywhere in D.C.

Josh (with help from Kelly)

My parents must have taught me well because, much like them, I like to ask around about a restaurant before going for the first time. In the case of Hot Suppa, the verdict was unanimous — when you go, get the corned-beef hash! Typically, I find corned beef a little too salty, but I am glad I didn’t let that stop me from ordering this signature dish.

Sure enough, balancing sweetness came from the rest of the hash — diced potato, carrot, onion and a healthy dose of thyme — as well as my side order of maple-braised collard greens. The corned beef itself was bursting with flavor, and was nice and juicy. The moistness of the meat was even more impressive given that the whole hash was perfectly crisped. It might have been lunchtime, but I would order up this hash again any time of day.

My wife was equally pleased with her choice — the special of bacon and jalapeno baked grits. Never having tried grits before, she found them to be light and creamy, yet hearty. Delicious flavors of smoky bacon and spicy jalapeno delighted the tongue without overwhelming the dish.

Baking the grits made them tall and airy, a very unique and appealing presentation. Served with two perfectly cooked eggs over easy, a buttery slice of toast and a simply dressed arugula salad, it all made for a wonderful feast.

And, as an avid home-brewer and craft-beer lover, I also want to give thumbs-up to Hot Suppa’s solid beer selection. The clutch of taps boasted a range of styles from Louisiana’s Abita, the west coast’s Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Belgium’s Stella Artois and local brews from Maine’s own Oxbow and Marshall Wharf. If only all restaurants could boast such a diverse selection of rotating taps!

George

Worried about a lengthy wait to get a table, we were pleasantly surprised to be seated within 15 minutes of arriving. This place is very popular, but worth the wait. The first thing that caught my eye as we entered the dining area was a painting of West Quoddy Head Light, my favorite place in the world. Much of the rotating collection of art here is for sale, but we’ve already got West Quoddy in every room of our house!

The Cubano sandwich has been my favorite here for some time and I ordered it again, but only got to eat half of the sandwich because Josh grabbed the other half. Now the Cubano is also his favorite.

Linda’s obsession with their fried green tomatoes is shared by all of us now. It is the featured dish in a piece about Chef Moses Sabrina in Margaret Hathaway’s book, “Portland, Maine Chef’s Table,” and Linda is now making it at home — but she still orders it every time we visit Hot Suppa.

Sunday manager Lauren served us and while we were a demanding bunch, she did a superb job of steering us through the menu, giving us extra dishes for sharing the food and keeping our crowded table as clear as possible. Despite Lauren’s best efforts, it looked like a buffet gone wild.

As the food circulated around the table, I was most impressed with the smoked duck breast sandwich, the mac and cheese, the grits and, of course, my Abita Turbo beer, the smoky flavor was perfect with my Cubano.

Portland has many high-end, fine-dining restaurants, 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.

This family meal was the perfect ending of a wonderful Christmas holiday, and a nice send-off for Hilary. Take your family to Hot Suppa soon!

Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.

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