Breakfast at Jen's
A small, new eatery in Brunswick offers the best morning meal in town.
- By: Maria Padian
Photography by Heather Perry
Jen’s Place seems an unlikely spot to find the best breakfast in Brunswick. Located on Stanwood Street, a stone’s throw from the intersection of Route 1 and Pleasant, the fifty-seat restaurant is tucked into the railroad-tracks-end of a long, low building sided with corrugated metal. Its neighbors include a fleet of Down East Energy trucks, securely locked behind a tall, chain-link fence. The parking lot is small and could use some new asphalt; green dumpsters are prominent.
But then you see the line. Out the door, wrapped around the side of the building, a diverse assortment of people waits. There’s a Bowdoin dean; an elderly couple from the neighborhood; a young family; a group of high-school football players. All wait, however long it takes, to secure a table and sample Jen Burton’s sweet potato biscuits and creamy cheese grits. Her decadent pancakes. Her savory corned beef hash.
“I’m actually scared to advertise,” Burton confesses, as she contemplates the challenge of moving that line forward and speeding up turnover. “It’s already overwhelming!”
Of course, Burton is no stranger to overwhelming challenges. A single mom with self-described “not-great credit,” survivor of domestic abuse, and former client at the local food pantry, she doesn’t fit the traditional profile of a successful entrepreneur. But after twenty years of cooking and learning the food business at area restaurants such as Cook’s Lobster House in Bailey Island, Morse Lobster Shack in Brunswick, and the Fairground Café in Topsham, she had a dream.
“I wanted it to be my mom’s kitchen,” she explains. “And after years of not liking how things were done in other restaurants, I wanted to get it right in my own.” Thanks to a loan from Coastal Enterprises, Inc., and support from friends, including her current landlord, Burton turned her dream into reality.
Getting it right began with locating the kitchen in the dining area. Cooks are not invisible, anonymous drones at Jen’s Place: They flip pancakes and fry potatoes within eyeshot of patrons sipping hot coffee or tucking into ribeye steak and eggs. Some eat their meals right at the five-seat granite counter that separates the grill from the tables, chatting with Burton, or perhaps her son, Malachi, as they cook.
Getting it right also included supporting local businesses, so the eighty pounds of corned beef Burton prepares in a single week comes from Bisson’s Meat Market in Topsham. She keeps tabs on the origins of the crates and crates of eggs she buys, ensuring they are local and fresh.
And getting it right meant, most importantly, the food. “I spent six months developing the breakfast menu,” she says. “The hash was something I played with for a while, until a friend told me I finally got it right. The sweet potato biscuits, too.” Burton doesn’t reveal her secrets, but a hint of nutmeg in the subtle biscuits, the perfection of the honest-to-goodness real hash, and the authenticity of the grits, which have officially passed muster from bona fide southerners, give away the key to her success: this lady knows food.
She also knows fun. Her Pancake Sammich is right out of Larry the Cable Guy. The Will Power — four scrambled egg whites with fat-free cheddar, a cup of oatmeal, plain pancake, and grilled muffin — is named for a well-known local trainer, Will Smith. And many of her menu items are named for special friends and customers, such as John’s Little Bit (beans, eggs, and a grilled biscuit) and Kai’s Breakfast Bowl (bacon, onions, and home fries topped with melted cheddar).
“Some things are just not meant to be heart healthy,” she concedes about Kai’s.
But heart is what Jen’s Place is all about. Watching customers come and go, calling out their greetings to Burton at the grill, settling into the mismatched chairs gleaned from yard sales and the Salvation Army store, you don’t feel like you’re in a restaurant. It feels like that certain room in your own house where — no matter how hard you try to redirect them to the more open, airy space — the company always gathers. In other words: the kitchen, the heart and soul of every home.
Jen’s Place is located at 25 Stanwood Street in Brunswick. Breakfast is served from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 5 a.m. to noon on Sunday. 207-729-8299.
- By: Maria Padian