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Restaurant Review: The Family Dog barks up the right tree

Grade: A

It’s been voted Best French Fries, Best Burger and Best Vegetarian/Gluten-Free by Bangor Metro magazine. I’m offering another nomination: Best Brunch.

When the Family Dog took over for Lissus Pizza in 2012 — arguably the worst pizza restaurant to ever disgrace the town of Orono — people were unsure of the concept. Specialty hot dogs and burgers weren’t necessarily in hot demand. But people gave it a chance, and today the restaurant is in the process of expanding. Owner Bob Cutler built a large deck overlooking the Stillwater River last spring, and now he is constructing a fenced-in terrace further blow the deck, which will serve as a grassy performance space come the warmer months. Already, the Family Dog is a favorite among students and locals for its $10 Corona buckets, best consumed on the porch during finals week.

In terms of food, the “Dog” has also expanded from its original menu, now offering specialty coffees, drinks and ice cream, in addition to an already extensive lunch and dinner menu. Among the popular items include a Chicago-style hot dog ($3.50), complete with all the classic fixings — mustard, onion, tomatoes, neon-green relish, hot peppers, celery salt and a pickle spear, all jammed onto a poppy seed bun — and the “Bad Dog” ($4.50), a deep fried, bacon wrapped, cheese-slathered Vienna Beef hot dog topped with tomatoes.

Signature items can be fashioned into a hot dog ($4.25) or into a beef, chicken or vegetarian burger for $7.95. Get the Xolo (pronounced “sholo”), with avocado salsa, tomatoes, lettuce, pepper jack cheese and spicy Southwest mayo on a veggie burger, and you’re in heaven.

But what drew me to the Family Dog — and what got me out of sweatpants — was the allure of brunch, the meal that satisfies the breakfast craving while offering something hearty enough to sustain me throughout the day. It’s also breakfast with booze, and with the sun shining high early on Saturday afternoon, how could I resist?

Setting foot into the Dog, it’s apparent this meal was in hot demand. Looking across the open-concept dining room, there were patrons laughing, drinking and tickling the ivory of a piano, a remnant of Bangor’s “Queen City Piano Project,” which was featured as part of the city-wide art initiative, “ARTober,” in October.

The brunch menu is extensive, featuring classic omelets from “Denver” to the “Southwest” to “Philly” (all $7.99), and classics such as stuffed French toast ($6.95), two thick slices of French toast embracing a sweet cream filling and topped with blueberry coulis. Fresh beef hash ($8.99), a menage of braised brisket, onions, peppers and potatoes came to the table fresh off the griddle topped with two over-easy eggs, their yolks dribbling onto the mix below. Could there be a more perfect sight?

And really, could there be a more perfect bite? Tender brisket with just a bit of char, crunchy potatoes with soft insides and perfectly-cooked over-easy eggs made this dish nothing short of a winner. Complicated, it was not — but oh, so good.

The breakfast burger ($8.50) looked right out of an advertisement: a beef patty topped with American cheese, bacon and — of course — a fried egg sat sandwiched between two large, grilled buns. It stood tall and proud before its untimely demise. The bacon was smoky, thick-cut and crunchy, a delightful contrast to the smooth egg yolk running down its sides. The bun was buttered. Say no more.

It goes without saying that with brunch come mimosas, and the Dog has them for $5.50. Buyer beware: a large mimosa comes in a 22-ounce glass, a drink for the serious bruncher. The sparkling wine used for the mimosa was definitely not of the highest caliber (off-dry with not much flavor or body), but still provided for a refreshing drink to accompany the meal. If you aren’t up for a mimosa, you could order one of many local beers on tap, such as a wheat beer from Maine brewer, Gneiss Brewing Co. Or, you could order a specialty cocktail, such as a whiskey chai ($6.50), a warm and boozy treat.
While it may seem the Dog struggles to identify a target breed, first wanting to be known for its family atmosphere, then its specialty coffee and now as a bar and local beer hotspot, it is undeniable that the restaurant has been successful in creating an atmosphere of excitement. What will come next? And although the menu may seem straightforward, it is no doubt some of the best food you’ll find in the greater Bangor area. But you don’t need me, or Bangor Metro, to tell you that. Go find out for yourself. At the Dog, there is something for every member of the family.

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