Beckey's Diner
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Becky's Diner sign

NOTHIN’ FINAH:
PORTLAND, MAINE AT 5AM

by Jaed Coffin

Anything you want to know about Portland, Maine can be found at five in the morning in Becky’s Diner. When I first showed up, fourteen customers were already elbow-deep in breakfast. I sat at the counter, with a half a dozen elderly fishermen types—oily beards, crinkled hats, rubber boots—who were discussing the various reasons why the Portland Fish Exchange—just blocks down Commercial Street—is on its way out.

In a booth behind them, a dignified woman in a fancy sweater read the New York Times over a big platter of pancakes. To her right, a starving artist from the Maine College of Art brooded over a four-egg omelet called The Titanic. Millie, Becky’s sister, poured me a cup of coffee and asked me what I needed.

I have long believed that the only way to really understand the essence of a diner is to order the biggest breakfast on the menu. The name usually gives it away: The Lumberjack. The Trucker. The Big Breakfast. At Becky’s, it is called The Hobson’s Wharf Special. Two eggs, two pieces of toast, two strips of bacon, a big side of home fries, and the kicker: two blueberry pancakes. “The special,” I told Millie, and by the warmhearted look she gave me, I could tell she’d expected as much

people at the counter inside Becky's Diner

When one of the gentlemen asked Millie for more coffee, she poured him half a cup and said, “That’s it for you.” Then she turned to his companions. “He’s an older guy. He doesn’t need all that caffeine.” When another man asked for a muffin, Millie instructed, “No salt and no butter.” The man nodded bashfully, and received his due.

It doesn’t matter if you’re from out of town, because you’ll find out about Becky’s the minute you cross the Maine border. Though Becky’s doesn’t believe in advertising—word of mouth keeps the clientele between friends and friends of friends, and friends of tourist friends—there are these bumper stickers everywhere that have spread across southern Maine like a virus. “Becky’s Diner” they read, adorned with the company logo: a fishing trawler surrounded by seagulls. And then: “Nothin’ Finah.” (For those not in the know, the Maine accent requires most words ending in “er” to be spayed with a sharp “ah”.) The stickers are everywhere. The other day I saw one on a Lexus with New York plates.

“I haul spare trailer loads for Hannaford’s,” says the man to my right, when the man to his right asks him how he’s making money in these tough economic times. “But they been slow since Septembah.” (Catching on yet?) “I stay busy though,” he says. “If I didn’t, I’d end up on some street cornah.”

That Becky’s calls itself a diner is a bit of a misnomer. A trio of small time national rags called Esquire and Gourmet and The New YorkTimes have all sung the praises of Becky’s Diner, and for as long as I can remember, all the city papers in Portland have voted it “Best Of” in multiple categories.

A view of Portland's harbor from Becky's back porch
The view from the Diner's back porch

There are many fine breakfast restaurants in Portland, and they are perhaps more hip and cool than Becky’s, and the food is probably more exotic and has longer names. But this hasn’t changed things much. I’ve never seen a bumper sticker with “Café Ufa!” on it.

Perhaps it is the food that has earned Becky’s such a high throne in the universe. The menu is straightforward—eggs any way you want them, with sides of hash or fruit or home fries or sausage or bacon—but it is not without idiosyncrasies. For instance: you can get your home fries with cheese, or cheese and onion, or cheese and onion and pepper, or just pepper hold the cheese—and so on. It is also an honest menu. On my pancakes, I was offered syrup, or “Real Maple Syrup.” Anyone who’s never tried the latter will be grateful for Becky’s forthrightness. And of course since this is Maine, there must be a lobster omelet. But how much? Who knows. The value is listed as “market price.” The aforesaid “market”, one should know, is a few blocks down the street.  As for the coffee, if it was any better, it would cost too much; if it was any worse, you’d probably bring your own. Desserts are all homemade—except for the pies, which come from a farm out the road—and for anyone in search of the mythic Maine Whoopie Pie (two hamburger sized rounds of chocolate cake sandwiching a white frosting middle) you’ll find them here. But it’s not just the food listed in the menu that makes it such a gem. There’s wisdom within it, too.

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