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FOOD & TRAVEL

Here, familiarity breeds contentment

Marcy's serves hearty diner meals at reasonable prices. Marcy's serves hearty diner meals at reasonable prices. (Photos by Janet Mendelsohn for the boston globe)
By Janet Mendelsohn
Globe Correspondent / February 18, 2009
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PORTLAND, Maine - Marcy's Diner hasn't changed much in a long, long time. Except for some paint and slightly higher, but still reasonable, prices, it's still like it was in 1989 when the name became Marcy's (the place had been here under different ownership since the '40s). Same 10 shiny bar stools along a beat-up wooden counter under ancient ceiling fan lights. Same five bruised wooden booths on the opposite wall. Same no-nonsense galley with rows of plain white mugs and a well-seasoned grill that's seen decades of use. The decor now runs from motorcycle models and Harley memorabilia to metal bakery racks stacked with loaves of sliced bread. What you won't find are souvenir mugs, hats, or T-shirts. Four signs announce cash only.

Marcy's is zero percent pretentious, 100 percent friendly. The small corner eatery seats 30 and serves hearty diner food to a local crowd who come for breakfast or lunch. You could have yogurt and fruit salad, but forget about your arteries. The menu (no substitutes) includes burgers, grilled cheese, and tuna melts with pickles and chips. Five days a week from early morning until mid-afternoon closing, nearly everyone comes for the likes of pancakes, omelets, and corned beef hash with two eggs and toast.

"Fifteen years, I've never had a bad meal here," says Bob White, a Portland cabdriver seated at the counter. Without looking up from his lunch of French toast, White adds, "I send all my rides here and I eat here twice a week myself."

"Three times a week, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday," says Joely Sparks from behind the counter. She and her husband, Murray, bought the diner from Marcy six years ago. Joely has worked here close to 16 years, almost as long as one of their waitresses, Michaelene. Murray is the grill man in a black Harley T-shirt. He stirs buttery rough-cut fries while Joely assembles orders at an impressive pace.

"On a busy day, guaranteed, we'll use 32 dozen eggs and 100 pounds of potatoes, especially weekends," says Joely. The amount of butter and oil doesn't come up.

Earlier, when Michaelene put a hot triple stack of blueberry buttermilk pancakes in front of my husband, he took a bite, handed me a forkful and announced, "When blueberry pancakes were invented, this is what they had in mind." My beef stew arrives in a "cup" the size of a big cereal bowl. The stew is rich and meaty. Michaelene insists on grilling my peanut-butter-and-chocolate-chip muffin. More calories? Who cares? Lunch for two is less than $14.

Marcy's is near a humble L.L. Bean outlet and up the block from the Portland Museum of Art. Stop by and you'll find men in work boots, jeans, and flannel shirts sharing the counter with a well-dressed dad and his young son. Maine College of Art students relax in one booth while an older couple nearby is engrossed in an animated discussion of the nation's economy.

Everyone, it seems, whom the cabbie might send.

Marcy's Diner, 47 Oak St., Portland, Maine, 207-774-9713.

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