PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — When Debbie Gosselin opened her breakfast and lunch cafe here and brought on her husband, Tom, to work in the kitchen, the two thought they’d put in a couple of years behind the stove and then move on. “We said, ‘This is what we’ll do till we figure out what to do,’ ” says Debbie.
That was in 1983. More than 30 years later, The Golden Egg, and the Gosselins, are still going strong. “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing,” says Debbie, thinking back on those early years. She had no formal training, just a little restaurant experience, but at 25, she had the boundless confidence of the young and untried. Debbie and Tom, former ski bums who met at Loon Mountain, were newlyweds, and Tom’s father had just bought a building on a quiet stretch of road on the outskirts of town. The future Golden Egg space was empty, and Debbie decided she could just about manage a little breakfast and lunch joint. She borrowed grocery money from her mother and plunged in. “I had a lot of energy,” says Debbie, who still seems to possess more of that precious commodity than most. “I did everything: I did the dishes, made carrot cakes and pie, did the cleanup. I’d never been to culinary school and didn’t know about fancy meals, but I knew how to make a good sandwich and chowder and cupcakes.”
Continue reading below
Back then, Tom was trying to launch a career in real estate, but he complained to his wife that, with her long workdays at the restaurant, he never saw her. So she hired him. “I knew he could flip an egg. I said. ‘Come in and I’ll show you how to make muffins, and we can be together for most of the day,’ ” says Debbie. Fortunately for the restaurant and, presumably, the marriage, Tom proved to be “a good cook and a hard worker.”
Customers certainly agree with Debbie about Tom’s kitchen skills. On summer weekends, the line stretches out the door, and even in deepest winter, with several inches of fresh snow on the ground, a Sunday morning brings a steady stream of patrons and a bit of a wait for one of the Golden Egg’s 50 seats. In the cozy dining room, customers sit at tables topped with red oilcloth or at a counter punctuated by old-style domed cake stands holding Debbie’s tempting creations. A customer eyes a coconut-frosted chocolate cake, and Debbie suggests ordering a slice sooner rather than later. “That cake doesn’t hang around long,” she says.
wendy maeda/globe staff
Homemade carrot, coconut custard, and chocolate ganache cakes (from left).
The waitresses have their hands full, but they’re old pros. Identical twins June Ferland and Joan Cyr have been here more than 20 years, as have sisters Debbie Ridlon and Cindy Eighmey. All in their early 50s, the crew has seen one another through life’s milestones. “We’re family,” says Debbie
Aficionados of the morning meal may have a hard time choosing among menu options. Freshly baked cardamom coffee cake is impossibly light and fluffy, with a crisply browned crust. Red flannel hash is an off-menu special this day, and like the coconut cake, it goes fast; at 11 a.m. there’s only half an order remaining of the Yankee classic, fresh and chunky and full of beet flavor.
An impressively fluffy omelet stuffed with maple sausage, sauteed apples, cheddar, and onions nicely balances sweet and savory. Blueberry pancakes are almost more berry than pancake, and if you order real maple syrup, it comes in a nip bottle warming in a coffee mug full of hot water. Even the fruit cup, a standard affair in many places, is assembled with a fanned slice of pear peeking out from the fresh array of strawberries, blueberries, and melon, topped with vanilla yogurt and walnuts.
Regulars — and there are plenty here — appreciate the attention to detail. At a quiet corner table, Maurice and Theresa Mayo, who are days from celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary, joke that they aren’t here daily — only about five days a week. “The food is excellent,” says Maurice, and Theresa adds, “But it’s more than the food. It’s the people.”
Keeping a restaurant open 32 years is no small feat, but the Gosselins are modest about the accomplishment. “We just keep plugging along, being positive,” says Debbie. “Everyone takes pride in what they do. It works. It’s a good thing. It’s all good.”
THE GOLDEN EGG 960 Sagamore Ave., Portsmouth, N.H., 603-436-0519.
Jane Dornbusch can be reached at [email protected]