On my last day in Portland, Matt and I went out for our one and only brunch of the weekend. If that doesn’t indicate restraint, I don’t know what does.
Before I’d even bought my plane ticket, Matt was telling me about Slappy Cakes: He emailed the link to the menu, sent text messages every time he ate there, and basically did all of the advance publicity so I’d be primed and ready when I got to town. It’s a restaurant with a gimmick, and a good one, too: As the breakfast-oriented cousin of Korean barbecue or Japanese shabu-shabu, each tabletop has a built-in griddle for make-your-own pancakes.
It seemed kind of silly not to eat pancakes when that’s the focal point of the place, but neither of us were in the mood; somewhat reluctantly, we set aside the menu detailing batter choices (buttermilk, pumpkin, gluten-free, and whole-grain) and “fixins,” everything from the standard (blueberries and bananas) to the less traditional (red-wine-and-tarragon apple sauce and satsuma-ginger marmalade) and decided to let the kitchen do the cooking for us.
First, cocktails—it’s not brunch without ’em. I took one sip of Matt’s aptly named Whiskey for Breakfast and was instantly covetous. Featuring Pendleton whiskey sweetened with maple syrup and tarted up with a squeeze of lemon, crowned with a frothy egg white and a brandied cherry, this could very well replace the bloody mary as my Sunday morning go-to drink.
Wanting something warm to ease the chill in the air, I continued the previous day’s theme with a Mt. Tabor toddy, then quickly realized it wasn’t at all what I wanted. Gritty from the mulling spices and heavy with brandy, I couldn’t drink more than half and left it to Matt to finish for me.
Some call it overkill to order appetizers at brunch, but we couldn’t resist the savory bread pudding with leek, onion and thyme gravy; it wasn’t quite as good as we’d hoped, but, in my book, even an average bread pudding is better than none. We killed it.
Matt, being a good Midwestern boy at heart no matter how much he protests, ordered the chicken-fried steak with sausage gravy, two poached eggs, and potatoes. Though just as popular down south as it is in the heartland, this is the type of food I never had growing up—that’s the price you pay when your parents are ex-hippies. Think carob chips and sesame sticks, all-natural peanut butter and no-sugar-added jam…but I digress. Point being, this is comfort of the highest order, but as good as it was, a bite or two of that rich gravy and juicy, crispy cube steak was enough for me. Matt wasn’t complaining; he didn’t really want to share it, anyway.
After much wavering between two benedicts, one with pork belly (we know which one Jill would’ve chosen) and one with spinach, prosciutto and garlic-and-sundried-tomato purée, the allure of leafy greens and my favorite species of allium finally won out. I hate to say it because the plate looked so pretty, but I was disappointed. The prosciutto tasted like it’d been frozen, then thawed; the sundried-tomato spread was delicious, but so strongly flavored that it overpowered everything else. I ended up deconstructing the dish and scraping off those two elements, mixing the purée with my potatoes and leaving the prosciutto on the plate, to get to the good stuff. And make no mistake, there was good stuff: that homemade English muffin, for starters, cradling perfectly poached eggs and simply sautéed spinach, neither of which needed more than a dab of hollandaise to shine.
We lingered at our table after we’d finished, drowsily full despite several cups of coffee. Warming our fingers over the griddle once again, we were reluctant to say goodbye to the cheerful, light-filled, orange-accented interior and face the cold outside. Though not our best meal of the weekend, this brunch, the overall experience, was a comfortable one. And sometimes, that’s all you need.
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