PAUL GERALD is the author of Breakfast in Bridgetown, a comprehensive guide to over 100 Portland breakfast restaurants, and the editor behind the regularly updated and information-rich breakfastinbridgetown.com. The Mercury spoke with Gerald about his book back in 2008, and we wanted to check back with this local authority for updated observations on under-sung diners, why we wait in line, and how to find quick, nearby alternates when your hunger gets the best of you.
MERCURY: What, in your opinion, are the top three breakfast spots that never have a wait? I'm thinking specifically of places with great food, great service, and easy parking.
PAUL GERALD: Sanborn's (3200 SE Milwaukie) is at the top of this list for me. There might be a small wait on weekends, but it's worth waiting for. Their hollandaise is so lemony and zingy, they warn you upon ordering the Benedict. Build-your-own omelets and scrambles, plus a variety of fruity German pancakes put them over the top. Next up is Sunshine Tavern (3111 SE Division), where a kind of '80s retro tavern feel is perfect for gourmet twists on American classics. And finally, Autentica (5507 NE 30th). I simply marvel at people waiting in line for the mediocre fare at Cup and Saucer, when right across the street is fantastic Mexican food in a much more relaxed setting.
Some of the crowded places do deserve their lines. Which legendary breakfast spots do you think are truly worth waiting in line for, and what are their signature dishes?
The Screen Door (2337 East Burnside), obviously. I hate waiting that long, but I also hate going too long without their fried chicken and waffles. I'd also wait even longer than necessary for the sourdough flapjacks at the Original Pancake House (8601 SW 24th), the price be damned. And the Everything Nice at the Tin Shed (1438 NE Alberta) might be my single favorite plate of breakfast in town: eggs, potato cake, choice of meat, sweet potato-cinnamon French toast, and fruit.
What are some alternative places within walking distance of your favorite places, for those who decide they just can't handle the line?
From Screen Door, go east to City State Diner (128 NE 28th). The food is a downgrade, but you'll already be napping while the other folks are still in line. Bail on Gravy (3957 N Mississippi) and go around the corner to the sweet patio at Equinox (830 N Shaver). Walk just up the block from Tasty n Sons (3808 N Williams, Suite C) to have New Orleans-style brunch at EaT: An Oyster Bar (3808 N Williams, #122). Walk a few blocks from Mother's (212 SW Stark) to the Morning Star at SW 3rd and Washington (all-American fare and big portions). From Broder (2508 SE Clinton) I'd go to Detour Café (3035 SE Division) or Sunshine Tavern, or even to the Blues City Biscuits cart (3221 SE Division). Forget the overrated Byways Café (1212 NW Glisan) and walk down to Irving Street Kitchen (701 NW 13th). And while I love the Stepping Stone (2390 NW Quimby), I avoid it on weekends; go over to the Industrial Café (2572 NW Vaughn) instead.
Why do you think people are willing to wait for an hour in breakfast lines? We rarely do that for lunch or dinner. It's a curious phenomenon I can't quite put my finger on, particularly for places that are just doing basic eggs-and-pancakes fare.
I think part of it is people just don't know there are options, or they go to these places just because that's where they go. Same reason hiking trails like Eagle Creek and Angel's Rest are packed when there are hundreds of other options. I also think people may enjoy it as part of the experience. I don't get it, but maybe there's a social aspect to hanging out for 45 minutes, drinking coffee, and catching up. And you're right, we tolerate that in the morning, but not at night. Maybe because we're not awake enough to be grumpy?