My only rule when eating with a man who's experienced hundreds of breakfasts in the greater Portland metropolitan region is to have whatever he's having. That's why I'm sitting with 42-year-old Breakfast in Bridgetown author Paul Gerald at Milo's City Café on NE Broadway, staring down the barrel of crab cakes benedict. I consider the fact that this is how Gerald ate over the two years he spent researching his book. He must be a hungry man.
"I think I averaged it out to about [two breakfasts] a week," Gerald tells me. "It was 200 meals, and probably 110 different restaurants. I gained 20 pounds, but I've knocked about five of those off already." He chuckles, maybe a bit self-consciously. "The crab cake benedict probably won't help."
Breakfast in Bridgetown, Gerald's self-published ode to that quintessential Portland meal, is a compendium of 95 hash-slinging restaurants. Represented here is the diversity of the Rose City's morning jones, from brioche at the French bistro Fenouil to the no-nonsense breakfast special for under $5 at the anachronistic Joe's Cellar on NW 21st.
I hesitate to call Breakfast in Bridgetown a "guide," because Gerald's voice is too loquacious and down to earth for it to be that simple. He writes as if he were talking to a good friend. The entry for each restaurant runs about three pages, capturing not only the food and atmosphere of the eatery in question, but the thoughts and memories the place conjures for him. ("I'm not a food critic," he tells me. "I'm a travel writer.") Often, he adds thoughts from trusted breakfast companions and various other characters; an entry dedicated to the Screen Door includes a response to a dish called Garden Grits from Lela, Gerald's sister-in-law, who lives in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee: "Having been born in Alabama, raised in Tennessee, and schooled in New Orleans, I've yet to meet a self-respecting grit that would interact with provolone." Foodie wankery it certainly is not.
You'd think a man who's eaten so many breakfasts would be tired of it by now, but no. "It happens to be my favorite meal to eat," Gerald says. "There's something about when you're through eating breakfast, and your belly is full, and your mind is awake, and your whole day is laid out in front of you. There's something to me very appealing about that."
Obviously, many a Portlander shares his feelings. We do breakfast like no other city does breakfast. Gerald reminds me that the New York Times once wrote that breakfast is where Portland shines. And by extension, waits in line.
"I think part of that is that people don't realize how many places there are that serve breakfast," Gerald says. "Because there are a lot of them that don't have a line." He goes on to wonder if some places have become too synonymous with breakfast, while patrons "just accept the fact that if that's where you're going to go you're going to have to wait for an hour." But, he says, there are often places just as good, or better, right next door, citing the proximity of less-crowded Autentica to the long-lined Cup and Saucer Café on Killingsworth.
Consider Gerald's book our best weapon in the fight against long breakfast lines. It is possibly the best gift you could give to the friend who insists on waiting for an hour with a god-awful hangover before getting their hands on the salve of bacon and French toast.
Breakfast in Bridgetown is available wherever fine books are sold, and online at breakfastinbrigetown.com.