WHEN PEOPLE UNPACK their adjectives for Tasty n Sons, you might hear the restaurant's brunch menu being called "strange" or "weird" or "uncommon." Truth be told, from a local perspective, they're kind of right. You can find the familiar—scrambled eggs, a killer French toast, a bacon burger, a Cobb salad—but peppered amid this fare are options that seem downright exotic for Portland's favorite meal of the day.
What else would you expect from chef/owner John Gorham? For years he's been cultivating a never-ending line of slavering foodies outside his Northeast Portland tapas joint, Toro Bravo. There, the unexpected is exactly what's expected—delicious small plates ranging from squid ink pasta to oxtail croquettes.
Currently at Tasty n Sons, lines are uncommon (at least during weekdays) even with its steady flow of eager diners. The space is filled with wonderfully flattering natural light despite looking like a saloon installed in a railway tunnel. If there are any complaints space-wise, it's that they could lose a table to provide easier passage to and from the long banquette.
Tasty n Sons will not suffer from comparisons to Toro Bravo; both restaurants are doing good work in the name of interesting and fervor-inducing cuisine. The biggest difference between the two joints seems to be hours of operation (Tasty n Sons from 9 am to 3 pm, Toro Bravo from 5 pm 'til late) and the number of menu items (advantage: Toro Bravo). Other than that, the menus are compatible and share some dishes with minor variation.
Potatoes bravas do brunch duty as the most interesting home fries you'll ever have, draped in their stoneware dish with an over-easy egg. A luscious aioli also lurks among the slightly spicy tubers, adding creamy texture to the dish.
Another item finding morning harbor is the North African sausage—one of my favorite dishes. The combination of cumin-whispered couscous, dried cherries, and savory sausage flavored with cinnamon and clove is exceedingly pleasant.
Compared to these, the bacon-wrapped dates, another Toro Bravo refugee, are totally forgettable. They're too mealy and lack the fireworks and flavors of dishes found elsewhere on the menu. The same goes for an odd chocolate potato doughnut that's simply... okay.
Instead of these, consider the glazed yams imbued with maple and cumin: sweetness, floating along that soft yam texture, with fathoms of savory depth below.
Even better is the Burmese red pork stew. Think pork belly and shoulder cuts, with flavors in the general orbit of teriyaki and Jamaican jerk. There's more wonderful sweet/savory balance here, which Gorham seems to have perfected. Spicy heat, a little vinegar from pickled egg, and a second over-easy egg, all set over short-grained rice, creates a wonderland of textures and flavors. Hot, fatty, fleshy, rich—an equatorial love affair in a bowl.
Tasty n Sons pleases and pleases. Smoked tasso hash is reminiscent of mustard-hued South Carolina BBQ pork. Cast iron frittata is packed with a fine mélange of veggies, olives, and feta. Polenta and sausage ragu provides perfectly creamy polenta shot through with mozzarella and covered in sausage-studded red sauce. Shakshuka, an Israeli favorite, includes baked eggs floating over a fine tangy stew of tomato and red pepper.
It all leaves an unsuspecting brunchgoer a bit breathless, which is an uncommon trait at the lion's share of Portland brunches. Tasty n Sons is simply exciting.
Even the more familiar options are very good. Auntie Paula's French toast is a great example. The small serving is plenty, with two thick slices of brioche that are substantial enough to stay noticed beneath strawberry and rhubarb compote and a light slick of maple. Topped with whipped cream, it's a French toast dream.
The moral of the story here is, "Dive in." Don't worry, the friendly and fresh-faced Tasty n Sons staff is completely knowledgeable and willing to walk you through the more exotic menu items. Even if those items eventually become familiar, you can expect the menu to change regularly and keep you on your toes. It's nice to see Portland brunch set free to romp in new pastures. After all, when it comes to getting into your day, sometimes the unfamiliar is just the eye opener you need. Well that, and an aquavit Bloody Mary.