You can be healthy/progressive and be a “real” restaurant!
The best way to sum up the Bijou Cafe’s standing in Portland’s breakfast scene is this: Out of 36 restaurants listed in Frommer’s Portland guide, only three serve breakfast: the Heathman, Peanut Butter & Ellies (which made it as a kiddie/novelty place), and the Bijou.
And the best way to explain how that happened is to have a bite of the Willapa Bay Fresh Oyster Hash. Four or five cornmeal-dredged grilled oysters sit on thin strips of onion and potatoes, with parsley and what seems like a dash of curry. Sorting through all this for variations on the perfect bite might be the highlight of your day. It’s serious food. It’s also $12.25, with no toast or other sides.
The Bijou might not have been the first place in town to stress locally raised and organic ingredients. And it hasn’t been around as long as some of the old-line places. But it sure does look, feel, and act like the granddaddy of the New Portland restaurants, and both the crowds and the prices seem to back up that assertion.
The old brick walls and exposed wood beams say history; the modern art on the walls say style; the coat racks on each booth actually host coats and say utility; the blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, old-timey sugar pourers, and muffins in a basket say down-home. You’ll see businesspeople going over charts, friends planning a wedding, tourists poring over maps, conventioneers reuniting, and regulars chatting with the staff.
The Bijou is darn near the prototypical Portland breakfast place. It’s not necessarily the best, and it’s certainly not the cheapest, but it’s perhaps the one place you’d take your parents or other visitors who want a nice, safe dose of Portland’s organic, progressive, friendly, homey culture without the tattoos, hairy armpits, and all-out vegan fare. Your waitress might be wearing rainbow stockings, though.
Another telling tidbit: They serve Neuske’s bacon, Grafton Village sharp Cheddar cheese, Nancy’s yogurt, Mountain Madness granola, Greener Pastures chicken, and Dagoba hot chocolate, and they don’t offer a word of explanation regarding what these ingredients are. It’s like what was once a radical idea – using artisan and (presumably) local ingredients raised in a healthy way – now doesn’t even need an explanation.
It’s also true that a lot of folks in town think this is all very uppity and just an excuse to charge $9.25 for Neuske’s bacon and eggs or $10.25 for a cheese-and-mushroom omelet (ah, but they’re crimini mushrooms!). And grilled orange-anise bread baked for us by Pearl Bakery and called gibassier? Please.
It’s not a slacker, stumble-in hung over and surf the Web for two hours kind of place. It’s like, I don’t know, a grown-up restaurant – but a relaxed, Portland breakfast restaurant. Vegetarian-fed beef in the ($10.95) hash. Banana-hazelnut muffins. Brioche, French, or whole wheat toast; cornmeal, buckwheat, or buttermilk pancakes, all with real maple syrup.
Maybe the place just grew up. And maybe the “New Portland” is doing the same. The whole Frommer’s thing feels like a stamp of approval from a parent. Frommer’s calls the Bijou “comfortably old-fashioned, yet thoroughly modern.” Tough to add to that.
Wait: Long on weekends; sometimes a wait during the week. Small indoor waiting area.
Seating: About 80, all tables. Large groups: Could be a seriously long wait.
Portion Size: Big (and they’d better be!). Changes/Substitutions: Within reason.
Coffee: Cafe Femenino (organic). Other drinks: Illy espresso, Dagoba hot chocolate, Tao of Tea, Genesis Juice.
Feel-goods: Heavy emphasis on organic and local ingredients. Health options: Tofu, brown rice, granola.
Address: 132 SW 3rd Ave., Portland OR. 97204 Google Map
Hours: Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Breakfast until 11 a.m daily.
In his 10 years a travel writer, Paul has developed a theory that you can get to know a place from its breakfast tables. And since Portland is the most breakfast-crazed town he’s ever been in, he has begun a quest to write the definitive guide to Portland’s breakfast places. He aims to self-publish Breakfast in Bridgetown in 2007 (with perhaps 100 restaurants in it), and along the way will be sharing his finds. He’s not a “foodie” so much as an observer of people and places, and a spinner of yarns — and really, that’s what breakfast is all about, right? He eagerly welcomes feedback on his writing and the places he visits. You can read more of his writing on his website PaulGerald.com