Review: Bijou Cafe

New/Classy/Veggie
You can be healthy/progressive and be a “real” restaurant!

Breakfastsm.gifThe 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.
WiFi? No.

Phone: 503-222-3187
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

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. biabub says

    what – Frommer’s? i thought we were only allowed to read the Oregonian for dining recommendations.

  2. bill pederson says

    I remember when it was on the same site but smaller. Glad they expanded. Still a very OK size. Food IS good and employees and patrons all act civilized if not occasionally off-beat. Now that I am no longer a Portlander I miss the regularity of my visits. We’ll be back there soon , tho.

  3. grapedog says

    Ah yes, the oyster hash and a big cup of coffee. What an excellent way to enjoy Saturday morning!

    I think the restaurant goes by “Bijou, Cafe” as a way to add an edge to their name sort of like “Girl, Interrupted”.

    Yes, Greener Pastures stopped business last year. I talked to them at Portland Farmer’s Market. They were not big enough to hire a commercial processor for their chickens but they were too big to run the business as a “family effort”. So, they closed. :-(

  4. Paul Gerald says

    Thanks for the update on Greener Pastures. That was still on Bijou’s menu in March, so I’ll have to update that in my notes. Thanks, also, for the reminder on the name. These are among the many reasons why I share these reviews with such knowledgeable folks!

  5. b-girl says

    I wonder what qualifies as “old line” in your book since the Bijou has been open 28 years! I think the expansion happened at least 16 years ago. In any case, I know Tin Shed hasn’t been around that long….

    As for bacon, Bijou has not served Neuske’s bacon for at least six months having replaced it with Heritage Farm’s (McMinville) pork products earlier in the year, and the rice and raisins (I guess this is what you mean when you write “comfort food: brown rice”) hasn’t been on the menu for at least 3 years.

  6. Christian says

    The best omelet I ever had, they knew it was supposed to be both round and yellow. The potatoes were beautiful golden and organic. The coffee was fantastic and the service while eclectic was always kind and efficient.

    You seem to be quite focused on the cost. While breakfast traditionally has the best margins, never forget that it is a constant struggle for restaurants to make ends meet. When one is committed to using quality ingredients, that you seem quite exited about, there has to be corresponding premium paid. For every dollar spent- .33 to food, .30 to labor, .13 to direct expenses, .08 to administrative exp, .07 to occupancy costs That leaves very little for the thing we are actually in business for…..Profits.

    I have a cousin who is in big pharma, if he is not bringing home 50% ROI he wont even come out to play. Restaurants scratch out a mere 9% and you want to wine about spending $10 on a meal that both sustains and satisfies for hours. Please

  7. nanabee says

    I last ate at Bijou in May 2009. I was disappointed because the service was terrible. I arrived early for the lunch crowd so the restaurant was pretty empty and I was sat in a corner. There was strong wind blowing from the ceiling and I asked if I could move to a warmer spot. I was told I was setting in the best spot. OK, I guess I have no choice.
    When I asked the waitress for her thought on two dished, she said they were famous for their hamburger. I ordered it. It was so RAW that I couldn’t eat it. The waitress came by and said, “Oh, yeah a lot of people can’t eat it because it is always cooked raw, unless you ask for it differently.”
    AH! Hello, why didn’t you tell me! Most places cook hamburger well now unless you ask for it rare.
    I was so ticked off. She should have offered to take it back.

  8. Larry says

    Poor service
    I went for breakfast and the sign said wait to be seated. The place was almost empty.
    But there was no one around except for a waitress who was bussing tables, and she ignored me standing there waiting.
    So I found my own table and told her I was going to seat myself. I had breakfast and the food was good, but I couldn’t get a coffee refill. I kept looking over at the waitress who was still busing tables and she continued to ignore me. For a small breakfast that cost $17. you’d think I could get a coffee refill. I won’t be going back to the Bijou Cafe

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