So I’m writing a breakfast book, and this raises a lot of questions in my head: What’s the purpose of the book (other than having fun and making money)? What do I do about places I don’t like? What is it that people like in a place, anyway? What should I report on? Is the food everything? What if the food stinks but the place is cool, or the staff is nice? What if it’s the other way around? Am I a food critic or a simple reporter?
Café du Berry challenges me on some of these, and there’s a very simple reason. My meal was outstanding. No doubt about it. It was a scallop and shitake mushroom omelet, with a lovely béarnaise sauce, potatoes and some fruit. The three of us at the table shared a piece of their French toast, for which I would have viciously fought anyone. That French toast, in fact, might be the single best thing I’ve had in this so-called research project (more on that later).
And yet – that omelet was $14, which the server didn’t mention. Sure, I could have asked, but a $14 omelet? Rick’s salmon benedict was $14, too. And the server didn’t mention the béarnaise sauce, which was tasty, but which doesn’t generally appear on omelets. In fact, whenever he came around to the table, we were left somewhat dazed by his rapid-fire, straight-to-the-point, not-even-looking-at-us delivery. He would greet us, describe three specials, pour water, and be gone in about 5.2 seconds. Is that efficiency? Rudeness? (At one point, when he described picking strawberries at age 8 – we did drag him into some conversation eventually – I joked after he left that apparently the berry-picking crushed his innocence, and he’s never smiled again.)
But the food was outstanding. Well, mine was. Rick’s salmon was overdone, and he needed a knife to get through the English muffin, which was both a little stale and a little overdone. Jean didn’t happen to like the potatoes, though I did: they were the mashed-potato-type hashbrowns, grilled in a patty, with a slightly peppered taste that I liked. But Jean rightly pointed out that for $7.95, the “French Toast with Potatoes and Fruit” was one piece of the toast, one smallish helping of potatoes, one strawberry, and one half of a banana. That ain’t much for $7.95.
The table was cramped. But the hollandaise sauce was good. The padded chairs were comfy, but I kept having to lean forward to let somebody walk by. The service was quick and efficient, even if it never smiled. The white tablecloths and “shirred eggs” and frittata and New York café watercolors on loan from a foundation of some sort all said “attitude”, but the folks in there seemed like neighborhood regulars and random visitors, not the snooty art crowd. (We asked about shirred eggs, by the way, and the description involved poaching, I think. None of us really caught it.)
And at the end of the day, there was this: the three of us had a plate each, two of us had coffee, I had an excellent apple/raspberry juice, we had the extra side order of French toast – and without the tip it was $50. I mean, throw in the tip, and breakfast for three was $57!
So, what to do about this place? Is it good? Yes. Great? No. Overpriced? I’d say so. Do they seat you quickly and serve you efficiently? Yes – and this was a Saturday at 9:30. Would I go back? Yes, but only for the French toast. In fact, I briefly considered moving to the neighborhood for the French toast.
Certainly, the place has caused chaos on a certain website where people post reviews (I try to avoid endorsements, unless a check might be cut). Just the headlines reveal what I’m talking about: European bistro on a budget (!), a different French toast experience, THE WORST EVER, Mediocrity, Divine, Awful, Overrated, Best Breakfast in PDX.
And so I have decided to do this: Let you, gentle reader, make up your own, now slightly more informed mind as to whether you’d like to try Café du Berry ? and then write a completely absurd ode to their French toast.
In the world of taste, of pleasure, of the dance between flavor and texture, there is a never-ending pursuit of a most fleeting perfection. It’s a perfection like the one sought in golf, where one, for whatever reason, occasionally finds the perfect swing and sends the ball aloft along a perfect arc toward its target. There is no “perfect” swing other than the one with a perfect result, for such swing can never be reproduced, and a perfect result depends entirely on the player and the situation, for one doesn’t need a 300-yard drive when in a greenside bunker, nor does one need a delicate touch on the tee of a par 5.
When I first bit – but “bit” is too rough, too vulgar. When I first opened myself to the pleasure of Café du Berry’s French toast, what occurred in my mouth had the softness of a loft-wedge from 100 yards to the lip of the hole. It had the power of a driver down the gut of the fairway. It stopped my world like a birdie putt just as it disappears into the cup.
They tell me it’s a French custard dessert recipe, made with Hawaiian egg bread, thoroughly soaked, then grilled to just crisp on the outside, with a touch of lemon in the finish, dusted with powdered sugar, and served warm, syrup be damned. I could add details like the firmness of the bread and how it played perfectly with the bouncy delight of the custard, or the fluffy wonder of the sugar, or the filling goodness of the result – but these are just words. When your putted ball dives toward the middle of the hole, is it the grain of the grass? The break of the hill? Mere gravity? Please! It is perfection. It is the silent voice of the divine.
Ours is not to describe such moments, nor think we can own them, but merely be present with them, awash in them, grateful for them – and then, sadly, go eternally in search of them again.
Now, is that over the top? Of course it is. I am embarrassed by it, honestly — as I would be by paying $7.95 for a piece of French toast, some potatoes, and one and a half pieces of fruit. It’s absurd! So is Café du Berry, to tell the truth. And so is golf, for matter. And there’s an excellent chance that before another week goes by, I will play 18 holes of golf and eat more French toast at Café du Berry. In fact, I can’t wait.
Café du Berry
- Address: 6439 SW Macadam Ave. Portland, OR. 97239 Google Map
- Hours: Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Also open for dinner, but thereés no French toast then.
- Phone: 503-244-5551
- Open Since: About 20 years ago
- Payment: Everything
- Reservations? No
- Large groups? Maybe upstairs, especially with some notice.
- Wait: Not bad, but probably outside.
- Price Range (typical meal with coffee and tip): $15-20
- Coffee: Not sure. Not bad.
- Wi-Fi/Internet? No
- Feel: French café, with French prices and French people working there.
- Seating: Maybe 20 downstairs, more upstairs (with booths)
- Changes/Substitutions: We were too scared to try.
- Portion Size: Decent, but don’t expect the French toast to fill you up.
- Feel-goods: None that I noticed.
- Health Options: I think if you eat the custard-based French toast, or the béarnaise sauce, or the hollandaise sauce 10 times you get a punch card for a free angioplasty.
pollo elastico says
I went to Cafe du Berry once before I moved here – and it made me realize that I really do hate going out for breakfast, especially in Portland. How anyone would want to wait 30 minutes for the privilege of paying $12 for eggs is beyond me – nothing like a 5000% markup. I’d rather get a prostate exam by Captain Hook.
Of course there are exceptions, but not many. And Du Berry I must admit is the most egregious example.
Sir Loins says
But, pollo, for said prostate exam you’ll most likely fork over at least a $20 co-pay, and endure the Capn’s sharp cold metal where it don’t belong. Wouldn’t you *really* prefer overpriced eggs to that?
But seriously, $15-$20 breakfasts aren’t worth it to me either. I do like going out for breakfast on the weekends though, so I’ve had to come to accept that every other person in Portland apparently does too. No matter where I go, I’ve always gotta wait.
Thanks for taking one for the team! I’m so disappointed, my in laws were in town recently and all apparently had a great breakfast at du Berry and never mentioned how overpriced it was. That’s such a pet peeve of mine, cheap Pollack that I am.
For a delicious bargain breakfast you can’t go wrong with Helser’s early bird specials — a few select menu items available at a discount if you can drag your sleepy carcass in before 9 am, even on the weekends!
I had a pretty terrible meal at Cafe Du Berry a few years ago (the ambiance was especially lacking!) so thankfully I have not had the occasion to go again.
We tried this place a little ways back based on a Portland Monthly Best Of list (what a crappy magazine BTW…). They raved about the French Toast. So we went there, and I realized it was this lame, overpriced, zero ambience dive that we had stumbled onto accidently a year ago when we were up here looking for housing! Needless to say the French toast is mediocre at best. I’m not a huge fan of French Toast, but if this is some of the best around then there are some serious holes in the Portland dining scene. And that’s what I don’t get. For such a great food town, and I just moved here a year ago from SF, how could anyone think this place was good?
mfk fisher says
The cheaper deal is to order the Cafe du Berry french toast as a SIDE DISH — who wants potatoes with french toast anyhow? — and you’ll get two pieces and a lousy industrial strawberry. The french toast is miraculous, but has anyone ever noticed how dirty the dining room of that restaurant is? Floors, window sills, etc.? I just try not to notice and eat the french toast.
Alright, the place is not the cleanest and it can take years to get the waiter to smile and use two syllables. Believe me, I know. But our little group has been going there for years and I doubt any one of us would apologize for it. I have a french toast addiction and DuBerry is the squalid little flat I go to for my fix. These days we go there for special occasions mostly — introducing new love interests for friends approvals, pre-wedding breakfast for said love interests if approval is granted — and we are always greeted warmly and brought coffee promptly (though we do check that the cups are clean first). We rarely stray from the french toast, but I did try that scallop and mushroom omelet last week and I wasn’t disappointed. But then, I didn’t have to pay for it.
I do have a soft spot for their French toast but agree that their menu is overpriced, their preparations sometimes odd (does EVERYTHING come with bernaise sauce on it?) and their dining area dirty. (Best way to avoid the dirt–go in the summer and sit oustide.) Too bad, because this part of town needs some good restaurants.
I’m still trying to figure out how Sir Loins knew what pollo elastico was going to write two days later. I can only marvel at the possibilites if only I had that kind of psychic ability!
Oh. OK. Note to self: read all entries before posting.
The site is indeed much faster, FD. Thanks for all the work and attention to detail!
Is there some reason in particular that you have not reviewed Navarre? Yes, I know you can only get to so many restaurants, but It seems as though you would have, at this point. Not a criticism…just honest curiosity. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the place because it’s one that I happen to think is pretty great.
I still think the french toast they used to serve at Park Kitchen brunch is the best i have had. MMMM, deep fried brioche…
That french toast (French toast? French Toast?) sounds suspiciously like the “Coast Toast” you can get at Brockton Villa down in La Jolla… For much less, I should add. And a friendly wait staff. And a view of the ocean.
I’m just saying…
I can’t believe you tipped $7 on a $50 meal. That just seems really cheap to me. That’s 14 %–not even fifteen. I feel guilty if I leave less than 20 %. I couldn’t imagine tipping less than the polite minimum (for a baby-boomer customer, anyway) seeing how your service was fine. Try and set a better example, please! The server did his job, and if you want to know the price of a special, go ahead and ask! Don’t punish the server for your ignorance.
I haven’t been to du Berry in years. At a personal level, I
liked the owners, Michael and Lydia. I thought there were
a few things they did well, but the grunginess went beyond
hole-in-the-wall charm. Oddly, I went to a memorial which
Michael catered a few years ago. Very nicely done.
FD, did you write this review?
I like the new writers but sometimes don’t see a byline tag on their pieces. It seems like this was written by the new-ish breakfast person…
I love that we’re getting more b’fast reviews. But I hope no one does Hesler’s, though, because it’s tremendously good and a tad crowded already.
Also, and maybe this is just me? but it’s SOOO much easier to read the menu in list format rather than paragraph format (I particularly noticed this in the Equinox review). Especially when dishes are complicated like theirs are. Any chance of going back to that?
You want a good, sizable breakfast (you can split these between two people) at a very reasonable price?
The Busick Court on Court St. in Salem.
Seriously. The breakfasts can feature “side dishes” that are meals in themselves.
You’ll have no difficulty walking out for under $10 per person. It’s not fancy, it’s kinda crowded (friendly), but the food keeps people coming back over and over again. Rachel Ray did breakfast there on her $40/day swing through town.
Man I had forgotten Busick. When we lived in Salem, it was one of our favorite places. We also liked the Off Center Cafe and the Pancake House, but the lines at both of those could be formidable.
Speaking of Salem, one other good place to eat alot of breakfast food for not alot of $ is Sybil’s on State St. out by the state pen (east of downtown and west of I-5.) My write-up will get posted tonight, but we had a really good lunch there yesterday and all of us got omlette’s. My bill with tip was $10, and that was with iced tea and adding cheese to my omlette.
i was in cafe du berry (which by the way, is a horrible attempt at a french name) several years ago. i also found it over-priced, but i don’t know how it has changed. kevin mentioned the owners. are they still the same people who owned it about six years ago? someone said they were a middle-aged, phillipino couple. or am i just having some confusing flashback? does anyone know the answer to this? if it has changed hands i may have to at least look it over again.
You are so right about the french toast. It was amazing. The rest…well…not so amazing
I’ve been going to the Cafe du Berry regularly now for the last few months. Yes, the specials are expensive, though good. But their regular omelettes – spinach and Spanish particularly – are Really Excellent, I’d say the best omelettes in town – and the price, which is, I think $7.95 – well worth it. Instead of the cotton bread they serve, I’m willing to pay a little extra for their homemade snail as a side, yum.
I have been dining at Cafe Duberry for years and find it both eclectic and delicious. Although we have retired to South Florida we always have breakfast here when we return to town. As for you folks from California that find the breakfast spendy, I can tell you where you can find eggs cheaper and more to your taste. It’s called I-Hop.
I can’t believe you outted yourself as a bad tipper! if you can’t tip, at least only tell the public the total with tip or the total without– not both!
the standard is 20% and it’s easy to calculate. simply move the decimal and double. for example, a $50.00 tab. move the decimal one place to the left. that’s 5.00. now double, that’s $10. easy, right?
don’t forget that servers tip out the kitchen, the bussers, the host, etc. based on how much food they ring, not how how much they make in tips. they’re also taxed on their total ring. tipping under is like taking money out of your server’s pockets.
Paul Gerald says
Okay, maybe I am guilty of a poor tip on that occasion — and I may also be guilty of rounding off numbers. It’s been a while since I ate there, but I generally figure out what 20% is (thanks for the math lesson, though) and then adjust accordingly. So it may have been $48.50 and with the tip $57.50, something like that. Anyway, I’ll try to publicly parade my deficiencies less often.
Paul Gerald says
And thanks for the Salem suggestions. When I get around to the second edition of this book I’m going to include out-of-town locations.
I’ve been eating breakfast here once every month for 15 years. You neglected to mention what I think is the best item on the menu, the spinach omelette. Four of us meet regularly and the other three order this every single time. I, on the other hand, order only every other time. It is really, really, really good. Arguably the best omlette in PDX (and I’m a meat guy).
Cafe du berry is a paradox. Some of the dishes are really excellent (in addition to the french toast, I love the dungeness crab omelet, and shirred eggs). But it is dirty, and the service is “quirky”. I long to like it, as I live in the John’s Landing neighborhood which is desparately in need of good Portland food, but again, it is a paradox…….
I visited the Cafe DuBerry last saturday night after about a year. And well it has gone from Great to Greater !! We spent the evening celebrating my mother in laws 85th birthday. The upstairs dining room has been redocerated and it really looked nice without being overbearing. The food… well it just dosent get any better at almost any price and the price was more than reasonable. The waiter suggested the Black Cod and what a dist !! Tender and flavorfull the best fish I had enjoyed for about the last 20 years Sea bass in cabo San Lucas. However then I tasted my wifes Salmon ! Both were wonderful. My son treated me to a bite of the pork, Tender and delightful. The Cod was $19 the Salmon $17 Pork ?$.. Worth whatever it was priced at. The best part if you have enjoyed the Cafe DuBerry before is the way you are treated. The server whose name I dont know , was a dream !! I couldnt imagine a better spot to honor my wonderful mother-in-law WIONA !! They served the Cake we brought in ” Gratis ” .. Thanks again Cafe Du Berry.
You need to revisit. This place is on the expensive side for breakfast, but if you read the menu, the special is listed as $14. As a place to get really good food (and their lunch and dinner are reasonably priced) the Cafe duBerry is outstanding. The French Toast is a thing of beauty (and as a side dish is the way to go). While you may have gotten iffy service, I’ve always thought they were really nice there, and there is only rarely a significant wait.
spanish omelette— please:::: SPANISH OMELETTE — ONLY !!!!!!!!!!!!! Only thing to have in morning – The help is east coast type professional — the ceiling has been cleaned lately.
SPINACH OMELETTE -Opps— meant to say: SPINACH , SPINACH, SPINACH — not Spanish
I have been going to du berry ever since I can remember. They will create a family style meal that is to die for. The pepper steak and sea food have always been top notch. I would not judge this place strictly on its breakfast.
never been in cafe Du Berry but I’m pretty sure I will like the food