Here’s how you do a Breakfast with the Fellas. You meet too damn early on a weekday, ’cause fellas have to work. You can’t meet on a weekend, because fellas have to sleep, or they have to get up and do stuff that isn’t a breakfast with the fellas.
You show up on time so you can give a load of crap to the guy who shows up late (generally the single one), with lines like “Oh, you decided to join us” or “Good gosh, they’ll let anybody in here.” And the guy who shows up late has to have a line ready: “Hey, unlike you, I have a life” or “Shoulda known you old farts would forget the real time!”
You say something about not being awake until you’ve had your coffee, then you ask for more every time the waitress comes around. You order something with eggs and meat, or explain why, and for the most part you get the same thing you always get – or explain why. Any mention of an attempt at weight-loss is completely understood and thoroughly ridiculed.
Most importantly, you don’t go to some place that has candles on the tables, or “bistro” in the name, or asiago cheese. You go to a place like the Fat City Cafe, the kind of place where as Steve Duin once put it in The Oregonian, “The waitress has some attitude and the coffee has a little body … or maybe the other way around.”
Ponder the name for a moment: Fat City. Would you eat in a place called Thin Town? Every time I’ve been there, the special on the chalkboard was some kind of sausage: Italian, Cajun, Spicy, Smoked. The spicy sausage is precisely that, and a guy can earn points for eating it without complaint. In the fall they go nuts and have pumpkin pancakes. I think they only have about a dozen ingredients in the kitchen, and the whole menu is variations on that. The menu includes omelets, scrambles and “sizzles,” and the only difference is consistency and egg-to-potato ratio. The bacon is crisp, the coffee never stops coming, and the waitresses work hard, do a great job, and take no slack.
I eat there with Bob, Phil and Mick, and one time I told the waitress that Joe, Mac and Hank couldn’t make it. Phil and Mick always get the hash, Bob gets the two eggs with links, and I try to explore. Usually, under the pressure of the moment – everybody’s ordered, the waitress is there with her coffee and notebook and three other tables to check on, and I was late again, as always – I just fold and say “Fat City Sizzle,” which is fun to say on about 10 different levels. It sounds like it’s from a Simpsons episode, but it’s actually a pile of hashbrowns, ham, green peppers, onions, and cheddar with two eggs on top. One time I thought about having the eggs poached, but shuddered at what the fellas would say. The Fat City Sizzle is so big it looks like it may have been served with a shovel, and it comes with either a pancake or bread on the side. Yes, you can get the hashbrowns AND the pancake/bread option at the Fat City! Carbs schmarbs.
Long before the food arrives, a Breakfast with the Fellas has broken into the usual menu of conversation items, no more diverse than the Fat City’s: a small dose of work (usually bitter), a dash of home life, an appetizer of the weekend’s games, a full course of far-left politics and the latest sins of the Neoconservatives, and a dessert of “Let’s do this more often” and “You’re not puttin’ any of this shit in your book, are you?” (Not in any detail, no.)
And the lines. And the stories. Fellas gotta have lines and stories. Everything reminds a fella of a “time when,” and every pause is an opportunity to get off a line. The big prize is the last line, out in the parking lot, before we shake hands, break the huddle and go to work.
The décor of the place isn’t exactly American Guy, but it works. Kind of a road theme, with old signs and license plates stuck up on the wall. I particularly care for the Coca Cola ceiling fan. There’s some mildly freaky art that appears to be of restaurant staff; it also appears that somebody keeps trying to cover it up with seasonal decorations and Fat City tee shirts. The bathroom is Pure American Goofy: a super-narrow door between the counter (which is always filled with Fellas) and the kitchen (don’t look!), and once you’re in you can’t even take a step forward before you have to turn right for the barely-bigger-than-the-toilet room. Fellas gotta stand next to the sink to pee, and ladies probably have to put their legs under it to sit down.
Of course, the place is pretty old, and if it looks like it’s in a small town, it is. Multnomah Village dates to the 1910s, when a community sprang up around an Oregon Electric Railroad station. Portland annexed it starting in the 1950s, but they still celebrate “Multnomah Days” with a parade and a street festival in August. And it’s not all fellas at the Fat City; there’s lots of families and businessmen and old dudes in flannel shirts and baseball caps and people working the crossword and a young blonde that attracted the fellas’ attention one time. In fact, the “village” itself is much more Lady Habitat, with shops and bookstores and whatnot; it’s often called “quaint.”
On your way back to your table, you might notice an Oregonian article on the wall. That would be the account of the 1987 Fat City Firing, perhaps the ultimate Breakfast With the Fellas Gone Wrong. On this side, we had the mayor of Portland, Bud Clark, the ultimate fella himself who came out of nowhere to get elected mayor, apparently did little right while in office, then retired to Permanent Folk Hero Status. (Ever seen the “Expose Yourself to Art” poster with the guy exposing himself to the naked-lady statue? That’s Bud.) In the other seat, we had his police chief, his third police chief, one Jim Davis. There was some legal issue being discussed, and apparently Davis’s assertion that “Read my lips: Yes I can” was met with Clark’s witty retort, “Read my lips: You’re fired.” That’s right, the mayor fired the police chief right here in this booth, which gives the place a certain historic credibility.
To me, though, the point is really this: Where else would two fellas who needed to talk some stuff out go for breakfast? It wasn’t the Alameda Ass-Kicking, was it? Or the Bread and Ink Bashing? Tin Shed Tanking?
Nope. It was a fellas breakfast. Read my lips: Fat. City. Firing. Mmmmmm.
Fat City Cafe
Address: 7820 Southwest Capitol Highway, Portland OR. 97219 Google Map
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day; breakfast served all the time.
Open Since: The 70s
Payment: Cash and cards
Large groups? Not at the same table.
Wait: Medium on weekends.
Price Range (typical meal with coffee and tip): $8-11
Coffee: Standard diner
Other drinks: The usual
Feel: In a small town, a long, long time ago …
Seating: Half a dozen booths, a couple tables and a counter.
Changes/Substitutions: Yes, and splits available with extra plate of hashbrowns for $1.50
Portion Size: Heapin’
Feel-goods: You don’t have to eat the whole thing.
Healthy Options: See above.
Suds Sister says
Paul — Another wonderful, colorful piece! Keep ’em comin’.
Thanks for this — I really enjoyed reading it. Great style, tasty-sounding food, funny writing and a little bit of history, too.
Made my morning.
Food Dude says
TheVillger, feel free!
The Villger says
This is the perfect Fat City writeup. Hope you don’t mind if I link to it!
Paul Gerald says
Well, glad everybody liked it! The fellas did, as well. And Villager, in particular, I’m flattered. When I get my breakfast-book site up and running, I’ll link to your blog.
Best article I have seen written about our great little local cafe. I work in Multnomah Village at my salon all day it is so refreshing to go somewhere to get breakfast cooked fresh at any time of the day. The staff are wonderful and the owner is to be cherished. I have spent many hrs sitting there reading the local papers and just people watching.
Yeah to the Fat City Cafe.\
A fine tale. What I missed was a qualitative assessment of the place.
In my experience over the years, the grub at Fat City has generally been somewhere between average and abysmal–which can be a bit of a put off at a restaurant if you are going there to actually eat something and taste it. I didn’t find the service too swift or kindly either last time, now that I think about it.
I’m also curious whether they’ve bothered to replace the grease-black carpet that was there when I last visited over the summer. I suspect the carpet may have borne witness to Bud’s lip lashing of Chief Davis.
Honestly not sure why people go there. I guess it must be the atmospherics and the quantities–and for old time’s sake apparently. I will pass, thank you.
Pork Cop says
..I think it was the incessant machismo without any backup….just 4 white (lily white ?) writers.. havin’ breakfast.and who really gives a damn about “fellas” nowadays?
Is it just me or is comment eight a little out of line, not that I am suggesting censorship, I am just raising the idea in terms of taste (NPI).
In regards to the content of the comment, not that the kettle is black in this situation but isn’t that a bit like… or rather who are you? Steinbeck, Joyce, Dickens? Where are your worthwhile contributions?
Why post such a inane comment?
I’ve seen the comments of Pork Cop in the past and while I often roll my eyes at the IMO juvenile and dull nature of his comments, I rarely find them to be that blunt…
Alas that is the beauty of this site, the freedom… yet one of the things I most enjoy about this site is the general civility. The discussions here for the most part keep it on the level.
I am reminded of Ken Collura and some comments of nonsense after a nice contribution of his… BTW, where has he been? Does he still contribute?
I found this place by accident one Sunday morning. It was definitely hopping. The food wasn’t that creative but it was decent. Not really anything to write home about. The atmosphere of the place has more character than the food. But hey, if I’m looking for a decent breakfast restaurant near my house, I’d much rather visit this local joint with personality than let my friends drag me to a chain restaurant.
And by the way, Paul, I enjoy your story-laced writing style. It might not dissect the food in vivid detail, but it’s still entertaining and informative. Vive la difference!
Food Dude says
mczlaw: If you have been following his pieces, Paul Gerald doesn’t really do reviews, he does portraits of the feel of a place. That’s why they are under quick hits. The comments section allows readers to posts their impressions of the food. That allows us to cover many more places than we normally could. Personally, I really enjoy his writing style.
Atlas: I agree. Removed. Ken Collura is incredibly busy (this is the busiest time of year for restaurants). Hopefully he’ll be back when things slow down. In the meantime, JJ will be contributing.
Doctor Stu says
This is almost the perfect “greasy spoon”!
I have had quite a few lunches at this place, living right up the street. May I say, the cheeseburger is absolutly amazing, as well as the chicken fried steak. If your looking for a quirky lunch or breakfast and lots of food, choose this place. The staff has a great sense of humor too!