Note: Closed 5/2008
Mom & Pop/Kid-Friendly
One of the more entertaining experiences in the Portland breakfast scene is to sit at the counter at Gramma Lucy’s. That’s because Gramma Lucy’s isn’t just a restaurant. It’s also a training ground, a family party, and a stage.
At the center of the whole thing, and constantly on the stage, is Mark, the owner. He cooks, he holds court, and he talks. Actually, “talks” doesn’t quite get it. He’s like the Columbia River of words, and he runs the place as his own fiefdom. He’s a trained chef, has worked “every end of the business” and was ready to retire but says his wife told him to take on one more project. He named the place for his mother-in-law, which scored some points, I’m sure. And I know all of this not because I asked, but simply because I once sat at the counter, which is practically in the kitchen.
Mark says he hires young people exclusively, “because they need a job, they need to learn how to work, they need discipline, and they need to learn boundaries. If an adult hasn’t learned that, it’s not my problem, and I don’t want to teach them.”
He tells you all of this, and more, while cooking five meals at once, calling out orders to the entire staff, greeting friends and neighbors, bragging that he got better Health Department ratings than several well-known restaurants in town, and mixing in stories like the customer he has who “got hit in the head in Nam” and now comes in as different characters: Ernest Hemingway, Forrest Gump, etc. “I need to write a book,” Mark says, then he tells some kid to “get on those dishes.”
The food he’s turning out is absolutely classic breakfast fare: a Potato Kake with white gravy, salsa, some cheese and eggs. Standard ham. Hashes of corned beef, roast beef and veggies. Steak (actually a crispy beef fritter) and eggs. The preparation, the attitude, and the decor absolutely fit a theme of Practical Dude. My friend Jean said, as soon as we walked in, that it “looks like it was decorated by a guy.” While I was tempted to be offended, she was obviously right. It has fake flowers, cheap art (some drawn by kids) on sale for $20, an old-timey picket fence in the bathroom (covered by a layer of dust), and corrugated tin walls. Basically, it looks like what it is: a place run entirely by one dude.
And in true dude form, the menu is simple and absolutely practical. You got your 2x2x2, your 2x2x1, your 2x1x1, and so on. You can build your own omelet, and you can substitute everything. The apple-cinnamon sausage is killer. There’s a Protein Pile-Up with sausage, bacon, corned beef, mushrooms, cheese, salsa, cream cheese and eggs. (Yes, that’s one dish!). When I asked about the coffee brand, Mark thought about it a second and admitted he didn’t know. “Something in a five-pound bag from the grocery store,” he said. “Made strong.”
Just remember, if your food takes a little while or your coffee runs dry, keep in mind two things. One is that your server is a teenager. The other is that if you mention the delay to anyone, or even look around like you need something, you might get that server a public lesson in work and discipline. Not that that’s a bad thing, because they are getting paid and are learning important stuff, but Mark will tell anyone he’s ill-tempered. He’ll also say he doesn’t care. And then he’ll say something wise, then he’ll crack a joke.
And then he’ll go back to making some pretty serious breakfast.
Seating: Around 40; tables, booths and a small counter. Large groups: Would be tough.
Portion Size: Solid. Changes: “We accommodate substitutions, smaller portions, special combinations, and split plates whenever possible.”
Coffee: “Something in a five-pound bag, made strong.” Other drinks: Espresso drinks, Stash tea.
Feel-goods: Locally made sausage. Health Options: Not much.
Price: $7-11 (Cash, Visa, MasterCard, no checks)
Wait: Moderate on weekends; small area inside, cover outside
Address: 5026 SE Division, Portland, OR. Google Map
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday 8 a.m. to “2ish”. Closed Mon-Tues