I have had a long, long relationship with brunch. It has been a very satisfying, filling and faithful relationship, which as many of us can attest to, can be incredibly rare these days. One of the things that I missed the most while traveling was the fantastic brunch spreads that pretty much every Portland restaurant has on their menu. If a restaurant doesn’t have at least a weekend brunch, it’s a good bet that it probably won’t last long. In the winter of 2015, I started documenting my brunch experiences. I wrote about some of my favorites such as Broder, Olympia Provisions, Country Cat and Accanto. Then I got distracted with working on publishing my first book for several months, after which I decided to leave the country for a long spell.
Last Saturday, I met two dear friends, Lori and Leigh, at Tasty n Alder for a much needed get together. These lovely ladies worked with me at Columbia Sportswear and I hadn’t had a chance to see them since coming back to town. After we consumed five (yes five) amazing dishes, I decided the ‘Art of Brunch’ needed, nay, begged to be revived. Tasty n Alder is one of a group of fabulous restaurants in Portland that are the creation of Toro Bravo restaurateur chef John Gorham and all dishes are intended to be shared tapas style. I have been to Tasty n Sons for brunch many times, but this was my first experience at Tasty n Alder, and obviously, it was delicious enough to merit the aforementioned revival. Yes, there was about an hour wait, but they kindly take your phone number to call you when your table is ready. Heart Coffee across the street does a booming business on the weekends solely due to the patience of brunch-goers sipping their coffee while they wait for a table. I admit, I sipped my latte while I waited. It was a double coffee morning.
Literally every dish at Tasty n Alder could be rhapsodized over. I, in fact, think that the Potatoes Bravas with the accompanying over-easy egg gracing the top are truly the best I’ve ever eaten; crispy and flavorful with sauce baked into each bite, with a kick-ass aioli that is rich and garlicky. This is quite a statement considering the fact that I have lived in Spain and eaten Bravas from such diverse places as tiny northern towns to thriving and vibrant food meccas such as Madrid and Barcelona. Toro Bravo, which was Gorham’s first restaurant in Portland, is classic Spanish cuisine with a twist, so it isn’t surprising that they unarguably nail every Spanish dish they put on the table. The dish that did surprise me was the above pictured ‘Bim Bop’ Bacon and Eggs “Stir Like Crazy.” This spin on the traditional Korean-style bibimbap was served in a blazing hot iron pot with an egg cracked over the top of vegetables such as carrots, spinach, kimchee and bean sprouts combined with a chili pepper paste. The ‘bacon’ is actually sweet grilled Korean pork belly and when you ‘Stir Like Crazy’ to mix the egg into the dish you discover the bottom layer of mouth-watering crusty rice that really makes all the flavors and textures come together perfectly. If you are going to wait in line to eat a brunch dish, then wait for this one.
I’ll be honest. Some things that are quintessentially Portland feel overdone and a bit comical after being gone for awhile: giant wooly beards on every 30-something male, the hipster uniform worn by every ‘serious’ barista, and the penchant for very uncomfortable butt-numbing but aesthetically pleasing wooden benches in 90 percent of coffee shops are but to name a few. Brunch, however, still shines bright. Brunch brings friends together over delicious meals, and brunch gives everyone a reason to get out of bed at a reasonable hour on a weekend. Brunch also provides some loose parameters for the mind-blowing food talent in this town to try their hand at traditional favorites, as well as shaking things up with new ideas and unexpected fusion dishes. Yes, brunch IS quintessentially Portland, and I will always be a fan, where ever on the planet I happen to be at the time.