Righteously redone breakfasts are well worth waking up for
Special to The Seattle Times
Seattle's lousy with homespun breakfast spots whose inspiration dead-ends at the three-egg scramble with buttered toast, home fries and a slug of caffeine. Mind you, such places are often good enough on a bleary Sunday morning. But if once in a while you long for a little pizzazz in your morning meal, consider the Portage Bay Café.
I know, I know, you've been to this stop on the UW side of the University Bridge before — seven or eight years ago, if you're like me, when the breakfasts were standard-issue solid but nothing was particularly memorable. Six years ago, the place was sold to John and Amy Gunnar, who retained the clattering interior and balmy patio (and lackluster service standard) but breathed altogether new energy into the morning menu.
So now you can wake up to a Dungeness crab-cake benedict with homemade hollandaise. A smoked-salmon omelet with organic tomatoes and spinach, topped with portobello-horseradish gravy. A plate of organic-vegetable-and-pepper-bacon hash, fiery with Anaheim peppers. A Greek omelet with pepper bacon, herb-roasted onions, organic spinach, myzithra cheese and basil pistou, drizzled with lime-cilantro-olive oil. Or Great Harvest-challah-bread French toast drenched in a rummy brown-sugar caramel sauce and sporting sweet sautéed bananas.
Not only is the menu actually interesting, it includes the kind of extras that unmask the kitchen as a place that really cares about the diner's culinary experience. Organic vegetables are well in evidence, as are wheat-free pancakes, real maple syrup, Black Forest ham and house-smoked salmon. (This accounts for the prices, which at $6.25 to $12.50 are higher than most breakfast joints, but which more than reflect the value obtained.)
Best, those who order French toast or pancakes get a spin through the Breakfast Bar, where one can heap up one's pastries with fresh (when in season) blueberries, blackberries and — sigh — raspberries, along with whipped cream, coconut, raisins and — sigh — toasted pecans.
In other words, a 20-minute wait on a weekend morning is not unusual.
Decaf nonfat latte: The beverage that espresso cognoscenti know as the "Why Bother?" has real merit at the Portage Bay Café, notwithstanding its clear deficits. Perhaps that's because it's decent coffee, True North by name, pulled by a pro and served civilized-style, in a mug. (The espresso bar is thoughtfully situated at the door to ease your inevitable wait.)
Challah French toast with black-berry brandy custard: No fun at all to look at — you wouldn't believe the brown that happens after merging blackberries with brandy — this dish was nevertheless ethereal to eat, particularly when decorated lavishly with berries from the Breakfast Bar. The custard augmented the light heaviness of the challah bread beautifully. That the fresh whipped cream had gone almost to butter mattered not in the slightest to us; we'll take our cholesterol however it's served, thank you very much.
Isernio's chicken and basil-sausage hash: Big chunks of Isernio's chicken and basil sausage came all grilled up with red onions, organic peppers, organic red potatoes and lots of herbs for a delicious savory hash, crowned with eggs over easy. Even the toast alongside was noteworthy: a thick slice of Great Harvest whole wheat.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Decaf nonfat latte $2.40
Challah French toast with blackberry brandy custard $9.95
Isernio's chicken and basil-sausage hash $8.95
Kathryn Robinson: KathAnRob@aol.com
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