Settling in for a fancy downtown Portland brunch at Nel Centro, it occurred to me that things have sure changed here at the Vast Breakfast Empire.
The whole thing started years ago as a conversation between me and my buddy Craig over breakfast at the Beaterville Cafe. Craig has also written books, and we were talking about the process of ideas, and my travel writing, and how I like to write about breakfast …. and out of that conversation came Breakfast in Bridgetown, now in its second edition with close to 6,000 copies sold. Dang!
Back then, we were just a couple of guys trying to figure out how to get paid for writing, how to organize our lives around fishing (him) and hiking and traveling (me). Today we’re … well, pretty much the same two guys. But we’ve grown up a little, I guess. He has a guide service and a new book, I have my thing, and we were having a brunch downtown before signing books at the Oregon Historical Society.
So, being that we were feeling successful, I said we should eat brunch at Nel Centro.
Craig got there ahead of me — both of us even kind of dressed up — and the first thing he said was, “Damn, you’ve upgraded your breakfasts!” That’s right, I love Beaterville and their car parts on the walls, but this is a whole new ballgame. That’s a North Portland breakfast, some kind of scramble or something. This is a downtown Portland brunch, and there will be folded white napkins!
Understand, this was a Sunday morning in the holiday season in downtown Portland, and there was nothing close to a line. We walked in, sat down, and in minutes had a nice cappuccino. I managed to ignore Craig’s raised eyebrow over my fancy coffee drink. Besides, what did he have to say? He went right out and ordered this salad, even though neither of us were quite sure what endive is.
That, friends, is $10 well spent! I was feeling more breakfasty, and I like to see how a restaurant does their Benedicts, so I went with the meatier of the two options.
The weekend brunch menu is filled with options for both breakfast and lunch, and even the regular breakfast menu has all sorts of yumminess (including my $13 Benedict there). When people tell me there are no good brunches in town without a line, Nel Centro is high on the list of places I want to yell at them about. The food and service are both excellent, and the prices are perfectly reasonable for what it is.
It is not a casual, hipsterlicious hangout joint where you whip out your laptop and chill for an hour. It might be a little more “visiting relatives” than “morning after you hooked up,” but hey, we were feeling respectable. He’s married and I’m single, so neither of us had anything to recover from.
All in all, Nel Centro is one of my favorite downtown Portland brunch places. Maybe my favorite. A lot of the hotels have good places (they are part of Hotel Madera), but Nel Centro has my favorite combination of feel and food. And it makes me feel kind of grown up and fancy.
Nel Centro is at 1408 SW Sixth Ave. in downtown Portland. Breakfast is served weekdays 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. and Saturday 7:30 to 11:30 a.m., brunch Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.
Read all of the Paul Gerald’s Portland Breakfast Reviews. You can also like Breakfast in Bridgetown on Facebook and follow @PDXBreakfastGuy on Twitter.