On a very frigid walk to lunch just now, I realized that the Morning Star Cafe closed over the holidays. I’m a little surprised, because it seems like they did decent business, but what do I know about running a restaurant?
On their Facebook page, they make it sound like they may come back somewhere, sometime, but for now, it’s one less downtown Portland breakfast place.
I added this information to my list of updates since the book came out.
Morning Star Café
A working place downtown
500 SW 3rd Ave. (Downtown) ~ 503-241-2401 ~ morningstarcafe.com
Weekdays 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., weekends 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
$12–$14 (all major cards, no checks)
You’re coming off the Morrison Bridge into downtown, taking the first left you can, onto Southwest 3rd Avenue. As you wrap around the corner, you see a big, bright restaurant filled with people, and you ask yourself, “Wait, what’s that?” It’s the Morning Star Café, a downtown staple since 1994, but only recently a place for breakfast.
It’s funny that most Portlanders don’t seem to know about the place, even thought it’s been serving breakfast since 2009. I have a theory: the Morning Star isn’t an old-line place like Bijou or Mother’s, and it isn’t fancy or cutting-edge like Fenouil, and it isn’t hipsterlicious like Byways. It’s just a friendly, basic restaurant in the middle of town.
And when I say “the middle of town,” I mean the historic core of Portland. Five blocks of 3rd Avenue contain seven buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Morning Star is in the lobby of the 1902 Postal Building, which was put on the Register in 1978. From a table facing 3rd Avenue, you can see across the street to the 1891 Dekum Building, named for a German immigrant who opened Portland’s first candy store in 1853. In the 1890s, that building (built entirely of Oregon materials) was Portland’s City Hall, and more recently it housed Wieden and Kennedy, creators of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign. Next to it is the Hamilton Building, built in 1893 and named for Hamilton Corbett, son of a very famous Portland family. It was the first building in Portland designed in the Classical Revival style. (Thanks to Wikipedia, by the way)
I tell you all this because I want you to remember that Portland is a historic town, though at times it feels like the crowded, bustling metropolis that it is. And such places need solid restaurants like the Morning Star. At breakfast and lunch, they serve a combination of tourists, office workers, and folks coming downtown for some weekend event. The décor is even built on gears to continue the working theme. It’s a big, open space with huge windows looking out onto the busy street, and the food is classic breakfast fare: three sandwiches, nearly a dozen egg-based options, sourdough flapjacks, French toast, and oatmeal. During the week, you order at the counter and get a number; on the weekends they have table service.
I like the fact that the most expensive thing on the menu is $10, and that’s quite a feat: the Biker Breakfast is two eggs, two bacon strips, one boar sausage patty, hash browns, and toast. For another $1.50 you can upgrade to French toast. And speaking of French toast, a full order of three slices with either fruit compote or maple syrup is just $6. The flapjacks are $5.75. And this is downtown!
It was about my third visit when I “got” the Morning Star. I had been hung up on the location, thinking that everything downtown is trying to be fancy or impressive. It finally dawned on me that I was sitting in the middle of town having a nice, reasonably priced meal with a great view of my happening city. I’m glad I gave in to my curiosity.
Wait: Some on weekends, mostly outside. Large groups: With notice, and they’ll take reservations for six or more. Coffee: Illy. Other drinks: Espresso, tea, milk, soda, beer, wine, mimosas, Bloody Marys. Feel-goods: None they tout. Health options: Good options for vegetarians. WiFi: Yes.