It seems like Portland’s Pearl District is exploding with brunch spots these days. We already had the low end covered with Fuller’s and Byways, plus the medium range with Daily Cafe. Now the high end is coming through, as would be expected in the Pearl. We’ve got Irving Street Kitchen, Metrovino (which I reviewed here), and now Jamison, the reincarnation of Fenouil.
This latest Portland brunch spot perfectly fills the void left behind by Fenouil, and it delivers on a very basic premise: Let’s sit outside on a beautiful, quiet patio and have a pleasant brunch, with cocktails and good food and a nice view of kids playing in the park. It’s a fantastic combination, of course, and even when the weather turns and we have to go eat inside, the interior of Jamison is fantastic and fancy, as well.
So, here’s the thing. I see a restaurant experience as a formula, more or less. You take the location and atmosphere, add the people, and then the service and the food. Obviously, those aren’t ranked in importance … or maybe they are? You’d put up with a lot, including high prices, for killer food, right? And many folks would tolerate mediocre food if the rest of it is right, or if they just have strong feelings for a place (see Cafe, Cadillac).
Jamison is a new place, and they are very open about the fact that they’re working on their menu. We were there this past weekend, so the menu on the website as of today isn’t the one we were handed. But it was similar: several cocktails and starters, two Benedicts, 11 plates, three “griddles,” and a dozen or so lunch items.
This event was a Hashcapade hosted by Clark Haas, who just cranked out a really attractive all-hash cookbook. The Hash Crowd was a little bummed that the three hashes on the website menu had been replaced by just one, but they all got it, anyway: broccoli raab, pancetta, shallot, fingerlings, sunny egg. Sorry my picture isn’t better.
I went with the buttermilk chive biscuits with country gravy, plus a side of country ham. I am on a quest to find real country ham in this town, and this said Johnson County Country Ham. I’m guessing that meant these guys, but I didn’t ask. All I know is that when I order country ham in the south, it’s salty and firm and makes me very, very happy. When I order country ham in the northwest, it’s tasty but mild and a little disappointing. I want country ham to punch me in the mouth and make me reach for the sweet tea. This didn’t, though it was good. (The exception to this is Pine State Biscuits, but even they once told me they can’t get the “real stuff” because the locals can’t deal with it. Or so I recall.)
The biscuit was excellent, the gravy lacked punch I thought, and the ham was fine. I also heard a couple of mumblings that the broccoli raab was a bit chewy. I didn’t hear anybody saying “Oh my god this is awesome,” but nobody had real complaints, either.
The thing is, though, go back to the formula I mentioned above. Jamison has a built-in advantage in this regard: It is a beautiful place to eat, especially on that patio in the nice weather. The staff was awesome, even when our table hit our poor waiter with, yes, I am ashamed, eight bills for nine people. I was not in charge of that!
They are working on the menu, they’ve only been doing brunch a month, and with all this, the food is quite good. It’s not awesome, but I don’t care. Those two dishes of food only set me back $13, and I dropped another $4 on a cappuccino. The main plates average around $11, so for all you get in atmosphere and comfort — plus no wait on a sunny Sunday at 10:30 — it’s also pretty easy on the wallet and the schedule.
And I bet the food just keeps getting better and better. I’ll certainly be back to check it out.