Folks have often said that in Portland, we don’t go to church, we go to brunch. And if, indeed, the Portland brunch scene is a religious one, then the Screen Door has to be considered one of the holy of holies.
This past weekend, the Breakfast Crew and I went to worship. But it started with fear for me. This was the scene at 10 minutes before opening time, 9 a.m. on a Sunday:
But I was not afraid of the line, so much. I was afraid because with great power comes great fear … or something like that. You see, I know one of the great “secrets” of Portland Brunch: The Screen Door takes reservations! That’s right, if you have a group of six or more, and you’re all there at 9 a.m., you can get one of two tables reserved each weekend morning. I had called several days ahead, and admonished the Crew that anybody showing up later than 9 would be flogged, or worse, face the fate of the End of the Line. (By the way, did you ever wonder where they filmed the Portlandia brunch episode? I know.)
My fear was this: What happens when a guy shows up at 8:55, walks to the front of the line with five friends, and goes right in? I was convinced I’d meet, instead of the Shaun of the Dead Fate (warning: super gross.)
In fact, what happened is, I wove through the line, told the dude I had reservations and my whole group was present, and about a minute later we were seated. By the time we had coffee, this was the scene inside:
Now, I have for years wondered how people can wait in line for this place — or any place — and I am convinced there’s an aspect of “famous for being famous” to it. And also, people accept waiting in line as a part of the experience, even pleasant perhaps. Not me. But I did wonder, having not been to Screen Door in a while: Is the food really worth it?
Well, let’s get some of it out here and have a look, shall we?
First up, cornbread with apples and cream, topped with cane syrup.
Right here, I think we have what brunch at Screen Door is all about. You take a southern staple (dry, mealy, non-sweet cornbread) and dress it up all fancy with apples and amazing cream, and then serve it with cane syrup, which most people have never had. It’s lighter than maple syrup, sweeter than molasses, and just pure amazing. They do this a lot: grits with spinach and provolone, a fried oyster Benedict, bananas foster French toast, praline bacon waffle. A special when we visited was red velvet pancakes.
We enjoyed the cornbread as a warmup, but after that it was just a parade of big, yummy-looking plates:
And the came the Mother Lode itself, the one thing I knew somebody was getting, perhaps the ultimate Portland brunch dish: the chicken and waffle. (Sized up here for effect)
Okay, just for fun, here’s a shot somebody else took of me, about to dive in.
I want to tell you two things about this: One, with some help, I managed to eat the waffles and two pieces of chicken. And two, it took one bite of that chicken, and a quick listen to the Crew around the table, to understand that, yes, the Screen Door is worth the wait. It may be the best fried chicken I’ve ever had, but clearly more research is needed. And when it’s sitting on a waffle, with maple syrup nearby … I mean, I may die in my 50s, but I’m coming back to the Screen Door!
That was pretty much the verdict of the Crew, as well. I’d wait in line for this, but why? Get five of your friends together and use The Power. If any Portland brunch was worth the wait, it would be the Screen Door. The fact that you can get in and get fed without having to wait in line … it inspires a certain religious fervor in me for the morning meal.
One more thing, though:
The Crew: Debi, Michelle, Erica, Shari, Jerry. Screen Door is at 2337 E Burnside St. and serves brunch weekends from 9 to 2:30. I’m told they serve dinner, as well, but who cares? Call ahead for one of two reserved tables (for six or more) each weekend day.
Read all of Paul Gerald’s Portland Breakfast Reviews. You can also like Breakfast in Bridgetown on Facebook and follow @PDXBreakfastGuy on Twitter. And keep up with all things Paul – hiking, traveling, food and spirituality – over at PaulGerald.com.
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