For months early this year, I rented an office in downtown Portland, and across the street was a breakfast place trying to open. It was the new location of Sugar Mama’s Cafe, at 320 SW Alder, and it turns out their delays — while officially having to do with plumbing and other mundane things — was more like a Manhattan Project of Portland breakfast places. That is, behind those papered windows, these people were building belly bombs!
They’ve been open since the summer, and I’ve been in twice now to check out their southern-style food and what they claim to be, yes, the best biscuits and gravy in town — a claim that seems bold until you continue on to “best meatloaf on the planet.”
They already had me with these gut-busters, but when I saw this on a Friday, I knew I was in trouble:
Yes, every Friday these folks serve up variations on the cinnamon roll. The specials board on my table runs through the selections:
Actually, I couldn’t quite do maple and bacon on this day. It’s not like I’m on a health kick, though. I did get this outrageous Caramel Pecan Sticky Bun:
I don’t think there’s any Portland breakfast place that is as obviously family-run as this one — especially since Johnny B’s closed. When I walked in, I found a woman at the counter wearing an apron and eating her breakfast — the same woman who seems to always be there. I assume this is “Mom,” as the other folks working there all seem to be related. When I said something to the waiter about the
size of my bun portion of one cinnamon roll, he said he’s struggled with weight all his life from eating this food. He’s been my waiter all three times, by the way, and on one occasion he said of some dish, “If anybody can cook it, my mom can!” Mom seems to enjoy baking, as evidenced by a large stack of these cinnamon rolls.
Feeling all southern, I decided on one occasion to get the biscuits and gravy:
I don’t know about “best in town,” but only because I refuse to go on some kind of a biscuits-and-gravy tour of the city. I rather enjoy being alive. But these were darn good, with biscuits that stayed firm without being too hard, gravy that was thick and creamy and peppery, and actually just about the right size portion. Nice job, Mom!
One another visit I got the “Memphis Morning,” which is creamy polenta with greens and two eggs. Back home we call these cheese grits, but I guess now it’s polenta?
grits polenta was nice, the greens done just right, and the eggs … well, they were eggs. Over medium, just the way I like ‘em. Another time, still in my Memphis groove, I got the pulled pork and sweet potato hash, with yams, apples, onions and bacon — because, you know, this plate obviously needed some bacon added to it!
The old location, closer to PSU, had a little more of a down-home feel to it — by which I mean it was small and semi-dingy. I am probably supposed to say that was more “authentically Southern,” but that’s crap. They upgraded to a bigger, nicer place, even if it does have an odd combination of pale green walls, blue ceiling and purple piping. They still have cute salt and pepper shakers.
All in all, Sugar Mama’s is a fine and homey addition to the downtown Portland breakfast scene. It’s not the best place in town, in my opinion, but it serves a niche that downtown didn’t have before: a comfy, cozy home-style place where you can always get a table, you’ll recognize your server and host, and they will straight up drop a belly bomb on you, whenever you like.
Read all of my Portland Breakfast Reviews. You can also like Breakfast in Bridgetown on Facebook and follow @PDXBreakfastGuy on Twitter or Paul Gerald on Google+. You can buy the breakfast book, too! I also hike and travel and talk and lead trips.