Breakfast at Tasty & Alder, Portland, OR
I have never believed in love at first sight, or the epicurial equivalent of it (love at first bite?) My brain just doesn’t work that way – it likes to take its sweet time in deciding how it feels about something. Rand and I dated for years before I realized exactly how much I liked him. I’ve been halfway through a dessert before I’ve even come to a decision about it.
And similarly, it took me a long time to realize something that thousands of other people had already agreed on: mainly, that Tasty & Alder in Portland serves a really excellent breakfast.
Part of the problem was that I’d already heard so many positive things about it – John Gorham, the chef behind it, had already been wildly successful with Tasty n’ Sons, the menu of which reads like a love letter to meat and deep frying, as well as Toro Bravo, his Spanish-style tapas restaurant. This was part of the problem.
If everyone likes something, I tend not to. It isn’t so much a hipster inclination to eschew anything too popular, but rather that I’m wary of the mainstream. Like, if something is universally appealing, there must be some kind of catch, and it’s secretly horrible. (And it is precisely for this reason that I remain undecided on Joseph Gordon Levitt, who is every thinking woman’s dream man. Because I refuse to accept that any human being can be that adorable and have concluded that he probably skins kittens in his basement and doesn’t SIT AROUND AND CUDDLE THEM.)
Besides, my first visit to Tasty & Alder, during the week that they opened, wasn’t particularly memorable. I can barely recount what I ordered, it was so lackluster, though it’s a safe bet that salad was involved. I almost always order a salad with breakfast, which may sound odd – one of the things I love most about the first meal of the day is that you can legitimately order cake and no one will think anything of it. Coffee cake. Pancakes. Doughnuts. You can ordered frosted FRIED dough and no one bats an eye. It’s amazing.
And yet, more often than not, I order veggies, because I know that I’ll want sweets later in the day, so I might as well start out properly. It’s a bit of a gamble, I suppose, because sometimes that future cake never manifests. But if and when it does, I’m ready for it.
“I had salad with breakfast,” I explain, as I go back for thirds.
This past week, I went back to Tasty & Alder. There is usually a wait (indeed, when Rand and I returned the next day, it was upwards of an hour for a table), but if you go by yourself on a weekday, and don’t mind eating at the bar, you can usually be seated (and served) right away.
I ordered the breakfast biscuit, remembering what my friend Katie said a few weeks ago when she visited Seattle. “You northwesterners and your biscuits. It’s a thing.”
And it’s true, I guess, something we appropriated from the lower half of the country and dragged back to the our grey little corner. If we are speaking only of baked goods, then I suppose the south did rise again.
Oh, and I got a small side of simple greens. Because that’s what I do.
I sat at the bar and pretended to browse my email on my phone, but I kept getting distracted by attractive hipster staff, including one girl who seemed to have my proportions yet managed to be rocking cropped pants with ankle booties. I was about to ask her what alchemy lay behind her sartorial success, but my food arrived too quickly.
The biscuit usually comes with cheese, but I requested it without (it aggravates my migraines), and realized that I could have very easily ordered the Bambino plate (a deconstructed version of the same dish) and saved myself two dollars. Alas, the money was spent, and my meal was assembled into a sandwich.
I quickly took it apart, gently lifting the top off for later. I don’t know enough about philosophy to say whether or not Derrida would be proud.
And then I took a bite.
Is it too simple to say that it was the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had? I’m a wordy person; it seems unfair to not elaborate further on it. But the important part is this: it was perfect.
The bacon was house-cured, I found out later, and far meatier than virtually every other incarnation of it I’ve had. The egg, usually overlooked in a trifecta like this one, had suddenly become essential. There was balance and harmony, and, in case you missed it before, house-cured bacon.
I eventually took a few bites of salad – lightly dressed, adequately salty even for me. The bowl had been chilled, which didn’t really do anything, but was a nice touch.
And then I demolished the rest of my biscuit, polished off the few last lettuce leaves.
When it was over, I was full, but still had the discarded top of my biscuit staring up at me from a wooden board. I don’t even know how to begin to tell you about it. Even as I ate it, I kept looking around the restaurant for answers.
“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH THIS?” I wanted to scream. Because it laughed in the face of logic. Things should not be both rich and airy, dense and fluffy, crisp and delicate. It defied physics. It made me angry. It made me light-headed. It confused me.
I should have waved my white napkin in defeat, but instead, I asked the waiter for more jam. When he brought it, I was unbelievably happy.
It was a sensation, I suppose, not unlike falling in love. It didn’t happen in one visit to Tasty & Alder, it didn’t happen over one bite. But I can’t deny it anymore: they make a really, really fantastic breakfast.
Sometimes there are no secrets lurking in the corners. Sometimes, everyone likes something because it’s just plain good.
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