I recently read Anthony Bourdain’s book, “Kitchen Confidential“, an enlightening and honest look at his journey to stardom through the kitchens of New York and elsewhere. He has a few savvy recommendations and I recommend the read. One thing he mentions is that all chefs hate brunch. From seeing a kitchen operate firsthand, I know this to be true. Chef’s tend to have Sunday’s off, meaning that brunch duty gets passed down to another kitchen hand – commonly a sous chef. It’s eggs, bacon and toast for the most part – so what’s all the big fuss? Anyone can do it.
And that’s exactly the question I ask myself every time I go out to brunch in Portland on the weekends. Myself and about 100,000 other Portlander’s and tourists have the same idea. You wake up late, don’t want to make breakfast, and decide going out to brunch is better than the scramble you could make at home. But here’s the thing: there is not one well known brunch place in Portland that doesn’t have a line 20 deep and a 2+ hour wait.
My recent experience at Pine State Biscuits, is a key example. The line didn’t look too bad as we walked up, so we stuck it out. Thirty minutes later, we had ordered. We even managed to score a table on their outdoor patio. Things were going well. About thirty minutes later, I could tell the situation was on the decline – people had started to hover over tables, waiting for people to leave so they could sit. The only problem was those sitting hadn’t yet received their food. The wait continued. About forty minutes into our wait, a waitress asked if we would mind moving inside as a group of 6 had no where to go.
At Pine State, there hangs a giant chalkboard that says seating is “first come first serve”. I quite liked our spot and didn’t want to move – but our little half of the picnic table would only seat 4, so she rescinded her request. About 50 minutes into our wait, another waitress asked if we would mind if a couple and their baby could sit in the two empty seats beside us. Sure – there was room between us and the other party. But that wasn’t good enough – they wanted us to shift into the middle of the table – having to sit smack in-between one giant party and now one with a baby. Sure, we moved ’cause we didn’t really have the ability to say no. But I wasn’t happy about it.
A bit more than an hour after we ordered, our food came. And we had to sit there, squashed in-between two parties still waiting (and would be for quite some time I imagine) eating our food while everyone stared. Needless to say rather than taking our time, we quickly ate and then left. So besides the wait and having to move (going against the first come fist serve seating policy), we didn’t even feel comfortable eating.
And that’s just the experience. Let’s talk about the food – it’s brunch. It’s eggs, cheese, bread and gravy. It’s not rocket science and let’s face it – most brunch food is some lackluster version of what you really wanted it to be. Brunch isn’t great. It does not take culinary genius to cook eggs, it doesn’t take a ton of skill, and it most certainly shouldn’t take over an hour to get to the table. Pine State has a ‘wow’ factor – your food is stacked 6″ high and looks impressive on instagram – but it wasn’t all that good. Out of 10 stars, I give it about a 4. The biscuits on their own have a bit of an odd taste, the gravy was sparse and overall it was just okay. I know I could have made this better at home.
And it’s not just Pine State. One of my favorite breakfast carts from three years ago is the Big Egg. We tried to go last week, rocking up at 10:30am. No line, so it seemed promising. Except when we got to the counter to order and saw that they had already run out of their breakfast burrito (the only reason worth going) AND that it was going to be a 40 minute wait for something less-appealing from their menu. We turned around.
In my humble opinion, the death of any brunch place is as soon as it becomes well known. Gravy, Screen Door, Pine State, the Big Egg, Broders – they all have the same thing in common – it’s all overpriced breakfast food that makes you wait two hours before consuming. And if you’re going to brunch for the experience versus the food, ensure your “experience” means waiting with a group of other people who would gladly trip you to get to the open table first.
I would list some of my go-to breakfast spots that don’t have a long wait and actually does a really great breakfast for a good price – but I don’t want them to start getting popular.
In all – if you can to go breakfast on a weekday – sure, hit up some of the award-winning breakfast spots. But if not and weekend are your only time to venture out, consider breakfast at home. Going out is just not worth it.