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April 23rd, 2014 MARTIN CIZMAR | Food Reviews & Stories
 

Brunch Bites Back

Toast and Gravy take on dinner service, but in very different ways.

brunch_4025LEFT: GRAVY’S CHICKEN CORDON GRAVY, RIGHT: TOAST’S BACON-WRAPPED CHICKEN - IMAGES: chrisryanphoto.com
Brunch is usually a bad omen. When restaurants known for dinner start offering up omelets, scrambles, frittatas, stratas or quiches, it means either they’re succeeding beyond capacity or they’re trying to scrape up whatever cash they can with high-margin flapjacks.

I’m not sure what it means, but, lately, several famous Portland bruncheries have flipped the script. The new Broder Nord started serving dinner about a month ago, with downtown’s Bijou Cafe following last week. Now, two breakfast nooks whose names betray ties to the dewy afterdawn—Mississippi Avenue’s Gravy and Woodstock’s Toast—are doing their own dinner menus.

We stopped by both restaurants for dinner last week, ordering a fish special and a chicken-with-pork entree. The restaurants are similar at breakfast, but they’re doing dinner quite differently, with Gravy serving fancified Betty Crocker fare, as Toast pops into territory that’s novel for its neighborhood.


Gravy

3957 N Mississippi Ave., 287-8800, eatatgravy.com. Dinner served Monday-Friday.

Gravy is surrounded by bars and eateries on bustling North Mississippi Avenue. On weekends, the brunch line often starts at 8:30 am for biscuits sopped in the namesake and a bruleed bowl of oatmeal, which some people are of the opinion is among the best in town. Gravy has been serving dinner since early February, but the locals haven’t caught on yet. On a Tuesday night, staff outnumbered patrons. There’s a little sign that says to wait to be seated, but the waiter beckons from the back with a wave. The menu is short and very traditional, including platters of meatloaf, roast turkey and a big ol’ pork chop.

On my visit, the night’s market-priced fish dish was four planks of batter-fried halibut ($14.50) with a pile of fries, a small cereal bowl of mild tartar sauce and a bigger cereal bowl of green beans swimming in brown gravy with a few fried onions on top. The fish was cooked in a barely-there, firm but crunchless batter with the texture of an unglazed Krispy Kreme. There was no lemon, and they didn’t have any malt vinegar on premises, but the waiter brought over a bottle of white vinegar to cut the tartar. The fries fared so well in housemade ketchup—sweet with a nice herbal character thanks to a healthy dose of clove—that I briefly considered dunking the halibut.

Far better was the chicken cordon gravy ($14.50), a small, moist chicken breast topped with a tall pile of shaved ham and soaked in a mild cheese sauce. It was served with two sides, a little bowl of pleasantly bitter braised greens and a heap of savory bread stuffing gooey from mixed-in turkey gravy.


Toast

5222 SE 52nd Ave., 774-1020, toastpdx.com. Dinner served Wednesday-Friday.

Toast sits next to a bodega and an insurance office on Southeast 52nd Avenue. It’s already one of the best restaurants in its blue-collar neighborhood—I know loyal customers who drive from Laurelhurst and Buckman—and has put together a surprisingly ambitious dinner program that includes six starters and six entrees.

On a Wednesday night, we shared the place with four staffers, one other couple and a Dead bootleg. Toast’s version of dinner is higher end than Gravy’s, offering a surprisingly large selection of wine by the glass, plus a full cocktail menu. There’s even an amuse-bouche offered—a bite of pepper-leek frittata, presumably a breakfast survivor.

Toast’s fish special was a hunk of pan-seared rockfish ($21.50) with capers in a little brown butter sauce over roasted cauliflower and asparagus. A sweet, silky puree of carrots that could have doubled as dessert came in a separate bowl after the kitchen forgot to plate it. The fish was flaky and moist, while the pan-fried vegetables were crispy and well-seasoned.

A moist chicken leg and thigh wrapped in crispy bacon ($17.50) and served with finely shredded and lightly fermented yellow cabbage and a big pile of crusty green spaetzle made of broccoli raab and spinach was also impressive. Not as good were a chalky white bean “hummus” ($6.50) served with overly buttery Texas toast, and a quinoa and beet plate ($10.50) with pickled red onions and toasted hazelnuts that ended up a messy amalgamation of rough and disparate flavors. Still, I think Toast is on to something—dinner, here, is a good sign. 

 
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