What happens when a fine-dining chef and an exacting first-time restaurateur open a casual eastside joint? At Laurelhurst Cafe, good things. This place gets all the details right, offering food that looks as good as it tastes, stellar service, modest prices and a laid-back atmosphere.
This restaurant has a past. The sliding windows facing East Burnside Street and the restroom accessed from outside reveal some of the shiny building's prior incarnations as a Mike's Drive-In and a gas station. But owner Ken Bareilles ripped out asbestos-blighted flooring and replaced the Grandma's-den wood paneling to create a clean, welcoming space. The restaurant's concept was developed by surveying people walking by about their ideal neighborhood cafe.
"You can come here for coffee, you can come here for a latte at 7:30 at night, you can have a beer at 7 in the morning," says Bareilles.
Chef Greg Vitunic dreamed up the order-at-the-counter menu of small bites, sandwiches and salads. The turkey sandwich is enlivened by cranberry-olive relish ($8.50), but it's like a background singer to the panini, which are strut-across-the stage, ear-shattering rock stars. One bite of the Pig 'n Fig grilled sandwich ($8.50) transports you to a picnic blanket in the wine country. It combines fennel salami, Gorgonzola and figs cooked down with chardonnay and honey. And the gooey mozzarella, arugula and sun-dried tomato pesto on toasty Fleur de Lis bread—a new take on a caprese sandwich ($7.50)—might make you lift up a lighter. All sandwiches come with chips or mixed greens, or fries for $1 more. Also, you'll find Bareilles and Vitunic happy to fix up a vegan or gluten-free meal.
Laurelhurst Cafe recently stretched its hours to catch neighbors and Providence Medical Center staffers on their way to work. For breakfast, grab a cup of Water Avenue Coffee or Steven Smith tea, and the satisfying Whole Shebang sandwich—egg, Tillamook cheddar, crisp bacon, arugula and tomato pesto ($6.50). In addition to some Fleur de Lis pastries, Laurelhurst Cafe gets bagels from Kettleman Bagel Company. The wild Alaskan smoked sockeye bagel ($6.50) is almost too pretty to eat. Coral-colored smoked salmon and pickled red onions look striking against chive cream cheese and perfectly arranged arugula.
The housemade desserts are also hits. The buttermilk chocolate cake with Chantilly cream ($5.50) is moist and deadly. And with big flakes of sea salt sprinkled on top, the salted chocolate chip cookie ($1.50) may be the world's most perfect PMS food.
- Order this: Pig ân Fig panino ($8.50) and Laurelhurst fries.
- Best deal: Bagel with housemade hummus, cucumbers and red onion, $4. During happy hour you can score a local microbrew from one of the four rotating taps for $3.50.
EAT: Laurelhurst Cafe, 4611 E Burnside St., 548-6320, laurelhurstcafe.com. 7 am-8 pm daily. Happy hour 4-8 pm. $.