There was much to love about Leo's Non-Smoking Coffee Shop. You grabbed one of the teal vinyl stools, and a complimentary copy of the day's Oregonian appeared. Owner-server Peter Chan didn't let you sit without coffee. His wife, Jane, was quick on the grill, flipping your $4.75 bacon-and-cheese omelette with hash browns and toast before you'd finished "Patients Needed for Cat Allergy Study." Every Christmas, Peter gave regulars a bottle of Champagne.
The only downside was the food: dry omelettes topped with bacon scraps and plasticky American cheese. And the coffee, just a buck, that tasted like yesterday's Sanka.
So bittersweetness lingers at Dime Store, the excellent new diner that last month took over Chan's space on the ground floor of the Medical Dental Building after 30 years.
A charming piece of Old Portland is gone. But, we now have Dime Store's BLT ($8), which Peter's replacement says will last as long as they can get fresh yellow-red heirlooms, thick-sliced, glowing like a supernova under thick slices of bacon on nutty wheat bread. I added a runny fried egg for $1. Best buck spent all week.
The rest of the menu has the same graceful uptick in ingredients and execution. Fluffy buttermilk pancakes ($8) are book-thick with clean edges. For $1 extra, you get real maple syrup. (Second-best buck spent all week.)
Then there are the scrambles, which change every day. I was walloped by an umami-intense pile of mushrooms, leeks, chard and gooey Swiss cheese ($9). The home fries were crispy Yukon Golds; the toast came with delightful housemade peach preserves.
Then there's the coffee, Water Avenue's house blend, well-prepared and frequently topped off for $2. At the counter, a holdover from Leo's sips and talks with the New Peter about the Colorado jam-band scene. I ask him how he likes the new place.
"It's nice, but I can't afford to eat here," he says.
What about the Leo's tribute special, an egg-in-a-hole and home fries for $3.50?
"Can't afford it," he says. "Coffee's $2. By the time you tip, it's $3."
It's easy for me to say that $2 is a good deal for an excellent cup of locally roasted coffee. Then again, I'm decidedly New Portland. Some people don't have the extra buck. We've gotta remember that, even as we appreciate our excellent coffee.
- Order this: The BLT ($8).
EAT: Dime Store, 837 SW 11th Ave., 228-1866, dimestorepdx.com. 7 am-6 pm Monday-Friday, 9 am-3 pm Saturday-Sunday.