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May 19th, 2004 KELLY CLARKE | Bite Club
 

Old Is New

     
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Spread out atop Colleen French's cafe kitchen counter you'll see a flour-smeared, dog-eared copy of the Joy of Cooking. The old-school classic seems out of place at French's O3 Cafe, with its hip vibe fueled by the owner's ties to Portland's progressive music scene. But in an era where comfort food equals chic and new low-carb dishes crib recipes from decades past, it seems fresh to once again be sampling old--that is, good--ideas.

Joy sits on the counter like a sentry, as French assembles an asparagus-and-scallop crêpe. Sure, her cafe is a little tough to find--hidden behind the record store it was named for, Ozone Phase 3, right off East Burnside Street. But its dainty yet hearty eats offer a classic rock shout-out to dinners past.

"Almost everything can be made from scratch," says French, a 27-year-old, pixie-faced chef. "It's ridiculous to go to a restaurant and pay for them to just warm something up for you."

Nearly everything at this cafe is cheap, healthy and housemade, from the light, tart strawberry-lemon muffins that top its vintage dairy case to the mustard and fresh-baked buns that bind fall-apart-tender braised-beef sandwiches.

After French graduated from the Western Culinary Institute last summer, her first job was planning Holocene's bar menus. These days, when she's not scouring Goodwill's silverware bins for additions to the cafe's scuffed, sterling-silver place settings, she's dousing Dutch Baby pancakes with brandied fruit. At night, she caters to different tastes, unleashing keyboard-and-drum-screech pop in clubs around town with brother Eric in their band, 01.

During business hours, though, the rhythm of her inner Northeast joint beats with the joy of old-style (and very pretty) home cooking.

*

Across the river, in the industrial pocket of Northwest, dusty construction workers trickle into the Sultan Cafe. In this sparsely decorated spot, you'll meet the neighborhood's new (coffee) bartender, Michael Makboul. He greets each customer by first name, serving cardamom-spiked Turkish coffee or plates of moist, onion-draped Syrian-style meatloaf, cracking jokes and talking politics. Then, at 5 pm, he breaks out the hookah pipes.

The Sultan's quirky building once housed a Freightliner trucking office and later, novelist Chuck Palahniuk's office. Makboul says the space-aged spot reminds him of his roots, hanging out in his dad's old deli near Portland State University.

Makboul is a longtime Portlander whose extended Palestinian family owns businesses all over town. He quit his job as the manager of Silver Dollar Saloon & Pizza and made an offer on the building the day he saw it. He trusted that his wife, Rasha, would understand.

Luckily, she did, and now she contributes her Syrian home cooking to the venture. Since the Sultan opened in mid-April, its hot-pink cafe tables have become a daily pit stop for hair stylists, party planners, ad men and--lest we forget--those neighborhood construction workers.

Later in the day, the air fills with the Lipsmacker-sweet clouds of cherry, melon and green-apple vapor as exercisers from the gym next door stop by for after-workout smoke breaks. "I guess there is a Turkish Empire feel to the place," Makboul says. "I think I just wanted to go back to my childhood."


O3 Cafe22 NE 7th Ave., 227-1975. 7 am-5 pm Monday-Friday, 9:30 am-3 pm Saturday-Sunday. $.

The Sultan Cafe,1500 NW 18th Ave., 227-6466. 7 am-8 pm (or "later") daily. $.

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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