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June 16th, 2004 KELLY CLARKE | z-Bite Club
 

Doris' Redux

     
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LEFT TO RIGHT: JEWEL THOMAS, JAMES DEAN, KEITH DEAN
IMAGE: THOM OLIVER
"Smothered Rabbit?" a smartly dressed, middle-aged black woman reads off the daily specials board. "My daddy used to make smothered squirrel when I was a girl back in Tennessee. That was tasty. But rabbit?"

Doris' Cafe co-owner Keith Dean just laughs and gets the sweet lady her usual takeout order of barbecue.

Yes, that Doris' Cafe. The Portland soul-food mainstay is back--for real.

Locals mourned the passing of the Northeast Portland rib joint when it closed last summer after a heated rental war with its landlord. Over 15 years, owner Rosie Dean's streetwise lunch and dinner spot morphed from a small cafe on North Williams Avenue to, in 1994, a spacious Northeast Russell Street restaurant where white businessmen sporting plastic bibs gnawed on rib tips. But toward the end, the cafe's food tasted as bland as the clientele it drew. Maybe the reign of Doris' was over.

Not quite yet.

The new Doris' Café is housed in a spartan, mustard-colored building on North Williams, the same street the saucy cafe first called home. Here's how this family restaurant saga got its happy ending: The man who owns the property is Marcus Harris. Harris' father, Willy, owned the building that housed the original cafe.

So when Harris the younger heard that Doris' had closed, he called Rosie Dean's most dedicated employees--her sons Keith, James and Sam--with a real-estate offer the Dean brothers couldn't refuse. He said, "I want to help. Which building do you want?"

Maybe the deep neighborhood connection is the reason the new Doris' feels so, well, old. The joint opened a little over a month ago, but it's already worn (and well-loved) by the regulars who hog its tables, spattering the spicy barbecue sauce on the cafe's blue-and-white-checked tablecloths.

The Bite Club has made our pilgrimage as well. We had that rabbit special--doused in peppery flour and fried like chicken. We realized, as we mopped up the last of the thick pan gravy with a slice of white bread, that soul food like this tender game dish may be the real signal that Doris' is back to its roots--the food is great.

"We weren't gonna reopen," Keith Dean says. "But the community kept on asking us." He and James now co-own the cafe. Brother Sam runs Doris' Rose Garden arena operation. Mom Rosie still bakes the cafe's pies.

"Now, Doris' future plans are gonna go longer than when I'm around," Keith says. "We are here for good."

*

Cañita, West Burnside's spicy Cuban dining hall, has closed. Owner John Maribona claims the landlord wasn't willing to repair the Old Town spot's bad smells and structural problems (that's the building that housed Canita, not the vagrants outside), so he shut the place down May 29. While the restaurateur is looking to purchase his own building for Cañita, his other eatery, Pambiche (2811 NE Glisan St., 233-0511), is keepin' the faith by serving a "greatest hits" menu of Cañita favorites like vaca frita.


Doris' Cafe, 3606 N Williams Ave., 460-2595
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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