There are three types of restaurants in our eat-or-be-eaten town. The first is the Filling Station, which includes the sterile Carrows (with its uniform omelettes and spin-racks of coconut lard pies), fluorescent-shocked McDonald's (offal-burgers and industrial-flavored shakes) and the classic American grease counter of suspect specials and burnt coffee. The second type is the Special Occasion establishment, the Genoas and Couvrons that one reserves for celebrations and spending sprees, and where one can still go to see people dressed as if they own mirrors.
The last type of eatery is the Meeting Place, the comfortable neighborhood nooks for conversations and assignations that remain hospitable to such autonomous pursuits as reading and writing. Two new places have recently opened in Portland that perfectly exemplify this last category: Crush on Southeast Morrison Street and the Purple Parlor on North Mississippi Avenue.
The decidedly night-owlish Crush has transformed a defunct Kienow's bakery into a sophisticated queer wine bar, while the Purple Parlor has renovated an old Victorian house à la Pied Cow, becoming a popular breakfast and lunch destination in that urbanizing quadrant the includes North Russell Street and Mississippi Avenue. But both have become, in their own ways, anchors for their communities.
The utilitarian frontage of Crush belies its elegant interior. Plush, claret-red sectionals line the window's wall, while wrought-iron chairs and tile-topped tables are scattered about the artfully distressed floor. There's also a paneled bar with stools where one can perch to observe the non-action, for this is a quiet spot for gay men, lesbians and their friends to quaff a pinot or merlot without a thudding dance beat in your ear or the threat of a packed thong in your face.
Crush's wine list is simple but thoughtful (try the Canet Vallete), as are the bar's few food offerings, including a wonderfully garlic-laden sunflower hummus and spicy mushroom tapenade served with olive bread ($9 platter, $4 single serving). Unfortunately, the baba ghanouj is rather plain at present. There's certainly room for expanding the menu, but Crush's primary function is to provide the classic meeting place where people can go and linger, and the staff members make exceedingly good and attentive hosts.
The Purple Parlor is a very similar place, but here the focus is on the food, and vegetarian and vegan food at that. Recently opened by owners Molly and Dan Sadowsky, the cafe takes up the first floor of a clapboard Queen Anne house. The eponymous parlor is the first dining area you enter, with the main pastel-yellow dining room and kitchen beyond. Diners can also sit in the Parlor's modest garden amid tiny vegetable plots. In all, it's a less cluttered Pied Cow, though the decor is just as eclectic, including small wall shrines of found objects--Victorian doll parts and rusted utensils--discovered under the house's floorboards or unearthed in the yard.
It's a pleasant space, and the service is excellent. Unfortunately, the menu's fare has yet to match the quality of the surroundings. For a savory breakfast, a dish called "The Heap" ($5.50) was a disappointment. The "heap" is a pile of roasted summer vegetables atop rosemary-roasted potatoes and is served with salsa. Though the potatoes themselves were very good, they could have stood a sprig or two more of rosemary. As for the vegetables, these were fairly bland, undoubtedly made more so by the overabundance of zucchini slices. The whole dish wishes for spice and garlic, as does the salsa, which could also use a pinch of cilantro.
But the vegan Purple Parlor Pancakes ($4.25) are grilled to perfection. Though hearty grain cakes, they lack the heaviness of egg- and dairy-tainted flapjacks. Should you desire, the cakes can be filled with a fruit--I chose ripe blackberries, which were wonderfully complemented by both the real maple syrup and the homemade (and spicy) apple butter. Along with a mug of Stumptown's finest, this is a memorable breakfast.
The lunch menu also comes with its successes and failures. The blackeyed peas and greens ($5) promises a "chili kick," but the chili was used rather sparingly with mine. However, the accompanying vegan corn muffin was deliciously moist and flavorful. The green salad ($4) is a better bet, especially when topped with the creamy tofu dressing. The red lentil dal ($4) should not be passed up. Here, the right combination of spice has been achieved to create one of the best dals in town; it is served either by the bowl or over a bed of brown rice. For dessert, the fruit square ($1.75) is surprisingly unsatisfying considering the richness of the corn muffins, but the vegan Chocolate Lovers' Cake ($1.75) is well worth a slice.
These are early days for the Sadowskys' cafe, and I did get the impression that the kitchen was still very much a laboratory for experiments. The essential ingredients--locally grown and, often, organic--are of the highest quality. But a sizable spice-rack needs to join them on the kitchen counter.
1412 SE Morrison St., 235-8150.
Hours: 5 pm- midnight Wednesdays- Thursdays, 5 pm-1 am Fridays- Saturdays, 5-11 pm Sundays. Inexpensive, $.
3560 N Mississippi Ave., 281-3560. Hours: 7 am-2 pm Tuesdays- Fridays, 8 am-3 pm Saturdays- Sundays. Most of the menu items can be prepared to go. Inexpensive, $.
Both restaurants are vegan-friendly.