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April 20th, 2005 KELLY CLARKE | Bite Club
 

The Long Goodbye

     
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Foothill Broiler co-owner Peter Chekalas
IN MEMORIAM: It was the hair that gave it away. The noisy group polishing off a plate of crisp fries at the four-top next to Bite Club's table at the Foothill Broiler last Tuesday had to be family. A harried woman with auburn hair wiped a napkin across a redheaded 4-year-old's ketchup-smeared face. His 10-month-old brother (same hair, more spit) gurgled in the corner, while a delicate, paper-skinned lady watched the trio, her own baby-fine wisp of that same color of hair escaping from underneath a blue stocking cap. They were here, like so many regulars, to say goodbye. After more than 50 years in business, Northwest Portland's landmark diner is closing.

Pete and Maria Chekalas bought the Foothill seven years ago. The pair added their family's Greek specialties to the menu, while keeping original owner Vida Lee Mick's juicy made-to-order burgers, the antiquated mayo-and-mustard bins at the fixin's bar and those obscenely creamy milkshakes. But over the years, too many rent increases at the Uptown Shopping Center led to the decision to close the doors, for the last time, on Tuesday, April 26.

That came as hard news to the Broiler's regulars, like the folks in the Nerd Breakfast Club, a group that has met regularly at the diner for the past decade to "discuss nerdly topics." Another customer, mortgage broker Greg Mirecki, has been eating breakfast and lunch at the Broiler for more than 20 years. Mirecki's such a committed regular that he notifies the Chekalases in advance if he's going to miss a meal, Maria Chekalas says.

Marian Meyer, that dashing 88-year-old redheaded matriarch, used to watch her mom order custard here in the 1950s. These days, her granddaughter Lisa Perrin takes her to the Broiler at least once a week, and when Meyer orders those custard cups herself, she shares the stuff with Spencer, her great-grandson.

To be honest, the Bite Club must admit we're not Broiler regulars. We're longtimers at downtown's equally old-school Red Coach. But still, we feel sad whenever a Portland institution closes, and that's why we cheered the news that the Chekalases have not ruled out reopening the Broiler in another location. After all, where else will the West Hills hold their family reunions?

Björk-smjörk. Crema, Brent Fortune's lovely, light-filled Northeast 28th Avenue bakery and coffee shop, is hosting two other famous Icelanders today: reigning 2005 Icelandic National Barista Champion Jónína S. Tryggvadóttir and the 2004 national champ Njáll Björgvinsson. Yep. Nordic coffee slingers. Tryggvadóttir and Björgvinsson competed in the sixth annual World Barista Championship in Seattle last weekend.

Now, despite our rabid Food Network addiction, Bite Club hadn't realized that there was a yearly international cappuccino death match. But according to Crema manager Sara Chapman, these icy-hot Northerners are world-famous for their coffee drinks. And the World Competition? Well, think of it as an extremely formal, milk-frothing version of the movie Cocktail for beanheads.

Just last month, Phuong Tran, who owns Lava Java in Ridgefield, Wash., won the 2005 United States Barista Championship in Seattle with a sage-infused chocolate coffee drink. At the same event, local roaster Stumptown's Kyle Larson created a drink using a single-origin espresso from El Salvador infused with an apple purée. Crema got into the act with a rose petal-infused coffee with chocolate and black pepper.

Fortune, a former barista competitor himself, convinced his Icelandic friends to drop in and pull a few of their own signature coffee drinks at Crema after the pair competed, along with Tran, this past weekend (Tryggvadóttir made it to the finals). Wanna get champion-caffeinated? Hurry over. Chapman's expecting Portland's own extensive coffee cartel to pack in for this afternoon's bean show.

Toques off to Portland's 2005 James Beard award nominees: Vitaly Paley of Paley's Place nabbed the only local nomination for Best Chef in the Northwest/Hawaii. Stumptown cookbook diva Janie Hibler got a nod for her latest delicious tome, The Berry Bible. Get a taste of Paley's nominated eats at Taste of the Nation next Monday at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. Go ahead and gorge yourself, as the proceeds from this swanky walk-'n'-graze event, which features vittles from more than 60 Oregon and Washington chefs, benefit local hunger-relief agencies.

Clarification: Stefanie Pinniger was misidentified in our March 30 Cheap Eats special section. She is the owner of Madame Bouffant.


Foothill Broiler, 33 NW 23rd Place, 223-0287. The Broiler’s last day of business is Tuesday, April 26.

Crema, 2728 SE Ankeny St., 234-0206. Icelandic coffee demo noon- 4 pm Wednesday, April 20.

Taste of the Nation, Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 1111 SW Broadway, 222-4644. 6 pm Monday, April 25. $70 advance, $80 door.

 
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