Welcome to Diner 2013ânot a guide to the Portland areaâs best restaurants, or even to the best Oregonian-operated diners, but a seven-part series where we ate at seven Portland diners we hadn't been to in a while. Over the next week, we hit standbys where you can get eggs and coffee at a counter early or late in the day. Diner 2013: It's the best name for a series about Portland diners published in 2013.
410 SW Broadway, 228-7222, portlandpennydiner.com.
Neighborhood: Southwest Broadway, downtownâs clotted artery, is a mix of hotels, bank buildings, temp offices, the Schnitz, the O and the oldest strip club on the west coastâa stretch simultaneously monumental, impersonal and charmingly quaint. The street is a photograph of itself. And because it belongs to no oneâcan belong to no oneâit belongs to everyone equally.
Vibe: The Penny Diner is less an actual diner than it is an ode to the old-school New York diner as it lives on only in nostalgia-gauzed films set in the â50s and in the paintings of Edward Hopper. It is bright and clean and airy, with art-deco âcityâ wallpaper, and it serves a bottomless cup of alderwood-roasted coffee from Seattle-based Caffe DâArte. You order from the front counter, and eat at the back counter. The coffee is strangely watery, like someoneâs grandma made it. This is a comfort, not an offense; refills are free, and you could drink it all day with little biscuits. On a street thatâs a photo of itself, the Penny is a lovely, aestheticized Portland replica of a diner. Itâs like the Truman Show, except the server has a nose ring.
The grub: Despite its pedigree as the third leg of the Vitaly Paley culinary empire (Paleyâs Place, Imperial), the Penny is serious about its dinerhood, and so the prices are negligible. Burgerville can deliver a bigger hit to the wallet. The breakfast sandwiches are bizarre high-low hybrids, a bit like what happens when the French try to wear âpunkâ leather jackets but wear them far too well, and far too self-consciously. In the case of the PDXWT (a steal at $4.50), this is purest genius. Duck bologna, coffee mayo (seriously), sauerkraut (seriously), egg and American cheese (seriously) combine on fry bread to create the sloppiest, richest, most generous breakfast sandwich I have heretofore known in this life, all fat and eggy tang and blessed umami. It doesnât physically hold together, reallyâI had to eat a lot of the ingredients a la carteâbut the coffee in the mayo made the flavor open out like a mouth; the sandwich is now what I imagine the French to eat at "comme les americains" diners in posher districts of Paris. The âHipsterâ ($3.50) is a bit less successfulâan all-too-meaty beefsteak tomato overpowered a fine hazelnut romescoâbut at that price itâs a bit like critiquing the bacon at the Marathon Tavern. A sesame âbagel ballâ ($2.50) hid a mound of soft mozzarella within, for a sort of sidelong novelty, while a sweet marionberry breakfast pastry ($2.50) was as dense and filling as quiche. Now, if theyâd only serve some waffles. I want to see how posh French people would eat waffles. And I want them to be $4.