For as many lauded coffee shops, brunch spots and craft cocktail bars there are in Portland, it's still baffling how little success few restaurateurs have had in offering a reliable combination of the three.
Plenty of bars offer breakfast, but caffeination is often relegated to drip coffee from a scaly Bunn pot—or, if you're lucky, an espresso machine that hasn't been back-flushed since Obama's first term. Then there are places like Jam and Tasty n Sons, neither of which are amenable to any kind of long-term loitering.
With its new location on North Williams Avenue, Either/Or aims to fix this. The DNA of Ro Tam's precious Sellwood shop is visible upon entry, via counter service and a spread of beans from Heart, Camber and Terrain. But just past the La Marzocco machine is a bar made of wood reclaimed from the previous tenant, deep-green walls and plush pearl-colored booths. The bright monochromatic hue of the modern third-wave shop has been traded for the shabby splendor found at Expatriate or on the covers of Blood Orange records, resulting in a casual, anything-goes vibe that pairs well with Either/Or's generous hours and two-tiered menu.
Breakfast is served until 3 pm, and revolves around former Fenrir chef Ian Wilson's global street food-inspired takes on a standard starch-plus-protein formula. The ham, butter and Dijon baguette sandwich is a hearty, no-fuss take on the French breakfast staple, and its $7 price tag is commendable considering the ascendant prices in the neighborhood.
The clear winner in the morning is the Chinese Sausage Bowl ($10), a sweet and salty pile of hangover-crushing kimchi, rice, bok choy, soft-boiled egg and tangy bits of Chinese sausage with a snappy, jerkylike exterior and a soft, meaty inside. Both pair well with a cappuccino or "the Coke Brew"—a chalice filled with crushed ice, Mexican Coke and cold brew that's essentially a cheeky barista's riff on the Adios Motherfucker—but the best coffee drink on a hot summer day is the off-menu cold brew slushie ($10), which combines cold brew, Bacardi 151, Irish cream and a housemade cinnamon syrup for the most chillingly potent cocktail you'll find anywhere this summer.
The food menu then shifts from breakfast plates to bar classics like burgers and nachos ($10 each), the latter offering a generous heap of chorizo for an extra $2. Meanwhile, the cocktail menu transitions from bright booze-and-citrus concoctions to proper experiments in mixology.
Tam is already adept with balanced beverages through her brand Tanglewood, and the home-brewed sodas and chais she's offered in Sellwood make an appearance here by way of the Bittersweet (tequila, Tanglewood honey grapefruit soda, Campari and lime; $11) and the Dirty Chai (black strap rum, cold brew, Tanglewood chai, cream). In the latter, the balance of bitter spice, creamy texture and the pungent finish of rum is a wonderful achievement in crossing over from coffee into the crowded world of craft spirits, and it bodes well for Either/Or's future as a proper bar rather than just a coffee shop with a drinking problem.
One might consider counter service a potential stumbling block if Either/Or gets packed during brunch service or weekend nights, when the DJ booth is churning out vintage soul and funk music. But such an ambitious hybrid of drinking and dining wasn't likely to achieve greatness without a few hiccups along the way. Itinerant brunchers spurned by the wait at Tasty n Sons are likely to be perplexed at first, but the business's presumed target market—casual consumers content to dig in for a few hours while noshing on small plates, gulping down coffee and ending their stay with a cocktail or two—will appreciate not having to turn down offers for a top-off of their mug every 10 minutes from servers who've run out of side work to attend to.
Shoehorning the best parts of Portland's most popular establishments into one is certainly a gamble. But Either/Or's attempt at doing a little bit of everything just right is paying off handsomely thus far.
EAT: Either/Or, 4003 N Williams Ave., eitherorpdx.com. 7 am-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 7 am-1 am Friday-Saturday.