Hotel restaurants are a funny thing. A couple of years ago, Doug Adams' spectacular run at it Imperial earned it our Restaurant of the Year nod, and made us think maybe hotel restaurants could be the next great wave in Portland food. Hotels have plenty of money to invest in star chefs and opulent decor. While hotel eateries were traditionally rather conservative, it seemed like a new generation was willing to be more daring.
It hasn't quite worked out that way. We've spent this month hitting four new downtown hotel restaurants. The best of the bunch, Jackrabbit, comes from a San Francisco celebuchef. One of the others we reviewed, Omerta, has already closed after just three months in business.
After three visits, I'm a fan of Crown. Partly this is just because it's exactly what downtown's main drag Broadway needs: a slice spot that's open late and has great cocktails. And partly its that Crown makes some very good junk food, which it counters with some respectable salads. There's nothing here that's much of a surprise, but Crown is also not trying to be anything it can't.
The main reason to go is the slices, from open to close. They're wide wedges a little thicker and cheesier than a classic New York slice, but with a crust that has a nice snap. The only issue we had was the timing—when you order a slice, you want it pretty much immediately, and we waited in our seats for about 10 minutes after ordering. Whether this is common practice or they decided to make us fresh pies rather than reheat the ones they had on the racks, I can't say. You can get a veggie with a side salad for $8 to $9, a classic lunch option that was needed in this area.
The second reason to go is the hulking yard-long party pies, called Al Metro, which will serve about 10. The classic cheese, pepperoni or Margherita is just $45, which is a late-night bargain if you've spent a long night with a group of friends at Bailey's or Mary's Club. Upgrading to a combo is $58, which is less of a bargain, but still a lot cheaper than feeding a big group elsewhere. I'd rather get the cheese pie and add on a salad (the $9 Greek is recommended, a shredded version with a nice punch from the sliced pepperoncini) and an order of the chicken bites ($9), which are battered in a seasoned mixture of buttermilk and flour, and served with ranch, pickles and Imperial hot sauce.
Be warned, though, that you're probably going to want something off the cocktail list. Imperial not-so-secretly remains one of the best bars downtown, and they've brought the same polish to the rotating drink menu here. I was most impressed with the Swipe Right ($10) a tequila drink balanced by peach and sour cranberry. After my first visit, I would have recommended the warm Banana Toddy ($8), which was gooey with banana and rum, but on the second visit it was made with way too much lemon, turning into a bizarre cacophony of sweet and sour.
Also be warned that the whole round pies can get a little soggy in the middle thanks to all that cheese. Our marinara-less magic mushroom ($16 small, $22 large) was bathed in bechemel, and ended up tough to eat without a fork. A pepperoni pie had the same problem.
But the next time I'm at Crown, I won't be getting a whole pie. The slices are where it's at—on a paper plate, so you can eat them while waiting for a Lyft home after a nice night out downtown or seated at the bar with a nightcap.