The defining moment of our trip to the Gateway Breakfast House was the arrival of my friend Tom's pancakes. I've eaten in more than my share of Portland restaurants, and I've never seen a table let out a collective gasp like the one generated by those pancakes. It was part awe, part humor, and part fear. Tom looked like he had walked into a pickup basketball game and found out he was guarding Shaquille O'Neal.
There were three pancakes, as big as the plate, and it seemed like they were eight inches tall. It was like seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time. And they were heavy. We actually passed them around the table, with jokes like "Well, it's a heavy plate," as if we were describing a fat person as "big boned." Diana said they were "pancakes you could sleep on," and when Tom cut somebody a portion he said, "White meat or dark meat?"
So, you get the idea. Very. Large. Portions. Seven of us each ordered something, we could have easily fed a dozen people, and the pre-tip bill was $53. They do breakfast the way J.K. Rowling writes books.
And at the end of the day, that's the main thing I remember about the place: I walked out of there feeling the way I used to feel when I was a freshman in college and went to the all-you-can-stand Mexican buffet after sharing a joint on the way over.
The Gateway used to be a Chinese place and a donut shop (presumably not at the same time), so the architecture isn't much of a turn-on – thought its slight oddness hardly stands out in the Gateway district. (The first description I heard of this place, from my dedicated breakfast spotter Linda, was "strange-looking place with a huge line.")
You sit down to a cup of coffee in those truck-stop brown mugs and water in plastic cups – every one of which, in defiance of the laws of physics, has a chip in it. You read the menu and notice they have both hamburger steaks and hamburger patties (at which point you know you're not in for an exotic meal). They have a ribeye and three eggs which is described as "seasoned." Ketchup, Tabasco, and Darigold creamers all adorn the table.
Hanging from the ceiling are about two dozen large, white orbs of different sizes, some of them lights, in a pattern that suggests a bizarro solar system – or, as Leslie put it, "The molecular structure of fat."
Her thought seemed reasonable when my pork chop and eggs special arrived. That would be the two large pork chops, three eggs, a half-plate of hashbrowns, and four pieces of toast. The omelets look like they have six eggs in them. The waitress said two or three times a year one person eats the whole pancake order. It's like they're trying to kill you with food.
Consider, for example, the country breakfast. You get a pancake or French toast or a waffle or toast or biscuits and gravy. AND you get two eggs, hashbrowns, bacon or links. AND you get a choice of one pork chop or ham or sausage or pastrami or chicken fried steak. For, like, seven bucks. I think the next time I go on a backpack trip I'll just eat at Gateway on the way out of town and nosh on the leftovers the rest of the weekend.
All in all, we had a good time; good friends, big portions and cheap prices will do that. The world o' pancakes (my term), for example, was only $4.75. The staff was friendly and attentive, and they volunteered to let us pay separately at the register. (Even our check was about four pages.) One of our friends was late, and not only did they hustle his order to the front of an insanely busy kitchen, but they kept coming by to check on him and tell him it wouldn't be long. I think he was glad he showed up late.
We saw kids and old folks and families and loners and regulars and everything. And now I know why they always have a line outside this place: they feed the hell out of you!
Gateway Breakfast House
Address: 11411 NE Halsey St
Hours: Mon-Sat 6:30 to 3, Sun 7:30-3
Payment: Cash and cards
Large groups? Yes, but it will take a while on weekends. Send somebody early.
Wait: Up to 30 minutes on weekends
Price Range (typical meal with coffee and tip): $8
Coffee: Standard diner, in one of those brown mugs
Other drinks: The usual
Feel: Family/Regulars/Mildly Goofy
Seating: About 50
Changes/Substitutions: Just tell 'em what you want!
Portion Size: Shock and awe
Feel-goods: Do the by-the-pound price comparison!
Health Options: Can't imagine
In addition to being WWire's "Breakfast Guy," Paul Gerald is author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland, a travel writer, and a WW sports writer. Now he's writing a book called Breakfast in Bridgetown, which he will publish in 2007. He's got a working list of about 140 places, and he'll be sharing his finds with us often.