I love diner food, simple dishes executed well, so on vacation — no surprise — I manage to find time to hit a place or two that satisfies that craving. My week in Portland, I had the inside scoop on one such place.
The Byways Cafe has a throwback feel to it, and it’s popular with locals and tourists alike. My friend Alisha works the room a few times a week, so naturally I had to stop by, sit at the counter, and watch her run the joint at breakfast.
Coffee is of course the first order of business, even if breakfast is an 11:00 affair. Mugs are pretty much what you might find in any rummage sale or thrift store; from the looks of the ones around me at the counter, they range from touristy souvenirs to old jokes, like mine. The coffee itself was excellent, and of course Alisha refilled me early and often.
As its name vaguely suggests, Byways is a throwback to mid-century, nostalgic for the driving Americans on vacation, buying kitsch, and keeping roadside restaurants and landmark businesses thriving. An awful lot of the relics of that era festoons every wall at the Cafe.
In addition to a dozen named omelettes — sure, there’s a Denver, but there’s also a Space Needle, a Redwood, a Pikes Peak; why would you settle for boring? — there’s diner breakfast staples, like biscuits and gravy, or for about the same price, corned-beef hash. I chose the Mt. Rushmore hash because, well, it had everything I could ever want, plus an egg (I chose poached) on top!
A massive pile of fred potatoes, tossed with corned beef, green bell pepper, onions, cheddar cheese, and that poached egg perched on top. Also note the cheese curtain left on the plate. Breakfast is awesome.
All those glorious breakfast foods mixed together, piping hot, with an aroma that made my mouth water. Time to dig in!
This would be a properly-poached egg, something I can’t do well on my own, so I tend to order it when out. Because I’m weird, I also tend to leave my egg till about midway through whatever other items are joining it for breakfast.
You might be surprised to learn that I loved this dish. It seems in Portland breakfast is a little more New York prices than the rest of the day’s meals, but frankly, I was presented with so much food every morning that there’s no way to complain about that. The potatoes were fried nearly perfectly, with a bit of crispiness on the outside and a fluffy interior. The peppers and corned beef didn’t spend too much time cooking, so they retained some structural integrity. And of course cheese makes everything better. I joined the clean plate club rapidly and enthusiastically.
Alisha touted the scones, so naturally I took her up on the offer. Anything to keep the coffee flowing! This gargantuan beast was heated a little bit, and warm raspberry jam never hurt anyone — especially at breakfast.
Warm, this was quite interesting. It wasn’t simply regular flour; I think it had a significant amount of buckwheat, or maybe just molasses, in the batter. At any rate, it tasted very good, though it was way too big after that plate of corned-beef hash. I say this only because it took a long time to eat, so it was a touch on the dry side as it cooled. But that’s what coffee is for.
As you can tell, I certainly enjoyed Byways Cafe. At no point during my hour or so in the restaurant did any of the staff get a chance to catch their breath. The Cafe fills up early and nearly always has a line at the door till they close after lunch service, but no one’s rushed out the door. It’s a friendly place, it’s popular, and the food’s worth seeking out — what more could you ask for?