This past Sunday, Portland Monthly threw its fourth-annual Country Brunch, an epic mid-morning blowout that brought together a dozen local restaurants and Bloody Mary masters, 500-plus eaters, a Black Sabbath-covering honky-tonk band, and one truly adorable mini-horse at Northwest Portland’s chic Castaway space—all to benefit Zenger Farm’s new Urban Grange project. After taking a few days to recover, our staff regrouped to report what we learned about Portland’s chosen meal this year.
BRUNCH HAS GONE GLOBAL
Two of our favorite brunch dishes this year had a Middle Eastern flair: Levant’s za’atar-spiked biscuits smothered in merguez sausage gravy and Ya Hala’s potato canapes topped with sweet tomato marmalade, egg relish, and dynamite house-smoked lamb bacon. Tastebud anted up with wood-fired bagels topped with brisket or smoked trout; Daily in the Pearl charmed with gingery biscuits covered with fresh berries and whipped cream; and cart champ Fried Egg I’m in Love won hearts with fried egg, pesto, and sausage “Yolko Ono” breakfast sandwiches. Unexpectedly for such a meaty meal, it was Indian/Tex Mex operation The Sudra who ended up ruling the roost. The vegan/gluten free operation slayed all comers with a true comfort stunner: cinnamon-fennel-cardamom-perfumed black rice porridge topped with zingy ginger oat crumble. (In our recent roundup of Portland 10 Best New Brunches, I dubbed it the “Desi answer to oatmeal.”)
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE GARNISH
Country Brunch’s signature Bloody Mary Smackdown has always been a fierce competition, and this year’s six contestants flaunted Bloodies that ran the gamut from classic be-pickled sippers to breakfast booze soup. Interurban’s Hatch-chile infused Bloody (topped off with a splash of Tecate!) won plenty of admirers, but with only a paltry olive and New Mexican flag up top, it lacked strong garnish game. Instead, Raven & Rose bar ringer Dave Shenaut’s “Full Bloody Irish” won the Judge’s Award with a clever mix of local Hot Monkey pepper vodka, mescal, and nitro stout beer adorned with, literally, an entire Irish breakfast (that’d be a sautéed skewer of black and white pudding, potato fadge, gherkins, and pickled onion.) Not to be outdone, Doug Fir swaggered back to Castaway this year with the exact same sweet-and-salty, candied bacon topped Bloody that swept both the Judge’s Award and People’s Choice award in 2014. They emerged victorious again, nabbing the People’s Choice award and $400 in singles.
BRUNCH IS A PARTY IN MEAL FORM
This year’s brunch party quickly careened off the tables and into Castaway’s fanciful sculpture garden, as Sizzle Pie “pizza-bombed” the event with precarious towers of hot brunch pies while Crispin Cider constructed a giant cider tower. PoMo’s very own Poison Waters, decked out in red cowboy boots and a Dorothy-a-la-Oz petticoat, posed for photos with guests wearing creepy chicken masks and holding pitchforks while country warblers Hank Sinatra blasted through Merle Haggard and Black Sabbath. The undisputed highlight? An appearance from Portland’s answer to Little Sebastian—Squeakers the Mini Pony—who clomped around the compound like a diminutive, silky pelted prince among adoring, greasy-fingered commoners. All in all, it was a brunch bash to remember… or not. As I said, there were a lot of Bloody Marys.
Check out Portland Monthly’s huge, May tribute to Portland Brunch as well as step by step instructions on how to throw your own epic home brunch party—with recipes from our favorite breakfast chefs in town.