There are few coffee roasters in town that offer a full-fledged food menu, with most sticking to the requisite pastry case. And—with the exception of Proud Mary, which traveled all the way from Australia to spread the gospel of full-service coffee and comprehensive brunch to Portland’s scene earlier this year—almost no one steps up beyond avocado toasts and turkey sandwiches. But as of this summer, Water Avenue Coffee, the eight-year-old Southeast industrial roaster, is getting serious.
Tasked with the challenge: Jim Kavanaugh, a pastry alum from Genoa and Gruner (both closed), Tamara Edens (Grain & Gristle and Old Salt), and Beth Leppek (Washington’s The Willows Inn). Their menu hits all of Portland’s modern-day sweet spots: cocoa nib granola with preserves, a grain bowl with Gathering Together Farms veggies tossed in creamy lemon tahini, and an egg sandwich. That last item is a reliable highlight: a thick, griddled chorizo verde patty with herby aioli, parmesan, and a McMuffin-style egg puck.
On first taste, the larger plates still need R&D. The ambitious espresso mole arepas are a bit disjointed: tough purple masa cakes, spicy red chorizo, black beans, ripe plantains, and a sweet, bitter mole thickened with Water Ave’s own coffee. It’s a fine, hefty plate of food, but the sweet, salty, and bitter components never quite mesh.
Meanwhile, the sourdough and fruit hotcake leviathan needs to be shared by at least three eaters. A foot around, and close to two inches thick at its center, the sweet, fluffy dough is a solid breakfast platform. The toppings, however—which include an array of candied nuts, berry preserves, Bee Local honey, and vanilla whipped cream—have a cloyingly sweet, kitchen-sink effect.
And, if you're getting used to the hand-holding, plate-clearing front of house service at Proud Mary, be warned: this is not that. It’s still the busy, multi-use coffee shop where you bus your own table (although it’s easy to forget while sitting on the tiny, umbrella-covered sidewalk).
We don’t mind too much, though—Water Ave is still in its early days as a brunch spot. And besides, any place where you can drink your favorite just-roasted coffee and sit down to a proper meal is a major win in our book.