Why Do Portland Restaurants Pride Themselves on Inconvenience?
I had the day off on a random Tuesday, so I took myself to the popular indie/artisan brunch spot Chamomile (not its real name). In the heart of bustling MissAlberDivision, Chamomile draws big weekend crowds with its hand-sculpted organic biscuits and humanely conjured vegan gravy (not actual menu items). I dared hope that in the middle of a standard working day, a seat might be easy to come by.
Naive! I arrived to find the line spilling out the door. (This part is real.) I took my place among the multitude. Soon a Chamomile representative approached. “By yourself? Great! We can seat you in about 45 minutes. Food will probably be about an hour and a half. Grab some coffee and head outside. Shasta (not her name, or maybe it was?) will come find you.” Good thing I didn’t have anywhere to be. Then again, who, apparently, did?
Listen: I know free-and-easy is, like, the Portland brand. And I know our food scene is now great in part because we’re willing to seek out business lunches from tin-sided shanties, and pay three figures per head for secret prix fixes basically served in the dishwashing station. But lately I get the feeling that much of our dining scene is taking advantage.
It’s not just queuing up like it’s Novosibirsk circa 1984 for eggs Benedict. Inconvenience has come to be a feature—a selling point?—of Portland dining. Our proliferating pop-ups are super-fun unless you find yourself wanting to, you know, just go out to eat. Did you register via e-mail four months ago? Can you find the restaurant hidden inside another restaurant that’s a different restaurant tonight because there’s a chef takeover?
I thus now take joy in the fact that a very, very solid faction of the places we celebrate in our annual Best Restaurants feature are actual restaurant-type restaurants, with more or less regular hours and traditionally constructed menus. Not a majority, but a solid number. Perhaps the War on Convenience has reached a turning point; perhaps, we diners will soon thrill again to once-common helpful phrases, anywhere on the spectrum from “Right away, madam” to “Whaddya have, jack?”
Or, maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps we’re right to trade ease for brilliance. Because, yes, when I finally got my seat—and then, at a certain later point, my food—at Chamomile, it was amazing. (True story.)
Editor in Chief