Editor's Note

Why Do Portland Restaurants Pride Themselves on Inconvenience?

Not that we’ve got anything against secret prix fixe dinners served in the dishwashing station.

By Zach Dundas October 10, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

Pomo 1116 editors note illustration maze cgtibn

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.)

Zach Dundas
Editor in Chief

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