We displaced Southerners are picky when it comes to restaurants claiming to serve down home food. We have grown to expect tasteless grits, chewy biscuits, and unsweetened iced tea when we leave the red clay states, and we groan at the very mention of “nouvelle Southern” in association with a dining establishment. I have found only two good biscuits since I’ve been in Oregon, and I had high hopes for Screen Door, at 24th and Burnside. Run by a couple from Louisiana, with a kitchen headed up by a chef who has worked at two solidly rockstar Portland restaurants, they focus on Southern food made as much as possible with local organic ingredients. This is a good start.
The space is made to look as though it is effortlessly, breezily decorated, but designer elements creep in. Artfully arranged Mason jars full of pickles and preserves, a tidy paint job, slightly scruffy chairs that all match. It’s comfortable, though, while avoiding pitfalls of being gimmicky (our tea didn’t come served in those Mason jars, thank god) and the two bottles of hot sauce on each table remind us that we are in the territory of Louisianans. My two friends and I poured over the menu, unable to decide on only one dish per person. So we gave in.
Zeke ordered the strawberry blintzes. He called them watery; I called them not-overly-rich. The cheese was lightly sweetened, the texture of the crepe gave in to everything else on the plate, and the strawberries were held gently in a simple syrup.
Sarah got the veggie hash – potatoes, peppers, asparagus, onions, Parmesan. She loved the asparagus and I thought the Parmesan pulled everything together very well. In the end, though, we agreed that a hash is a hash, and she wished she’d gotten the grits.
I did get the grits. These were the highlight of brunch. I’ve heard way too many people say, “Ugh. Grits,” and every time I hear such malice towards cornmeal I want to carry around a little container of good grits, made with sufficient salt, butter, and cheese or brown sugar, not only to prove these people wrong but to show them that there’s a reason we Southerners have formed a minor religion surrounding corn mush. If you learn anything from this blog, let it be this: grits are more than cornmeal and water. Those at Screen Door understand this – what arrived was a plate of silky, cheddar-laced buttery grits, topped with grilled tomatoes, spinach, fantastic caramelized onions, and Provolone. And it was two meals in a plate – I just ate the rest of it for dinner.
Their yeasted waffle is better than good, but it’s not mind-blowing – the yeast is a little overpowering, but the texture is fantastic, rich enough to make butter unnecessary and maple syrup a nice complement. It’s garnished simply with powdered sugar and an orange slice that is a pleasant finisher.
The biscuits. Man. I wanted them to be so much better, especially after grits and sweet tea that pass my stringent tests, but they were a little dry at the beginning, gummy in the mouth, and they had a baking powder aftertaste. What does win, though, is the veggie gravy. I know, it looks unappetizing to say the least, but it is wonderfully dense with black pepper and mushrooms, TVP providing an unnecessary but not unwelcome texture.
This was my second visit to Screen Door – Zeke and Sarah’s first – and I know I’ll be back, as will many Portlanders. It’s been at least a 20-minute wait each time, which is not uncommon for Portland breakfast spots, but I include this in my list of Portland breakfast spots that are worth the wait. It’s a big step above “dependable” and while I’ll always miss places like Sunny Point and Tupelo Honey in Asheville, this is still very worthy Southern food.
2337 E Burnside
dinner during the week, breakfast Sat-Sun 9-2:30