Portland: Proud Mary

Proud Mary came all the way from Melbourne, AU to set up shop in Portland this past June, and we’re very glad they’re here. Owner Nolan Hirte had a mission to deliver a different model of coffee shop/cafe service here, more akin to that of a restaurant with table service, and so far he and the rest of Proud Mary’s staff is realizing that mission.

Although Proud Mary is known for its high-end coffee culture, having worked doggedly and directly for years with coffee families and communities to bridge the gap between farmer and consumer, and although they’ve won every coveted coffee roaster award there is to win in Australia, here in Portland they’re also dishing up elite level breakfast and brunch fare.  If you’re looking for delicious food (that also looks stunningly beautiful) in a laid back, friendly and bustling place, and are up for hanging with the other hungry throngs of Portlanders young and old, head to Proud Mary.

One of the things you notice when you walk into Proud Mary is the sunny disposition of the staff. There are no deathly serious or bad attitudes here and you feel welcomed the moment you step past the door and into the airy, industrial style space.  And although Proud Mary has some serious coffee, they also offer fine teas and chocolate drinks as well.  But let’s talk about the food.

Proud Mary is an industrious and DIY gang.  They roll their own oats, and make their own curd, yogurt and cheese in-house.  They even make their own kombucha and fermented kefir drinks.

Notably, you may or may not be aware that the now nearly ubiquitous avocado toast originated in Australia, so not surprisingly, Proud Mary offers one for the ages.

Not slacking in this department, Proud Mary’s version features avocado marinated in lemon, served atop sprouted grain sourdough toast, and finished with shaved green tomato, kelp sea salt, dried tomato flakes and sprouted almonds.  No matter how wildly delicious the toppings are, though, if the avocado isn’t good, the whole thing isn’t good.   The actual avocado was so buttery and delicious at Proud Mary, that this was the first time I felt close to my Southern California homeland.

If you’re not in the mood for avocado, then how about a little breakfast sashimi, with Oregon coast sashimi grade fish, soft egg, anise yolk, Aleppo chilli, heirloom carrot and fennel.  Also available if you’re not feeling fancy, is straight up house smoked trout, or basic eggs and bacon.

One of the more creative breakfast options I’ve seen recently at a restaurant was Proud Mary’s asparagus and parmesan pudding, with grilled asparagus, soft parmesan pudding, grilled corn bread, and a poached free-range egg.  It was pretty special.

Another outstanding savory option is the potato hash, featuring a perfectly rectangular and uniformly thick hash brown patty topped with smoked carlton farm bacon, poached egg, kale salad and bagna cauda sauce (traditional Italian sauce of garlic, anchovy and cream/butter). The bacon in this dish, which is made in house, was more like a skinny and crisped piece of pork belly and was the best bacon I’ve ever eaten.

Also unique and very satisfying was the “caulitown,” a nice dish of warm spiced cauliflower, dahl puree, pickled onions, tahini, toasted sesame and cilantro.

If you veer towards a sweet tooth rather than savory for breakfast, Proud Mary has plenty of options for you.  The pastry case pastry case carries everything from to-go breakfast sandwiches to white chocolate covered truffles, “trail balls,” multi-chocolate chip cookies and carrot cake muffins.

As for entrees, my dining companion’s favorite breakfast of his life so far was Proud Mary’s Banana Bostock, with grilled brioche, hazelnut frangipane, chewy banana caramel, and vanilla crème fraiche.

Further down sweet street was the giant vanilla ricotta hotcake with sticky macerated berries, lemon curd cream and a cinnamon cookie meringue.  This was the beauty pageant winner.

The other wonderful sweet option is the “muesli” of peach and apple soaked oats with peaches, tofu parfait and seed crunch.  This dish I had one sleepy Monday for breakfast at 7 a.m. and it kept me full all day until dinner.

For those of us who can’t commit to menu items the way they appear, you can make your own by mixing and matching sides of just about everything.  The house made bacon is always worth considering as a side.

I have eaten a lot of brunches in Portland since moving here, and I can say with ease that Proud Mary has left me with the most happy memories.  Obviously, the food I’ve had at Proud Mary has been delicious and unforgettable, but it’s the hospitality here that stood out as being world class.  It’s absolutely professional, but not stuffy in the least and you’ll never feel rushed or forgotten.  The staff are not a glum lot.  Nate, the gracious owner, took the time one morning when I was dining alone to come over and talk to me (totally unsolicited) about a particular coffee farm whose beans he’d just debuted.  He and his family and mates did the build-out of the café with their own bare hands, including his mother upholstering those fabulously photogenic blue stools.

All of this said, Proud Mary is enjoying somewhat of a hot honeymoon with Portland right now, so if and when you do go, your best option would be either when the industrial wall/door rolls up at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays) or just before they close at about 2 – 3 p.m.  Luckily Proud Mary is located on Alberta street with plenty of window shopping and other passing-time options if the need arises.

 

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