One of the things that makes Portland special is its cornucopia of unique, locally owned businesses. The city defies corporate homogenization with its quirky neighborhoods full of “funky” shops and homey restaurants with creative menus, cool decor and irreverent attitude. Fresno we ain’t. This is what endears Bridgetown to many a freethinker, but for me, well, it just gets kind of old sometimes.
Sure, in theory, I know it’s great to have a thriving local economy. It’s special, it’s important, and if I moved to Fresno I would miss it. However, if I’m going out to breakfast, I’m probably tired, hungry, cranky and not in the mood to be confronted with a grating sensory environment or hit over the head with politics. I just want to get some eggs, a comfy seat, maybe some coffee and a chance to ease into my morning.
One of the best breakfast experiences I’ve had lately was at the Eugene IHOP. The seating area was comfortable, clean and warm. My breakfast, ordered off the kids’ menu, was delicious, and there were five different kinds of syrup. I found myself wondering why more breakfast places in Portland aren’t this pleasant. I think it has something to do with a rejection of ideas like marketing or pleasing the customer as capitalistic, hierarchical and oppressive. It seems like in a city full of disgruntled artist/musician/service employees who spend time on both sides of the counter, the customers tend to be painfully apologetic and the servers act like they’re doing you a favor. On top of that, I am a finicky and irritable diner. The list of restaurants I can stand is short and excludes the “funky” breakfast joint a couple blocks from our apartment, so I’m always on the lookout for new decent places to eat.
The short list of restaurants I can stand includes Junior’s, Dots and Tiny’s Coffee, so I was sort of interested when a new breakfast place, Genies, was opened at 1101 S.E. Division St. by the same owners. However, when I rode by one day I saw it had annoying floor-to-ceiling windows with annoying hipsters on both sides of the glass, and it just seemed like too much of an annoying fishbowl scene. I initially wrote it off, but on a recent sunny weekend I relented.
The interior has a sort of no-atmosphere atmosphere with a refreshing absence of sad-eye paintings. A semi-enclosed back area with cozy booths provides relief from the exposing window-walls. The full bar in the back seems a little incongruous, but it’s reassuring to know you can get a sidecar with your pancakes if it’s that kind of morning. The customers surprisingly seemed like a bunch of squares, but maybe that’s because it was 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday. The music was on the mediocre side – Lilith Fair rock and ’70s folk – but at least it was easy to ignore and still appropriate for a restaurant.
The menu offered many of the standard fixtures you’d expect from an east-side restaurant – Odwalla orange juice ($1.50), Stumptown coffee ($1.50), a spinach/feta/artichoke heart/red bell pepper omelette (tofu or egg whites can be substituted for $1) – but the flavor and quality of the dishes was, in general, remarkably above-average. I ordered white chocolate chip and toasted hazelnut pancakes ($5.50), which I’d never seen anywhere else. The pancakes had a slightly dry, starchy texture, but this was easy to overlook in light of the incredible flavor and crunch the hazelnuts gave, which complemented the sweetness of the white chocolate. My dining companion had a scramble with spinach, red onions, cheddar cheese and some sort of fancy bacon ($7.25). It was a good combination of ingredients, and the eggs had a nice creamy texture, not dry and clumped together like scrambles tend to be. The scramble came with ridiculously savory potatoes O’Brien. They were perfectly spiced, and the onions and bell peppers were well cooked and incorporated into the uniformly browned potatoes, existing as more of a flavor than an obvious physical presence.
So, what can I say? Genies didn’t exactly produce a transcendent moment of dining euphoria, but the food was good, the service was friendly and timely, we weren’t seated by an open door, and we didn’t have to listen to Swedish black metal. Try as I might, I can’t find anything to complain about. Thumbs up.