Palio Espresso & Desserts

      1996 SE Ladd Av., Portland, OR

Palio Espresso & Desserts sits smack in the middle of the Ladd Addition of inner SE Portland, probably the oldest planned housing subdivision in the western US, with stately old elm trees and old mini-mansions flanking the streets. Wm.Ladd was a 19th-century mayor who owned 126 acres in E Portland. When E Portland was annexed to the city, he subdivided his land in his own special way. Wanting to mimic Washington D.C., he ran the streets diagonally to the usual N-S grid, rather like spokes out from a central garden, and his landscaper put small rose gardens in four diamonds at intersections in his diamond-grid. Ladd’s Addition becomes a quaint little enclave just S of the busy rag-a-tag Hawthorne Av. Palio’s has been around long enough to really settle into this unique neighborhood, and it is situated in an old building that was originally a grocery store. It has a definite classy feel to it, similar to an old European cafe.

The place is attractive inside and out, and with its plantings, it merges into the neighborhood. Inside is a beautiful mosaic stone floor, quality wood tables & chairs on the first floor. Beyond the service area is another entire room, which has tables and was—surprisingly—filled with men. Each had a laptop, and was working alone. Maybe 10-12 of them! I think this was a fluke, not that the room is exclusive to young men online. The room itself was not very interesting, and I was definitely outnumbered. I withdrew to the balcony several steps up on the far end of the place, a carpeted area with a wrought iron fence. Somewhat formal upholstered chairs are used for this upper section, and it has large bookshelves with adults’ books, children’s books, and games such as chess and checkers. A covered bench and table fill the center of this area. I felt relaxed as I overlooked customers who were very quietly reading or playing computer; this could have been an old library! Pleasant guitar-picking and mellow vocal music set a relaxed mood, helping with the lack of conversation.

Fare: I had a small coffee—in a warmed ceramic cup—for $2, and chose a day-old snickerdoodle for $1.25. Besides an assortment of pastries and desserts (tarts!), they had soup and a few other choices, plus the regular assortment of lattes and Italian sodas. Two men came in to buy one of their summer specialties, key lime pie. If only I had noticed the key lime! The desserts did seem a tad expensive, however. For that matter, so did the coffee.

Service and clientele: One young woman served everyone, and, although she had several customers while I was there, she managed to sit on a stool to eat her sandwich or croissant and drink. She was friendly and helpful, and I observed her directing customers to another establishment. Most clientele seemed to be from the area (in fact, were known by name), well-off, and orderly!

Hours: Apparently they are open until 11 p.m. (from 7 or 8 in the morning). Coffee anytime!

Bathroom: Oddball place, but sufficient except for lack of ventilation. This was very dark, with darkened stone mosaics (it only seemed that way), and an orange chandelier. A velvet curtain covered the hot water heater. Maybe vampires hung out in there? Too dark to see ‘em, if so.

Rating: 4 (of 5 coffee beans), despite the (scary?) bathroom