Archive for February, 2013

The Hazel Room

The Hazel Room
3279 SE Hawthorne
Portland, OR

Go through the widest door ever in an old repurposed house, turn left, and you’re in a quintessential* Portland coffeehouse. Turn right and you’re in a Etsy-like store selling fine arts products and clothing. They share a bathroom as well as a close connection, apparently. The coffeehouse, known as The Hazel Room, occupies the original living and dining room, and, as such, has dark woodwork, boxed ceilings in the dining room, an attractive bay window, a fireplace, and the original narrow oak flooring. The Hazel Room, the main seating area, has not been noticeably modified except for the installation of a sitting bar along the side wall (nice wood-and-metal stools) and facilities behind the counter. Old-style copper tiles brighten the walls in several places, while other walls are wallpapered. Because the fireplace has its stokers, I assume it is functional, but it wasn’t lit. Simple wooden tables surrounded by good fabric-seated antique wooden chairs contribute to the feeling that the place was set up with care, rather than thrown together to quickly join the bandwagon of coffee shops nowadays.  As a matter of fact, The Hazel Room is more than a coffee shop; they serve cocktails (!) and other alcoholic drinks and have a happy hour for that. They also serve soups, salads, and sandwiches, and have a weekend brunch. And tea, in teapots and fine (although ours was chipped) china!  All that was missing was the tea cozy!

* quintessentially Portland  means not run-of-the-mill, but quirky. The quirky determination is because of the  inclusion of alcohol per se and the use of teas in the alcoholic mixed  drinks.  Then there are the wall portraits, mostly of odd-looking people smoking.  One looked like a star in the contemporary TV program, Suits (The guy is an apprentice to a very rich lawyer, and a rising star in the firm, except that–surprise–he never went to law school, let alone the Harvard everyone assumes he attended. Is his presence in not one but two portraits meant to suggest something irreverant about Portland or its coffee shops?).

Fare:  Lots to choose from; as I said, they serve food, too. My drip coffee was $2.00 for the small size, and I had a “sea salt” chocolate chip cookie for $1. My companion was feeling adventurous, so ordered Earl Grey tea with lavender. The teapot was a pleasant surprise, but the salt in the cookie reminded me (slightly) of the time my young son, with the best of intentions, misread a teaspoon for a cup of salt, in one of his first forages into baking. No, the chocolate chip cookies here weren’t that extreme, but let’s just say that this seasalt business is an acquired taste! As far as other things on the menu: the descriptions sounded mouth-watering, and we noticed that food seemed fairly-priced. They do serve bacon and other meats, but who would expect a vegan place to have smoking pix on the walls?

Service and clientele: About 10 customers, all young and rather hipster. One was reading, one talking a foreign language into Skype, I suppose, and the rest busy on their laptops. Password WIFI. The server was friendly, even complimenting my necklace, but for some reason didn’t want us to stay on the stools by the counter; this seemed a tad rude. We relocated at a table, and were graciously brought our tea. Were we “outsiders” here in the heart of Hawthorne? Hawthorne was the name of my grammar school, for Christ’s sake!  Later, when I said to the woman in the next door shop that I overheard someone (the server who was busy when I wanted to find the bathroom) say that the entrance to the bathroom was in the back of the shop, the shop person said with a slight prickle, “You didn’t hear me say that” instead of telling me immediately how to approach it. I found both of these behaviors slightly odd; for that reason alone I felt somewhat uncomfortable, although I liked the place a lot otherwise.

Bathroom: Fine once you get to it. No provisions for infants; in fact, the place had no children’s area.

Rating:        3  (of 5 possible) coffee beans. Good place, generally, but a few misgivings.

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Anna Bannanas

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Anna Bannanas St Johns

8716  N  Lombard St.

Portland, OR

If you find yourself way up in N Portland looking for a coffee house, try Anna Bannanas along the main drag through St. John’s. It’s a quirky hipster kind of place, but then again, so is St. John’s.  Coffee’s fine, ambience is relaxed, and the chairs are comfy. The back door—where parking exists—has a big schmoozy banana identifying it outside, but it was a bit hard to know where the coffee shop was in the long b&w-checkered hallway (found it at the end and around the corner). The front is a regular old store front, with a recessed door and sidewalk windows. Pressed-metal tiles brighten the wide seating counter along one side, and the overstuffed chairs that backed up to it are new-looking, not old & used, as one might expect. Tables and chairs and a side bench completed the seating possibilities. An ornamental mirror enhanced the counter wall, and a brick wall opposite made Anna Bannanas cozy. Pictures covered the brick wall, and large 3-d stars and mini-lights lit the rest, along with hanging pendants. I was surprised to see a Pro-Obama sign (even though the election is long-past) and an old New Yorker Obama cartoon, as well as a recent New Yorker and New York Times. Guess they’re from NY?

Service and clientele: 5 of 7 other customers at the time had open laptops, and the other 2 were reading a newspaper and a textbook, with papers spread out all over the table. One could hear that proverbial pin drop because of the extreme silence! Under the quiet circumstances I felt inhibited about talking, but I’ll bet a couple kids would liven it up! I sincerely complimented their children’s area, which had lots of toys and a small castle-like wall. Apparently they really welcome babies; there even was a separate infant changing room. They didn’t rush customers, and the front sign indicated that folks should “have a cup of coffee and catch your breath”. I liked that.  Barrista had several colorful tats, was friendly, and gave permission for me to shoot “good” pictures. The pressure was on! (Of course, I told her that all my pictures are good.  It ain’t so, but she couldn’t dispute that, either.)
Fare: Small coffee was $1.50, and baked goods were sold for half-price, which meant $1.50 for a raspberry scone. There was a vast variety of other stuff, including bottled drinks and pre-packaged sandwiches in a cooler, and the typical latte-chai menu.

Bathroom: Way down that checkered hallway. Seems as if it would be quite convenient for any street people to use; usually there are keys or even tokens to discourage this. My companion reported that the bathroom was functional, but not particularly clean or interesting.

Rating: 3 (of 5 possible coffee beans).

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Cafe Rio Co.

 Note: I have back-burnered the blog recently, but have returned. The visit for this review was made shortly after Christmas; hence the holiday lights. Now it’s February. The hedgehog at the local zoo saw his shadow yesterday, supposedly foretelling 6 more weeks of winter here in Portland. Lots of time for coffee-shop sampling!

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Cafe Rio Co.

2190 W Burnside St., Portland OR

We discovered a friendly little place on the way back into Portland from the West hills, Café Rio Co. Tucked into the ground floor of an apartment building (with marble steps!), just off the sidewalk, the shop served inexpensive—but good–coffee and a host of sandwich fare. An older couple ran the place, looking and acting European, and the woman seemed as if she’d whip me up a pot of steaming borscht if I so desired. No time to call her bluff, however; I needed just a cup of coffee. I was warned about the step down as I entered, but, surveying the place, I realized I wouldn’t have fallen far—the place was very compact. One or two small tables, a larger red one in the front (for impassioned rallies and political discussions?), and two trim easy-chairs with small built-in side-tables and a fancy mural ( looking like a mirror) above them. Quite cute, the place, and all lit up towards the conclusion of this winter day.

Fare: Prices were right: just $1.00 for my coffee. They offer sandwiches,  soup, and eggs, which sounded quite good,  but are closer to current prices ($5-$8, mostly), and varied pastry.

Bathroom: A small place in the back hallway. A very narrow hallway for us not-so-skinny Americans. The room was dark and not new, with older exposed pipes and such, yet it was minimally functional.

Service and clientele: She said they get busy on weekdays. Probably also when they have those underground revolutionary meetings. Very friendly lady, and man grumpily ( I think he  simply was a curmudgeon, not really a grouch) told me to shoot pics of anything I wanted. What I really wanted was one of the happy couple holding a pot of borscht! I was asked to return, and I hope they’re not low on business.

Rating: 3.5 (of 5 coffee beans). I don’t live to pee (so no matter that the bathroom was small and dark): I live for decent cheap coffee in a comfortable place, and I found it!

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