What do you do when you bike 30+ miles through the rain the evening before and then wake up to forsythia sunlight streaming in through the window?
Hello? Get up, get dressed, and get out on the bikes all over again.
And what about breakfast? My Danish grandmother had a knack for shaping the very air around her into cozy and comfortable shapes. My Danish college roommate taught me the word hyggelig. Here in southeast Portland there’s the Broder Café – a Scandinavian breakfast hotspot. Long lines to get in, says They. But worth a try, says I. Sounds good to me, says he.
And after all, it was on the way to our only must-be-done of the day. Taking the Oma into Clever Cycles for her 30-day check-up.
The city is always a few degrees warmer than the outlying countryside. Enough warmer that Spring feels a little more welcome here, arrives a little more early. We slipped out into a lovely blue-skied morning, rolling along quiet streets beneath pink and white blossoms. Daffodils and purple crocus in clumps around silver trunks or sprouting up through the grass. And at least as many cyclists as cars that time of the morning.
At 9:03 there was no line at Broder. We tied up the bikes, a little curious at the empty U-locks chained to the bike racks. The locks were still locked. We wondered if even bike thieves here in Portland were mellow – leaving the lock behind out of a kind of fuzzy courtesy.
Broder had no line, but the restaurant was full. They had only been open 5 minutes. “We could seat you at the bar?” said the headwaiter, worriedly, as if expecting us to complain. Complain? With front row seats for the open kitchen action?
While we watched, the cook kept up a constant easy rhythm – rock back, a lightning double-scoop of batter, rock forward, deposit batter in the aebelskiver iron. He cracked eggs, one two, the shells arcing into a bucket a few feet away. A squirt of heavy cream into the eggs in their little square pans. Sprinkling of mushrooms, ham chunks, onions. Different combinations. Sliding each cast-iron square into the deep oven, one after the other.
Muscled arms, intricately tattooed, never stopped moving. He scooped out potato pancake batter, turned them when nicely browned, patting the thick disks a little more flat. Browned half a baked apple on the grill. Another batch of potato pancakes. And scraped a sizzling pile of grated potatoes with plenty of colorful additions, flipping them over, piling them onto a plate. More aebelskivers, browned first on one side and then the other as they puffed up round and golden. Slid them into the oven. More aebelskivers taken out and powdered with sugar.
On the fan hood above the stove were seven or eight orders written in a coded scrawl, then three or four more. And everything smelled heavenly.
When a new waiter came up for our order, we realized we hadn’t even begun reading the menu. But when the headwaiter came around again we were ready. He seemed less than surprised to hear, “We’d like to split an order of the aebelskivers.” Everyone seems to order aebelskivers, aka Danish pancakes, enticingly round and browned.
– which were tasty enough with lemon curd and lingonberry jam, though maybe a little too sweet for this time of day.
But the waiter nodded approvingly as he wrote down the code for, “Scramble with wild mushrooms and carmelized onions.” And on the side? He nodded again, as at a right answer, writing his code for, “Sautéed greens.”
– which came with walnut bread. Deeply satisfying without heaviness. The greens bright and tangy and the eggs light and moist and perfectly seasoned.
As for my husband? “Breakfast Sandwich.”
– with duroc ham, gruyère, marjoram cream and tomatoes, topped with baked eggs.
“Good choices,” said the waiter. And once they were placed before us, steaming and savory, we had to agree.
We chatted with the cook when he took a quick breather. He’d learn to cook first while working for a sorority in college. “I had to finish up in business first for my parents. Then at the Culinary Institute here in Portland.” He keeps up this pace from 6 to 5 – as in A.M. to P.M. ? Could we have heard him right?
“A.M. to P.M.” he grins.
Outside, the line is forming up already. The wait staff are consistently pleasant with each other and with all of us. The customers sit back, talking and nodding at one another, fed on more than one level.
“Thank you. Good bye,” the headwaiter beams on us as we leave as he surely does on everyone. Our bikes are waiting where we left them and while we unlock them we talk to a young couple walking their neighbors’ dog. They’re dogwatching. She’s a pit bull, but sweet. “You can’t even get her to attack – though she goes through those little chew toys like nobody’s business.” A younger waiter steps out to call in the next party who have signed themselves in on the register.
The morning is still fresh and waiting.
We bike down Clinton Street taking in the sun and the spring blossoms, admiring the community garden. One guy is out there already, tending his plot. He gestures to show us the stretch of his agriculture. A thick band of daffodils crowd up all along the curving length of fence. How many garden plots? 20? 30? Most of them already offering early lettuce or curly pea-tendrils.
Portland in the morning on two wheels in the spring – what could be more civilized?