Cameo Cafe

 

NE 82nd Ave & Sandy

 

Head north on SE 82nd Ave. to where the hustle and bustle of businesses and car dealerships start to dissipate, and you are reminded that 82nd Ave is one way to get to the PDX International Airport. This portion of the arterial is dotted with many motels, and I wonder whether this is mostly because of the airport or because of certain illicit activities you can conduct in that area. One motel stands out—the Cameo Motel, and next to it is a true Portland breakfast gem—the Cameo Café.

When Casey and I arrived around 9:30 AM, there was a small wait, and some people opted to sit on the patio to reduce the wait. Generally you never have to wait for a table at the Cameo Café, the staff works extremely expeditiously to turn tables over. Coffee came almost instantly upon ordering, and Casey ordered eggs benedict while I ordered Sue Gee’s Pindetokk, which comes with breakfast fixings of sausage, eggs, and their Strong Bread toast points.

There are two Cameo Cafes, this one and another at a Vancouver, WA golf course. Their website states their food to be “American Fare with a Korean Twist” and I’d say that is accurate. The website doesn’t describe the Portland location at all, which is a shame because the physical space is not to be missed. At the entrance, faded photos of owner Sue Gee and her friends, including her connections at the Miss Oregon pageant, line the doorframe. 50’s diner tables and counter tops are paired with wrought iron chairs that remind you of a Parisian Secret Garden. Decorations and tchotchkes adorn the wall with no cohesive purpose, and a table in front of the checkout counter is there simply to display the accomplishments of family members. When you go, I’m sure that you will notice something that I’ve never noticed. The space is a blend of diner and grandma’s house in a way that is downright charming and can never be replicated.

IMG_4293
The entrance of the cafe

While waiting for food, I observed the servers and cooks working. You can tell they have been working there for a while because they work together in perfect harmony. Each table is not really assigned with a server, rather, all the servers wait on you as the need arises. It’s such a small space that I think all of the servers stopped by our table at some point. Casey says that they are the biggest coffee pushers in terms of brunch places; his coffee never gets below the halfway point before it’s topped off. The servers maneuver the space with such expertise. They swivel in and out of treacherous corners and furniture with plates of perfectly crisp long bacons and hot coffee pots (and no one gets injured, not even the bacon).

Finally, our food came. Massive plates of food. I got the Pindetokk, one of the menu offerings that has the Korean twist they spoke of. The pindetokk is a savory pancake filled with sautéed vegetables like zucchini, carrots, and cabbage. It comes with a spicy soy sauce that you can pour over. It reminds me of the Japanese okonomiyaki. I enjoyed the pindetokk but could only eat half of it because it is pretty dense. Casey’s eggs benedict was excellent, particularly the quality of the eggs that they used. I had a bite and it was a very pillowy, succulent bite. I also love their homemade Strong Bread, which tastes amazing with the jam they have, which also looks to be homemade. The condiment game on each table is excellent, with homemade jam, hot sauce that is like a runny sriracha and drapes well on eggs, individual cream packets that are so quintessentially diner-esque, and maple syrup that is branded with their logo.

Their portions are huge and justify the price (most things are over $10). Next time, I want to try their Belgian waffles or their pancakes, which come in “acre” sizes and are appropriate for their real-life sizes. Whatever you order, you can’t go wrong, but I am always intrigued by the Korean-infused breakfast foods. Other ones I’ve tried like kim chee hashbrowns and Bulgogi short ribs with eggs have been so good. No matter what you order, you always leave feeling warmed by the fast, friendly service and owner Sue Gee’s presence—both her physical presence (she usually walks around and says hi) and in the quality of the food.

Takeaways:

  • Food portions that justify the price

  • Comfort flavors, both American and Korean, done well

  • Fast and attentive service

  • Discovering something truly authentic

 

 

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