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Restaurant Review: Portland Penny Diner

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Restaurant Review: Portland Penny Diner

Kimberly and Vitaly Paley, excited to unveil their latest endeavor.

Joshua Liberles

The Paleys' Third Place Targets Americana and Reasonable Rates

The Portland Penny Diner has officially opened its doors, and Vitaly Paley has suddenly gone from owning one Portland restaurant -- Paley's Place on NW 21st -- to three. Paley's other recent addition is Imperial, located just two doors down from the Portland Penny Diner and directly across the Hotel Lucia lobby on SW Broadway. It's not hard to find -- just look for the huge spinning penny at the corner of SW Stark and SW Broadway.

Although Paley originally hails from Kiev, his restaurant's cuisine reflected his adopted surroundings -- he has triumphed "eating local" and focuses on locally sourced, organic ingredients. In 2005 Paley's efforts earned him the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Northwest and his recipes are regularly featured in books and magazines, including The Paley's Place Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Pacific Northwest that he published with his wife and business partner, Kimberly Paley.

Background and New Directions

The Portland Diner's Brandon Wise skillfully serves up creative cocktails and new takes on old-timey soda fountain drinks, with a smile.

Joshua Liberles

Vitaly Paley's name has been at the forefront of Portland's foodie scene for going on two decades. When Paley moved his culinary skills from New York City to Portland, Oregon, in 1994, and opened his now-famous and much revered Paley's Place, he brought notoriety both to himself and to the burgeoning Portland food scene. That restaurant consistently ranks among the best in the Northwest -- and the country. And although Paley's Place only seats 50, it took about 17 years before he was ready to expand. Imperial came first, opening in September 2012 with a focus on fine dining with many creations coming from the restaurant's wood fire grill and rotisserie (and the cocktails are not to be missed).

While the Paleys' first two restaurants cater to a relatively upscale clientele, with dinner entrees often running $30 and up, the vibe at the Portland Penny Diner is decidedly different, as the name implies. Americana is on display, with a little dressing up. The Diner opens early on weekdays -- 7 a.m. -- and a $4 breakfast sandwich dubbed "the Hipster" is a steal -- and delicious -- with egg, tomato, pepper jack cheese and a hazelnut romesco sauce. Some offerings are typical diner fare -- although excellenty done, such as the sticky buns -- while others get more experimental, such as the Reuben croissant.

Several of the staples on the lunch/dinner menu regionalize international cuisine by serving them over Indian frybread. The Bunme is a play on Veitnamese bahn mi sandwiches and blends grass-fed beef with pickle slaw, spicy mayonnaise and cilantro, while the delicious Ya-Ya brings perfectly-crafted falafel together with frybread, adding raita, lettuce, tomato and harrisa (hot chili sauce) along for the ride.

Pickled eggs are a standard from a bygone era, but here they're quail eggs. It doesn't get much more classic than a hot dog or bologna, but at Portland Penny the former is homemade and smoked in house with chile and cheddar cheese and served in the Stan with grilled onions and sauerkraut, and the latter is made from duck and served in the PDWT with sauerkraut, a fried egg and a spicy coffee mayonnaise.

The Mikey -- a gourmet patty melt on rye with melted cheese, sautéed onions, a homemade relish, Podnah's Pit mustard sauce and a cheddar crust on the bread -- and the Lil' Elvis sandwich -- peanut butter, marionberry jam, fostered banana, milk chocolate and crispy bacon mix sweet and savory between Grand Central Bakery white bread -- were among the fan faves at the pre-opening party I attended. The spiced crispy chicken oysters (only served Friday and Saturday nights) were disappearing by the handful and to rave reviews.

Also racking up the "oohs" and "aaahs!" were bar manager Brandon Wise's cocktail creations. The drink menu has a soda fountain theme, complete with both boozy and virginal egg creams, traditional custom-mixed sodas and several twists on winter warmers. Wise, a celebrated drink creator, also serves as bar manager of the neighboring Imperial, and before that was the on-point cocktail man at Irving Street Kitchen and Beaker & Flask. While his menu standards are excellent -- I've been fortunate enough to have sampled several, including the festive Equinox (rye, becherovka, allspice dram, egg, nutmeg; $8) and sharp 100 Pennies (bourbon, averna, lime, ginger beer; $8) -- if you manage to belly up opposite Wise on a not-too-busy night, volunteer yourself for a cocktail tour and let him be your guide, navigating your through, and perhaps off of, the map.

While at the preview party the night before the restaurant officially opened its doors, I had the chance both to sample many of the restaurant's dishes as well as to chat with Kimberly Paley about the couple's inspiration.

"This is Vitaly's chance to really have fun with cooking. He doesn't feel any pressure here to try to be trendy -- he and Ben [Bettinger, a protege of Paley who is the Diner's executive chef] are combining flavors and cooking things that they want to eat," said Kimberly Paley. "We want this place to have a gritty vibe. You order at the counter; in the back, there's just rows of stools and informal seating, and it's self-bussing."

"The same philosophy carries over to the drinks," she continued. "My mom drank egg creams; I'll always drink egg creams! We're focusing on timeless foods."

Portland Penny Diner Breakdown

Pros:

  • Sample a legendary chef's creations without breaking the bank.

  • Nostalgia blends with creativity in exciting fashion.

  • The drinks -- both alcoholic and not -- are worth a visit themselves.

  • Be on the lookout for the daily Penny Pincher hot plate specials!

Cons:

  • "Gritty" ambience isn't for everybody.

  • Vegetarians have scant choices -- even the spicy vermicelli noodle salad has a fish sauce.

The Portland Penny Diner Basics:

  • The Portland Penny Diner is located at 410 SW Broadway in the heart of the downtown hotel district, near Pioneer Courthouse Square.

  • Phone: 503-228-7222

  • Website: portlandpennydiner.com

  • Cuisine: A mix of revamped American classics and international faves.

  • Average tab per diner: $10-15

  • Drinks: The old-timey soda fountain drinks inspire many of the cocktail creations as well.

  • Hours: Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday, 7 a.m.-1 a.m.; Saturday, 7 p.m.-1 a.m.; Closed Sunday

  • All major credit cards accepted

User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 1 out of 5
Veggie, Member JackieVan1

How about a few more veggie dishes, I can find Sin Carne in the middle of Bolivia where only the botanist and biologist eat, but not on Broadways newest restaurant

0 out of 0 people found this helpful.

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