By Alisa Sloan, Foodable Contributor
When’s the last time you ordered something in a restaurant that was so good you couldn’t wait to go home and make it yourself? Not that this is advised — the whole point of a restaurant is that you don’t have to cook at home — but after cleaning the plate of every last crumb of Dime Store’s Blueberry Buckle, I realized I’d bankrupt myself if I kept coming back for more. Also, what if it was a one-time special? I’d be crushed.
Open since June in a small space downtown that has itself been a diner since the 1920s, Dime Store is a modern yet flashback-y addition to Portland’s dining scene. It still has some of its original fixtures, like the wave-shaped front counter, fixed stools, and a bustling, open kitchen where servers drop off handwritten tickets to spin on an order wheel. The owner is Dayna McErlean, the mastermind behind Yakuza, D.O.C. and Nonna, and the chef, Claire Miller, hails from Grain & Gristle, where she spent the last two and a half years running their brunch program. You can be sure that this gal knows brunch. And breakfast. And lunch.
Miller is getting to know some history, as well. “The building is certainly quirky,” she says. “The restaurant itself is original to the building, and it's interesting to think about what it was in the beginning.” Before Dime Store, countless pieces of buttered toast passed through Leo’s Non-Smoking Coffee Shop, which operated for 30 years in the space, and people who barely missed a beat from when it was Leo’s are still stopping in for afternoon coffee and ice cream. “It’s incredible listening to peoples’ stories about Peter and Jane (Chan, Leo’s owners),” says Miller.
Reminiscing over hot coffee and pancakes? Yes, please. And as for that pancake, it will probably come in the form of a sublime buttermilk flapjack, or a cake that’s stuffed — not dotted — with fruit and nuts. Don’t miss the “scramble of the moment,” as it’s going to be clean-your-plate tasty, and those home fries are worth an extra 20 minutes on the Stairmaster. The menus change often, thanks to the inspiration found in local, seasonal ingredients, classic American dishes, and Miller’s own delicious imagination. Miller’s favorites (for right now, at least) are the Chopped Salad (the tried-and-true-but-somehow-tastier-here combo of lettuce, cherry tomatoes, avocado, bacon, hard-boiled eggs and housemade blue cheese dressing) and the burger (a decadent slice of Meat Heaven on a brioche bun, with the options of cheese, bacon, ham, a fried egg or avocado as toppers… or all of them at once).
The last bit of old-timey niceness at Dime Store is this: They offer health insurance to their employees. This means there’s a 5% surcharge on your bill to cover it, which barely adds to your brunch total, but makes a huge difference to the people who work there. And they’re probably going to be there a while, considering how close the location is to downtown’s core — the library, the Portland Art Museum and the farmers’ market are all within a couple of blocks. And with Miller serving up that fantastic food, the restaurant will just keep getting better… and friendlier. “I’d like to see (Dime Store) become a great meeting place for the neighborhood,” she says. “Someplace everyone can feel welcome and comfortable enough to spend a minute… or an hour.”
837 SW 11th Ave.
Portland, OR 97205