Helser's on Alberta
1538 NE Alberta St. (map it!)
Portland, OR 97211
Open daily 7 am - 3 pm (bfast served all day; specials served Mon-Fri, 7-9)
Accepts cash and credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Date of Visit: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: Helser's was our third formal stop on our Portland breakfast tour. While visiting friends in PDX, I had Hesler's on my agenda after it appeared in Breakfast Special along with the Tin Shed, just down the street. The extra bonus with this visit was getting to meet Paul Gerald, author of the book Breakfast in Bridgetown and the corresponding blog. Like myself, Paul appeared in Breakfast Special as the local breakfast blogger food guide. We got to compare Portland and Columbus breakfasts and chat about all things breakfast bloggery.
Helser's wasn't my favorite breakfast in Portland, but comparing Portland breakfast places is like comparing Pixar films. Some are definitely better than others, but the quality is higher than most things out there.
Like the Tin Shed, Helser's is situated along the busy and trendy Alberta Street. They've got a sweet corner location with big, bright windows all around. I really love the painted column in front of the door. Don't know why; I just do.
Inside, the checkered floor, the big chalkboard with specials, the large bar with a full service coffee setup, the bright illumination - all of these things add up to a classic cafe setup. When I think cafe, I think of this.
FOOD: Again, because of Breakfast Special, we already had our eyes on some of Helser's featured dishes. All of their food is great comfort food, but there's lots of fun twists or unusual dishes on the menu. I don't often see Pigs in the Blanket or Russet Potato Pancakes on breakfast menus, and I would love to return to Helser's to sample more. Pictured above is my wife's dish, the German Pancake, or Dutch Baby. This isn't your traditional pancake, but more like an open pastry baked with lemon juice and powdered sugar, then served with lemon slices and syrup. You'll have to wait a little longer for it to be prepared, but this was our favorite dish of the meal. It's a huge pancake, sweet and flaky, but with touches of tangy lemon.
I immediately zeroed in on the Scotch Eggs and Potato Pancakes. I love a good scotch egg. Not many places in Columbus serve them. If you've never had one, a scotch egg (no, it has nothing to do with the distilled spirits) is a hard boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, then breaded and fried. Helser's version is excellent: egg cooked just right, crispy breading, good seasoning. I was so-so on the potato pancakes, at least texture-wise. They taste very good, and they're browned perfectly. I even liked the horseradish sauce (and I generally don't like horseradish), but the internal texture of the pancakes didn't quite work. I think the potatoes were cooked unevenly, so occasionally I had bites that were too hard.
Another good find from their menu: toasted crumpets. I can't say I've ever had one. Nice soft texture, barely sweet. A good side to any of their meals.
Paul ordered the Pear and Harvati Pie, and I snapped a picture. It takes the two ingredients and bakes them into custardy tart. Again, very creative and unusual things on the menu.
And the standard side of Brioche French toast for our son. He certainly didn't say no to it.
SERVICE: Our server was great. Fast, helpful, interactive. I was a bit predisposed to liking the service, after Breakfast Special featured one of their servers, Leah, talking about her work. We got to meet Leah and chat with her about having PBS film there.
OVERALL: Again, Helser's wasn't my favorite Portland breakfast, but there's plenty to like here. The service and location are top-notch, and the menu offers a lot of hard-to-find breakfast eats. Some of them just worked better than others. And I certainly wouldn't say no to a return visit, especially to enjoy the bright atmosphere and try more of the menu.
-> a taste of Helser's from WQED Pittsburgh