June 5, 2006

Kennedy School's Courtyard Restaurant

I have mixed feelings about the McMenamins chain. They restore these cool old buildings, and give people the chance to stay somewhere that is about 180 degrees from a cookie-cutter chain. Yet they make inconsistent beer, and the food seems to be an expensive afterthought. They're where a lot of us who grew up drinking industrial swill learned about craftbrews: they enabled the Portland/NW microbrew revolution. And yet the places have such hippyish decor, and the staff so stoned that I'm a little embarrassed.

Still, when I noticed the Kennedy School does breakfast, I knew I'd be heading over there sooner rather than later.

Kennedy School is a former school, built in 1915, retired in 1975. Its one-story modular design was a model to others and got national recognition. In 1997, the McMenamin Brothers worked their magic, transforming the school into guestrooms, bars, a theatre, brewery and restaurant, all with a smirking reference to the school it once was.

And note the year: 1997. Before Alberta was happening, before New Seasons even existed. Before Nature's Northwest went bad. The McMenamin Brothers took a big chance on a property in an area that a lot of folks saw as a bad neighborhood. Good or bad, the Kennedy School project was a huge force in the area's gentrification.

The Courtyard Restaurant is the former cafeteria, right on a courtyard, and I was surprised as we walked in the room how I wanted to linger. The room is full of mismatched light fixtures, huge wood booths, a gorgeous bar, and of course, a whole wall of windows onto the courtyard which is gorgeous: lots of tables, chairs, benches and small pews surround beautiful plantings, and a huge fireplace.

In a word, the place is beautiful, and comfortable, eccentric but in a thoroughly pleasant way. It's so thoroughly Portland, and the acid-trip stuff that makes me gag about McMenamins (men wearing overalls with a hammer for their head, women who look like some SCA witch, stars and moons, so many stars and moons) is so very subtle if it's there at all. I love this room.

We had coffee that they roast themselves: not bad at all. The breakfast menu ranges from $4.15-$9.40, from eggs to flapjacks to biscuits & country gravy to cereal. The waitron recommended the benedict, which is significantly more expensive than everything else. So we ordered heuvos rancheros and biscuits and gravy, along with a side of sausage.

The menu is tremendously vegetarian friendly, just as Kennedy School is tremendously wheelchair friendly.

Anyways, the food: bland. There was plenty of it, but nothing had much of any flavor.

The biscuits were like mutant dumplings, absolutely huge, covered in a white sauce. There was plenty of gravy, but it tasted really more like a white sauce than a sausage gravy. Mmmm, white sauce over giant biscuits...

The heuvos rancheros, of course, did not have anything resembling ranchero sauce, just warmed corn tortillas, bland black beans, unmelted shredded cheddar cheese, poached eggs, a bland salsa, and sour cream. Even the sausage didn't taste like much of anything.

This bummed me out so much. By the time we had gotten our coffee, I had decided that I wanted to spend as much time as possible in this room, or once it stops raining, in that courtyard.


MIKE said:

I have mixed feelings about McMenamins's quality vs, kingdom quantity, but the thing most people overlook is that the McMenamin's Chain is uniquely Oregonian and reflects many of Oregon's ideals and values; Preservation, originality, imagination and self reliance.

Kennedy School seems to be a notch up when it comes to original food, albeit small notch up. McMenamins' food is rather singular and routine. Eatable, but not always exciting! This alone is a step up from the old Oregon norm...

Portland is now (finally) becoming hip on food and international cusines; Many of the old embarassing standards of common greasy spoons, miss represented ethnic cusines and cheap meat and potato joints still exsist. Portland is even pinpointed as a 3rd rate city for cusine by some of the food corporation chains....i.e., P.J. Chang's and Chipotle's. These chains single out 3rd rate "poor cusine" cities.... They assume people will like a half ass ethnic quality better than they're consistently poor or non-exsistent quality. I've talked to many people who clamore over PJ's overpriced, but mediocre quality chinese cusine... I sure most local readers know at least one person who thinks 'The Olive Garden' is real quality Italian cusine.... BTW Northwesterners, that 'it-alian' not 'EYE-alian'!!!!

So, other states love the McMenamin's and love they're concepts and preservation factors. We shouldn't put them under such a magnifing glass and just except McMenamin's for what they are..... An Oregonian Original and Icon....

BTW..... The only properly done Poached Eggs I've had in Porland, so far, was from Zell's Cafe.

In addition....The Terminator Flapjacks at Kennedy School are excellent... ;-}

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