Stroll down Mississippi Avenue in Portland’s Boise neighborhood on a weekend and there will be 10 or more hungry patrons waiting for a seat in the overpacked Gravy restaurant. Keep walking a few hundred more feet and there’s Radar, North Portland’s not-quite-a-secret but I-wish-it-were-a-secret hideaway. Radar isn’t a newcomer to the brunch (or dinner) scene but with its unlikely-meets-simple but far-from-basic fare, and beyond memorable Bloody Mary will have you wondering why you ever waited in line elsewhere.
Not to say there’s never a wait at Radar; the intimate and narrow space rarely has an open table during brunch service. The rhythmic coming and going of brunch diners shuffling in and out isn’t felt here as staff wrangle service with ease, delivering cocktails as they go. Husband-and-wife team Jonathan Berube and Lily Tollefsen have called Mississippi Avenue their home for five years, and began brunch service one year after opening.
“We wanted our brunch to be a bit unique in that it would have some items that you wouldn’t necessarily find other places — [we’re] not a bacon and eggs kind of place,” says Tollefsen, who runs the front of the house.
Hints of Scandinavian influence appear on the menu and stem from the couple’s family heritages, along with the East Coast where Berube grew up — and of course — Northwest inspired fare. It’s all romantically intertwined into a menu that’s approachable yet features items rarely found on other brunch menus in Portland.
There’s Scotch eggs and potato cakes. Derived from East Coast waters, there’s the excellently fishy, and elevated bluefish pâté. How about a full English breakfast or bangers and mash? These dishes are influenced by Chef Berube’s time living in England. For more Northwest fare try the chèvre-herbed omelette or the black bean and corn cakes, the latter a dish you’d be hard-pressed to find on any brunch menu in the city.
That aforementioned unforgettable Bloody Mary is called the “Voddie Mary” and has been on the menu since the beginning of Radar’s brunch service. Made from roasted garlic, black pepper, tomato, Tapatio and lemon — it’s as fantastically uncomplicated as it sounds. No limp celery or Cash & Carry olives in this Bloody, just straightforward savory that you’ll be thinking about all week. Don’t forget to tack on a Miller High Life Pony for a buck. In addition to the Voddie Mary, you’ll want to check out the other cocktails developed in collaboration with Tollefsen’s long-time friend, Alex Day of Death and Co. in New York and LA’s Honeycut.
Take the bright and fresh Lawn Party cocktail, which is also available on the dinner menu made from vodka, Aperol, cucumber, grapefruit and bubbly, or the Peace Club Toddy with chamomile, Calvados, Cognac, acacia, honey and lemon. There’s always the option to keep it cinch with a red or orange beer: Rainier and tomato or Rainier and orange juice.
Whatever route you’d like to take your brunch — elevated or straightforward — Radar is your spot. Just don’t tell the people waiting over at Gravy.