The question I asked myself: Is how can I do Mother’s Bistro enough justice through words to get you to pack your bags to Portland with the sole intention of going there?
Mother’s Bistro & Bar is exquisite.
It isn’t unlike anything you’ve ever had, but there’s something incredibly brilliant about how the dishes were crafted.
It’s the reason why, when narrowing down what restaurants I would visit during my stay in Downtown Portland, OR, a final decision came soon after reading about Mother’s.
From pictures alone, something felt sure, like this is the hub of all serious foodies and the one place we should go if any.
The big idea is, whose food did you crave when you wanted good home cooking? Cooking with love? Your mom.
When holidays, birthdays, and big events popped up we all looked to our mother to cook those dishes we relished in for days on end.
Having lost my own mother this resonated with me in a way that drove deeper than enjoying a palatable meal.
So when I arrived in Portland, I wanted nothing more than to run to Mother’s Bistro and taste the mother food slow-cooked in love under the direction of mother, grandmother, and classically-trained chef/owner Lisa Scroder.
At 11:30 AM on a Thursday, Mother’s was already humming.
The seating area near where we checked in had been brimming to capacity.
I think most people would want to get here early to be seated in this space, the room was immaculate, but not pretentious (people wore caps, t-shirt, and denim here).
It was like visiting a small home, otherwise unsightly on the outside but uniquely decorated to suit the owners’ taste in a show of appreciation for every inch of their space.
Vintage chandeliers strobed light in every direction.
A juxtaposition of brick and renaissance-inspired gold and black wallpaper occupied the walls, and the floors croaked with an old-time flair as we walked through a narrow hallway into another dining room where we’d be seated.
Chandeliers carried over into this room too, with sunlight spilling through large windows married with sheer drapes.
Quaint, and sophisticated, the second dining room was the boring sister of a set of twins in comparison, less eclectic and more traditional, but still striking. Like going to grandma’s house except grandma enjoys a little bit more of the finer things in life. Small antique tables draped and matching chairs occupied the space in close quarters as if patrons we’re meant to eavesdrop on one another (of which we did unintentionally).
All types of people were there. Young, old, middle-aged, families, lovers, friends; every walk of life existed within the robust chatter.
I was struck by a thought: “We’re all friends here enjoying mother’s food“.
People were happy: the waiters, the hosts, the patrons, and even the busboy.
As for the menu:
“Everything looks so good“.
And as confident as rain in spring, the waiters will say you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
For the indecisive nature in all of us, Mother’s offers half plates of some of their most popular dishes like salmon hash, buttermilk pancakes, french toast, & breakfast biscuits (this offer extends to a few dishes on the lunch & dinner menu as well).
I took full advantage of this offer and order half-orders of the salmon hash and biscuits & gravy.
In between mouthfuls of each dish I couldn’t believe the pleasure I experienced.
The salmon hash (served with two eggs to your liking and half-slice of bread) was tossed in a light cream sauce that was mildly savory with a hardly detectable but welcomed touch of sweet.
The roasted potatoes aren’t a lost cause, and add lift to the entire dish even more because they’re some of the best: buttery soft on the inside, totally crisp on the outside like a good ball of arancini.
The light, fresh scent of seafood was just enough of a reminder of how well salmon goes with potatoes. It was a meal one could eat over and over without ever falling ill.
When you have Mother’s biscuits and gravy, know your experience of having biscuits and gravy anywhere else won’t even come close to being a rival.
The cream is used here again, along with the saltiness from the sausage, earthiness from herbs and a savoriness that hits on all the right keys.
The square cut biscuit -luscious and pillowy but firm- doesn’t turn to mush underneath all the unctuous gravy, instead, it softly crumbles with the touch of a fork while maintaining its integrity.
It’s as perfect as any biscuit can be, but any more than a half order and best case scenario you might be able to skip lunch, and worst case scenario stay in biscuit heaven a little longer.
No ingredient outshined the others, none were superfluous; this is where Mother’s surpassed my expectations.
Many of the dishes are traditional, yes, but each dish is made in a way where it’s the best version of itself. Every element of each dish is understated to perfection, the sum of the parts greater than the whole and consistent across the board.
Under the critical loupe and genius artistry of Chef Lisa, no ingredient is left stale and in a corner rendered useless.
This is the balance and the care we look for when we eat, good-natured and intentional.
Mother’s is the warm blanket draped over you by someone you love when you’re cold; the plate of leftovers saved just for you, so thoughtful and kind.
At the end of the meal, without any prompt, a small plate of cookies was brought out as a final thank you and farewell to our patronage.
Mother’s is exactly what they say they are: love.