Portage Bay Cafe


Portage Bay Cafe has been around for years, serving up popular brunches in the U-District. With their recent addition of a new site on South Lake Union, I’ve been hearing more recommendations in recent weeks. Everyone raves and raves about their fruit bar, which is included with all sweet dishes (pancakes, blintzes, French toast, etc). I’ve been told “you have to go to Portage Bay Cafe and check out the fruit bar!”  So we decided to check it out this morning. Not a mistake I’ll make again.

We went to the original location on Roosevelt to see where it all began. When we arrived at 10:30 there was already a crowd gathered outside. We put our name on the list and were told it will be 30 minutes. We took a 30 minute walk around the neighborhood (enjoying the first warm sunny day in months :)), and checked back in. We were told “you should be seated very soon.”  Gio waited on the barista line for coffee. 15 minutes later: “any minute now” (Gio still waiting on coffee line). Gio got his coffee, we’re still waiting. Fast forward to 11:30 and our name was finally called. So much for 30 minutes. At this point we were all famished, and they’ve hit a major pet peeve of mine: bad estimates that lead to very mismatched expectations (if we had been told an hour up front we could have simply gone somewhere else).

Once seated, service was very brisk and attentive. We ordered a Bananas Foster French Toast, Chorizo Scramble, and a Migas (flour tortilla stuffed with a southwestern mix of eggs, sour cream, salsa, and vegetables and topped with guacamole). The French Toast included a trip to aforementioned famous fruit bar for additional toppings.

The Fruit Bar: I need to go on a small tirade about the fruit bar. As some background, this is advertised as an assortments of fresh fruit and berries. In addition, Portage Bay Cafe trumps their commitment to organic and local agriculture. The fruit bar was a contradiction on both fronts. First, there was no fresh fruit. The options were sourced from stewed cans (the pears, peaches, and blueberries), or frozen (the strawberries and raspberries). The raspberries in particular were still frozen inside. From their literature, I was expecting “small organic” mentality. The fruit bar was certainly not about displaying what’s local and in season. Or even what’s fresh (only the whipped cream met that designation). It’s possible that the summer fruit bar is better, but the winter/spring bar is a disappointment and a total cop-out.

Dishes at the Portage Bay Cafe are enormous. Each can easily feed 1.5-2 people, though Portage Bay Cafe will charge you an extra $4.50 to split a dish. Overall the food was ok and forgettable. It looks like their emphasis is primarily on quantity. Maybe that’s what appeals to the University crowd?

Overall I was disappointed in Portage Bay Cafe. The food is average, the wait is long, and you’ll pay about $20/person for the privilege of brunching there. Next time I’ll head to Rosebud, Glo’s, Coastal Kitchen, or a number of other superior brunch locations in Seattle.

Portage Bay Cafe
4130 Roosevelt NE
Seattle, WA 98105

Mon-Fri: 7:30AM-3:00PM (Breakfast and Lunch)
Sat & Sun 8:00AM-2:00PM (Brunch)

3 thoughts on “Portage Bay Cafe

  1. AlexDej

    Kenny, that experience sounds awful. My experience with Seattle breakfast/brunch has been that the quality of a given place is inversely proportional to the length of the line waiting to get in. But that’s probably just because I’m a grumpy diner breakfast (or pho) guy.

    But I feel the need to defend the fruit bar in principle (even though I’ve never been to this place). You’re not in Florida… If the fruit bar only had what’s local and in season it would have… squash? with asparagus and rhubarb coming soon. (mmm asparagus-rhubarb french toast).

    But seriously, if it’s not frozen or canned it’s probably not local (until June). Maybe they could have a “fresh and local” fruit bar: fresh on one side and local on the other. 🙂

  2. Kenny

    You could have apples and pears in the winter 🙂
    Or extend the reach to California if fresh berries were essential.

    I’m going to try squash pancakes next week now 🙂

  3. seadevi

    I’m glad you mentioned Rosebud – it’s a favorite brunch spot: portions are appropriately sized and it’s so inexpensive. We’ve always liked the owner and the waitstaff.


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