Restaurant review: Gretchen's Kitchen, 940 SE Morrison, Portland - April 7, 2004—
I thought I would start giving some raves to my favorite eating establishments, and making some "mommy" notes for those of you who are with child. I am a picky eater, and a very critical observer of business models, so if you live in Portland or are visiting, I hope these will be useful to you.
Gretchen's Kitchen is tucked in a tiny storefront next to a "$7.00 a whack" barber shop, and would have gone completely unnoticed by me and my family were it not for the intriguing floral sign - not at all greasy-spoon-ish. So one day, operating on a whim, I stopped in to pick up lunch.
I waited behind a few "regulars" and soaked up the ambience. Gretchen, it is obvious, is quite the socialite. She is an exuberant woman whose joy in life speaks through her decor, her wrinkles, and most of all, her food. She typically prepares the food while her assistant helps customers, except of course for Gretchen's plentiful group of friends, to whom she usually suggests specials - the meatloaf sandwich one day, a Reuben the next.
The huge portions of amazingly delicious food are the star, but Gretchen hardly takes a back seat. A vibrant portrait of her is displayed on the tiny wall, and one day, birthday cards overflowed the counter from her many friends and most of the customers were recounting the revels of the night before.
Soups, sandwiches, and prepared salads (macaroni, pea with bacon and blue cheese) make up the menu. Gretchen has created what is very probably the pinnacle of all sandwiches everywhere: The Cobbwich. A sinful combination of creamy egg salad, blue cheese, bacon, turkey and white bread, the Cobbwich calls to me whenever I need a lunch that goes so sublimely beyond fast food. It is perfect in a way few sandwiches are: it is flavorful, it stays together to the last bite, it is supremely filling without making one feel weighed down. It is truly the best sandwich I have ever tasted.
As the Cobbwich is so perfect, I rarely try the other offerings. I have, however, tried most of the soup offerings, all perfect from an unusual but amazingly rich cream of cauliflower to a chicken noodle that must be the way Italian grandmothers make chicken noodle to an Italian wedding soup that would be fancy fare at ANY culture's wedding. The pea salad was enough to take home and have for lunch the next day, and was the perfect combination of mayonnaise and al dente peas and big chunks of blue cheese.
The best part about Gretchen's Kitchen is the low, low prices and big portions. My husband and I usually share a Cobbwich and each get a soup for about $8.00. Sandwiches are served with your choice of a side salad or soup. Tazo teas, coffee, and sodas are available to drink. There are a few tables inside and, on nice days, one outside, but most customers take their food to go.
If you are lucky and can get a parking spot in front, Gretchen's is great for moms with sleeping kids in the car; you can park, run in and grab lunch in less than 5 minutes. If the kids are awake, the lack of eat-in customers make Gretchen's a guilt-free place to bring along even the rowdiest for a quick lunch pick-up.
Gretchen's is open for lunch only.