A group of heralded Portland chefs creates an upscale neighborhood diner in Montavilla centered on charcoal-grilled dishes. The distanced outdoor seating option reminds us of the magic of dining out.
Lazy Susan, an upscale neighborhood joint from a dream team of Portland chefs, was slated to open in early spring at the old Country Cat space in Montavilla. But then COVID-19 hit Portland. So in June, Earl Ninsom, a James Beard finalist and the force behind restaurants Hat Yai and PaaDee; Andrew Mace, former chef de cuisine at Le Pigeon; and Nora Mace, former pastry chef at Ava Gene’s and Tusk, brought their charcoal grill to the sidewalk and started serving lunches outside. By late August, when my family visited, the restaurant was open for weekend brunch and dinner on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
When we visited Lazy Susan, it had been six months since my family had experienced table service at a restaurant. We checked in at the front entrance and were then seated in a blocked-off section of the street. Lazy Susan offers additional distanced outdoor seating on the sidewalk as well. Surrounded by a sturdy picket fence and wooden planters filled with brightly colored summertime blooms, our partially shaded wooden picnic table covered in festive, floral oilcloth felt cheerful. The new COVID-19 condiment, a bottle of hand sanitizer, stood on the table. And a tiered orange cart sat at the end of the table on which servers could place drinks and water glasses stuffed with utensils — and guests could place used utensils and paper dishes. Even with these unfamiliar COVID-19 precautions, it felt glorious to be out in the sunshine at an actual restaurant. And weird. But even as it felt odd, I also sensed all of our collective stress and anxiety slowly melting away. Just sitting there doing something that was a normal part of our old lives felt really, really good. Before our food even arrived, my 5-year-old son, Cruz, asked, “Can we come here again?”
After looking at the menu online, I had decided that going to Lazy Susan for brunch (technically lunch for us, since there’s no such thing as brunch when your 5-year-old wakes up hungry at 7 am) would be a better choice for my slightly picky kids. We got started by splitting a potato doughnut ($5). The still-warm doughnut felt like a lovely cross between a traditional yeasted raised ring and denser potato doughnut. I barely held myself back from swiping my finger through the butterscotch glaze left on the plate and popping it in my mouth.
My 8-year-old daughter, Adela, ordered several sides as her meal: incredibly soft and fluffy scrambled eggs ($5), thick-cut bacon ($6) and wedges of deep-fried hash browns ($4). She gave the hash browns a big thumbs-up. And while she prefers crisp bacon, her little brother (and my husband and I) especially liked the meaty and chewy bacon. My son ordered the pancakes with maple syrup and compote ($11). Lazy Susan bills itself as a family charcoal diner, and a hint of the smokiness and bitterness of the charcoal grill inserted itself into the pancakes. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it did not deter Cruz from laying waste to the plate. And that flavor note was balanced by the sweet syrup and strawberry-rhubarb compote.
I sampled the “Addy” Melt, a patty melt on butter-drenched Texas toast featuring havarti cheese and special sauce. Although I normally dislike raw onions, I appreciated how the sharp crunch cut through the delectably rich sandwich. And the puckery-sour pickles also were also a nice counterpoint. All proceeds from the $14 sandwich are going to the family of chef Cameron Addy, who passed away unexpectedly in August. I also tried (and recommend) the not-too-sweet Waterslide slushie with rum, coconut, peach and lime ($12). But my husband ordered the real showstopper, though: a half-dozen raw oysters on the half shell ($15). The oysters looked so pretty nestled into their tray of ice and served with lemon and hot sauce. And he savored them, saying, “It’s easy to forget you’re in a pandemic when you’re eating cold oysters on the half shell in the sunshine.” He also ordered the special ricotta toast, which we all tried. The ricotta might have been the creamiest thing I have ever tasted. My daughter said it tasted like sour cream, and it did have a tang to it. But it was more like thickened cream than anything else. I made a mental note to order anything that has ricotta in it the next time I visit.
Yes, Lazy Susan is more of a splurge for us, and I realize it might be out of reach for many families, especially in these times. It’s also important to me to support local businesses run by local parents as I am able to. And restaurants are a big part of what makes Portland Portland. Our trip to Lazy Susan was a special treat for my family that went beyond a delicious meal; it gave us a feeling of normalcy that we hadn’t felt in a long time.
Lazy Susan, 7937 SE Stark St., 971-420-8913, lazysusanpdx.com. Check website for updated hours. As of press time: Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 4 pm-9:30 pm; brunch available Saturday and Sunday, 10 am-2 pm. Distanced outdoor seating or takeout only.