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Mother's Bistro & Bar in Portland

“M” is for the Many things she gave me. ”O” is for the Only words I know to this song. ”THER” is for THERe’s a great restaurant called Mother’s Bistro & Bar located on 2nd and Stark in downtown Portland where you can get the froofed up versions of the food your mama gave you.

The restaurant is owned by chef Lisa Schroeder who is, indeed, a bona fide mom. I don’t really care if she’s a bona fide chef (which she is), or where she’s cooked (apparently New York, France, her grandkid’s house), but I do care if she knows how to bake a biscuit (she did). Although my mom has never even been to New York or France and has neither bistro nor bar in her house for that matter, she can fry some chicken and bake a biscuit like nobody’s business. Don’t even get me started on her gravy.

But it’s not about if my mama’s dumplings are better than your mama’s, because the reality is my mama’s dumplings could taste like pillows of paste (they don’t) and still be good to me. Because she made them for me, man. And there’s something about her kitchen that adds a flavor that doesn’t come from a jar, cube, or can of stored bacon grease.

The basket of bread the servers bring out (awesome points for providing pre-meal bread) at Mother’s were ok. They’re heavier and not as fluffy as my mom’s, and I’m guessing that’s because the ingredients in Mother’s most likely don’t include that well-known but little-used ingredient that comes in a blue-labeled can (the opposite of lengthening). But it’s still nicely baked bread (I’m assuming it’s baked in-house, because if it’s not, that’s just plain wrong) before the meal and I’m an instant fan of folks who do that.

I expected something more exotic when I saw the words “Irish Nachos” on the appetizer menu ($9), but this is just a good ol’ plate of taters with cheese, bacon, sour cream, and token greenery tossed on to keep Mother’s from getting sued by Big Fiber.

While munching biscuit and waiting for those pseudo-nachos to arrive, I couldn’t help but notice the food the server was delivering to the next table. And because everything I do, I do it for you, I put myself out there once again and asked the very kind ladies to show me their goods. And they did.

The salmon cobb salad was a special for the month, not sure how much it cost. The closest thing to salmon my mother ever served was a salmon patty made with canned salmon. Hey, with enough ketchup, those things can be awesome.

The meatless version of Mother’s macaroni and cheese. This looked fantastic and I almost dipped fork, but she pulled the plate away too fast. Another ordered the same thing I did, and luckily enough our server brought our food and I was saved from begging strangers for food.

I ordered the Carlton Farms Pork Loin Medallions ($17) for two reasons. Number one, Mother’s doesn’t have fried chicken on her menu. I know! Number two, caramelized onions and pork go together like tur and ducken. This deliciously moist pork went well with the sweet onions, and the potatoes and veg were great sides. The sautéed squash and zucchini was freckled with fresh corn, adding a fantastic sweetness as well as texture to the dish. I’m all about the texture and I’ve prepared my summer veggies with the added corn ever since I had this plate. Since my mom never caramelized an onion in her life, much less medallioned a pork loin (she specialized in fried or barbecued chops), Mother’s is holding her own in the pork category.

James had the herbed chicken and dumplings ($15). Nice presentation, more token greenery, and very flavorful broth for the dumplings to swim around. The dumplings could be a little smaller to avoid the excessively doughy centers, but they were good enough to warrant a visit back to try again.

We lingered a long time over dinner, talking to the people at both the table beside and behind us. The sun set and Mother’s dining room darkened, but the neon glow from the street lights mixed with candlelight from the tables to create an incredibly warm ambiance. Not very conducive to dreamy food photos, but it was worth the sacrifice of a decent photo to sit and talk over the dessert of the month. It was the first time I’d had cherry upside down cake, and this one came with a scoop of vanilla drizzled with cherry sauce. It wasn’t my favorite dessert, I’ve never been a fan of cooking fruit into cakes, but it was tart and sweet and a nice finish to dinner.

We liked Mother’s and we’ll be going back to try the famous breakfast items. Was it as good as my mom’s? Hell no. But to keep it real, my mom once packed my lunch with a Cheese Whiz sandwich and Pringles. Inside the sandwich. I thought the idea was the coolest ever, but even at the age of seven I thought that my mom should’ve known those Pringles would be soggy and crunch-less by the time lunch rolled around. I still talk about how awesome that lunch was to this day. Maybe I could share the Pringles and Cheese Whiz idea with Mother and she could add hillbilly nachos to the menu?

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