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French bakery has a handle on the sweet life

Weekend!Food: Restaurant of the Week
by: ©2006 DAVID PLECHL, At Petite Provence the relaxed eating-in area is separated from the busier bakery.

Next to the dingy Scoreboard sports bar and across the street from an archaic quilt shop and old-school cobbler, the shiny and new Petite Provence boulangerie and patisserie delivers an incongruous bit of elegance to mid-Southeast Division Street.

The large space is freshly decorated in colors of matte gold and black with a wheat fleur-de-lis motif stenciled on tables and painted on the walls. Big mirrors make the well-designed space seem even larger; an entryway bisects the relaxed eating-in area from the to-go customers deliberating over the bakery case.

Several sidewalk tables allow for contemplation of the changing nature of the neighborhood, and, already on weekends, the propensity of Portlanders to wait and wait and wait for brunch.

At least here there's no reason to wait empty-handed when there's an overflowing pastry case just inside the door. The perfect croissants are so light they nearly float; the buttery layers puff up against the flaky crunchy crust. More elaborate pastries beckon as well, but you'd be making a mistake not to save plenty of room for your meal.

Petite Provence is the sister restaurant of Lake Oswego's beloved La Provence Bakery and Bistro, and at both spots the bakery offerings are extensive. All sorts of breads, cakes and pastries are served to go, and it's hard to get out of there without a pound cake, pumpernickel baguette or cutely decorated meringue.

The place is quieter for weekday breakfasts, allowing for more interaction with the authentically snarky French- speaking staff. The silky accents mollify any offense taken over digs about a certain customer's desperation for coffee.

Once that need is satisfied the breakfasts are both hearty and gourmet - the kind of meals that live up to the 'most important meal of the day' designation.

The Day Breaker is the best deal at $7.50. It's two eggs, choice of bacon or sausage, parsley-flecked potato cakes and toast or muffin (for 50 cents more you can get a pastry), served with fresh orange juice and coffee.

The long breakfast menu offers more than the typical mix and match omelet/scramble selection. There are three varieties of hash - corned beef, salmon or Latin - all presented in enormous portions adequate for sharing. The excellent salmon mixes smoked and cured salmon with potato slivers and a lemon dill sauce. Two eggs on the side are prepared to taste.

Latin hash scrambles eggs with crumbles of a slow-burning chorizo sausage and slivered onions topped with a lacy cover of cilantro and a dollop of cooling sour cream.

If you prefer a sweet breakfast, choose from multigrain pancakes with banana-pecan sauce, berry-stuffed French toast or crepes.

For lunch, there are daily quiches and tarts, cold and grilled sandwiches, and a big chicken Mediterranean salad with olives, feta and artichoke hearts over greens that's one of those salads you feel like you'd never get tired of.

Especially if you finish with a silky-sour lemon tart and a strong espresso.

- Audrey Van Buskirk

4834 S.E. Division St., 503-233-1121, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday (breakfast served until 2 p.m.; lunch until 2:30 p.m.), $5.75-$11.25