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SUN SHINES BRIGHT ON DAHLIA CAFE

There's no spot on Northeast Killings-worth Street that's sunnier than the Dahlia Cafe.

Named for the Central American plant with showy, many-petaled flowers, this new restaurant is appropriately swathed in shades of marigold, crimson and olive. It's an airy, attractive package, with just 10 lacquered tables and an asymmetrically tiled floor that mimics the bright ceramic countertop.

The low-key atmosphere and small, open kitchen encourage rapport with cook Joseph Biyalek, but you could just as easily get lost in your own thoughts gazing out onto the changing neighborhood.

Sandwiched between the wild and woolly Itisness gallery and classy Grolla restaurant, and just blocks from the latest New Seasons Market, this area is becoming increasingly lively and Ñ some may say Ñ gentrified. But whatever your point of view, there's no denying it was desperately in need of a cafe.

Karen Harding, who founded the Hawthorne neighborhood's very successful Cup & Saucer Cafe in 1988, was just the woman for the challenge.

Of course, there was a restaurant at this spot before Dahlia: Counter Culture, a vegan dinner joint that had a very loyal patronage. Although Counter Culture may be missed, Dahlia Cafe fills the void. It valiantly serves both vegan and meaty creations for breakfast and lunch, and soon dinner will be added to the lineup.

Since Dahlia opened

in mid-October, Harding and Biyalek have continued to tweak its menu, which is best described as wholesome diner fare. Buttermilk waffles are no more (a hassle to make), and the recipe for sour cream pancakes seems to shift, sometimes producing slightly salty Ñ though not unappetizing Ñ hot cakes.

Perhaps paying even more attention to the morning menu would be a good idea: Breakfast is a bit uninspired compared to lunch, which boasts unusual sandwiches. In addition to the aforementioned griddle offerings, there are vegan corn cakes, which sound appealing but turn out to be dense and grainy in a way that makes one think that birds would like them.

Scrambles and omelets are much wiser choices, especially because they arrive with the house potatoes, a colorful and toothsome matrimony of home-fried yams, sweet potatoes and russets. The delicious Lucky Scramble gets an extra potato punch with tubers mixed right in with the eggs, bacon, scallions and cheddar.

Eggs and cakes are augmented by a rotating selection of baked goods (decent cranberry walnut bread and coffee cake), myriad espresso drinks and excellent apple-raspberry juice.

Lunch at Dahlia is a great value, although the sides don't quite measure up to the fresh sandwiches. Chicken salad is just as it should be Ñ light on the mayo and punctuated by crunchy apples and walnuts. And tasty, quarter-pound burgers are smartly paired with whole-wheat buns. The hand-cut fries, however, are too handsome for their own good, sacrificing crispness for elegance, and the soup is spotty.

We undoubtedly will see more of the few lunch entrees, such as crab cakes and polenta lasagna, when Dahlia opens for dinner. Assuming that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission gives the green light, Harding plans to renovate a vacant space behind the restaurant to include a bar and begin dinner service in late February or March.

Contact Christina Melander at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..