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City State Diner adds a twist to breakfast

Bread and Brew
by: Jeffrey Basinger, A favorite at the City State Diner, a new restaurant in Northeast Portland that serves breakfast all day, is the smoked salmon steak Benedict with two poached eggs on biscuit.

Like the name, the food at City State Diner is comfortingly, self-consciously generic.

Bacon and eggs. Biscuits and gravy. Mac and cheese.

This a diner where current ideas about quality and choice have taken over - you won't be served American cheese on your egg sandwich, and you will be allowed to substitute tofu for the eggs. But this is not the diner deconstructed, re-imagined or 'with a twist.' It's just a good place to eat breakfast at dinnertime.

The scrambles are dinner-sized portions of fluffy, flavorful eggs cooked with such things as Greek sausage, forest mushrooms, and prosciutto. I had the crab scramble, and could swear I could taste the cage-free liveliness of the eggs. The crab was cold-water fresh and generously interspersed through the eggs, although its subtle flavor was sometimes overwhelmed.

Toast served with the eggs was made with real bakery bread. There were also triangles of seared grits on the side, which were a little bland. I would rather have had the house potatoes, which I ordered on another night. Rather than home fries or hash browns, they are chunky, salty, well-seasoned potato cakes, well-crisped and brown on the outside.

With my 'breakfast' (it was about 5 p.m.) I had a wasabi bloody mary that didn't quite work. It was very spicy, too pulpy and the wasabi didn't blend in with the other flavors, but showed up alone at the finish.

A dark and stormy (rum, ginger ale, lime) at another meal was simply strong. And I shouldn't have ordered the prosecco straight - it was strictly mimosa-grade.

In general the cocktail list is brunch-oriented and straightforward - but straightforwardness is the charm, here. No drinks rimmed with pink peppercorn powder or spiked with Unicum.

Hit or miss

Here, daring is adding a bit of prosciutto to the meatloaf. This meatloaf is garlic-seasoned, fine-grained and neither heavy nor greasy nor crusty - almost more like a rectangular slab of Italian meatball. It does have a sweet red layer of baked ketchup along the top, though, just like a picture in an old 'Better Homes and Gardens' cookbook.

The meatloaf comes with snappy green beans and potatoes au gratin, steaming in a cute miniature cast-iron pan, but undercooked.

Side dishes are hit-or-miss. Grilled chard and grilled grits, for instance, didn't do justice to a fiery slab of blackened catfish. The house-made pickles are crunchy, juicy, and so fresh that you can see the dill on them. But a chunky mess of coleslaw with green peppers in it did nothing for an epic sandwich called the Three Pigs.

Pork loin, capicola and Greek-style sausage are the three porks, piled between slices of bread with smoked gouda, lettuce and tomato. The sausage is particularly good, and forms the heart of the sandwich, which is taller than the average mouth-hole. It's not easy to eat, and harder to share, but we managed.

What's for dessert? Pie, of course, or a rootbeer float, or a malted milkshake. The milkshakes are huge, topped with whipped cream, a couple of wafer cookies, and, naturally, they come with the overflow in a metal mixing cup.

There is a toned-down maltshop look to the interior of City State Diner. There's a row of booths and counter seating, all done up in clean, subdued colors. It's refreshing and relaxing to sit in a restaurant that takes a concept and doesn't run with it.

8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, 128 N.E. 28th Ave., 503-517-0347, www.citystatediner.com, entrees $5.75 to $12

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