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Alberta breakfast spot has a ways to go before sainthood

Weekend!Food: Taste
by: DENISE FARWELL, Francis, which opened in November, has fancy chairs but a fairly iffy menu. Sometimes it hits (cooked-just-right egg dishes), and sometimes it misses (a pasty three-bean burger).

During a recent 10-day period I was horribly accident-prone. The first in my series of injuries occurred one evening when I leaned down to kiss my sleeping son good night. He woke up with a start and smashed his (enormous) noggin into my poor nose.

A couple of days later while eating a cracker, the crown on one of my back teeth broke in half. About 72 hours after that, my brother accidentally hit me in the chin (hard) with a patio chair.

The grand finale came one morning when I fell down the stairs and landed on one knee. I limped for the rest of the day.

My husband finally said, 'Stop getting hurt.'

He redeemed himself for sounding unsympathetic by suggesting we all go out to eat at a newish breakfast and lunch spot I'd wanted to try called Francis Restaurant, 2338 N.E. Alberta St., 503-288-8299. (And, weirdly, his harsh command appears to have worked, like a firm slap across the face of a hysterical person.)

I hoped, even expected, to like Francis, which opened in November. It's not far from our house, and I've had enough of the long waits at Alberta Street's other breakfast spots.

The restaurant is a cheerful-looking spot with lots of long windows stretching along the street and with large, cushioned chairs that are remarkably comfortable.

Francis' breakfast menu offers two kinds of pancakes: sourdough and oatmeal. The sourdough pancakes are far too sour, almost like curdled milk. None of us could eat them.

The oatmeal pancakes with hazelnut butter have a nice flavor, but they're weirdly dense, almost stiff. Regular buttermilk pancakes would help the menu.

Also, the restaurant commits an unforgivable sin in my book: serving cold syrup. It's not hard to heat syrup.

Biscuits and pork-sausage pepper gravy include a very hard biscuit smothered in thick, pasty gravy. If it weren't for the pepper, the gravy would be almost flavorless.

Francis' plain biscuits are excellent and flaky, so I'm not sure why they're so rock-solid when covered with gravy.

Some items come with a choice of hash browns or fried grits. Choose the potatoes. The shredded spuds are yummy, crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside.

The fried grits are just awful, almost devoid of taste. They can be ordered 'smothered' with cheddar cheese, which is better as long as you like cheddar cheese a lot. But don't get them topped with grilled onions. Normally I love fried onions, but these had an acrid taste that actually made me feel like spitting.

Egg dishes are more successful. A special asparagus omelet was fresh and light, and my daughter's scrambled eggs were cooked just right, not too dry, not too wet.

A pan-fried oyster hash special was quite good. Delicate, lightly breaded fried oysters surrounded cubed potatoes, onions and peppers baked in a creamy sauce.

Despite our first disappointing meal, I returned to the restaurant to try lunch a few days later. Like breakfast, lunch is a hit-and-miss affair.

My friend and I started by sharing the Caesar salad, which is large and untraditional with a nicely understated balsamic dressing, crunchy croutons and small chunks of Gorgonzola. After picking out the mushy pear slices, we enjoyed the salad.

Unfortunately my companion also ordered a terrible, pasty three-bean burger.

Sandwiches come with freshly cut and fried potato chips made with sweet and regular potatoes. The top layer of chips was great, crisp and not too greasy, but underneath was a mound of unpalatable, wet, raw chips.

I ordered a flavorful meat loaf sandwich on toasted white bread with just mayonnaise and a little raw onion. It's the best item I tasted on the menu.

Service at Francis is mostly very good, but it's going to take more than a pleasant location and efficient service to get people to return. Good food is the order of the day, and currently there's simply not enough of it to make Francis worth a visit.

Francis is open for breakfast 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. It's open for lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. Visit www.francisrestaurant.com for information.

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Almost 13 years ago John and Mike Zupan opened their first Zupan's Market on West Burnside Street.

Recently the flagship store (2340 W. Burnside St., 503-497-1088) expanded by 4,500 square feet and has been completely updated. This weekend, March 2 through March 4, is the market's grand opening celebration with free tastings throughout the store.

If you can, go today, Friday, March 2, because 5 percent of the day's proceeds go to the Portland Schools Foundation. Visit www.zupans.com for information.