On a lazy afternoon, Katie and I went for chow just down the street from her place. I'd seen Bernie's Southern Bistro on one of my walks about the neighborhood, and since she is pretty new to that area herself, she had never been there either, and it was a perfect spot for us to check out together.
It was another incredibly beautiful, sunny and mild Portland day, and we were excited to dine al fresco. Bernie's, as Katie noted, had made a what we thought was a fairly bold move: the dining room wasn't even open. It was as though Bernie's was telling you, "There is no excuse for you not to eat on our patio today." And they were right, in my opinion.
The patio had a modern, Asian aesthetic. It was simple and casual, like a friend's well-maintained front porch. (The one with the manicured plants, and the re-finished vintage furniture, not the one with the musty upholstered love seat.)
As it was close to dusk, we picked a spot out of the direct rays of the setting sun. Katie had told me that Portland service was notoriously slow, and at first, that appeared to be the case. Our hostess said, "and can I get you anything else?" and I said, "do you have iced tea?" mistaking her for our server. She said, "I'll get your server," but no one came for several minutes. I think we may have hidden ourselves a bit too well in the corner, but presently, we got a friendly waitress who didn't stay away after the first delay. I got sweetened tea, and it was lovely -- made with sugar syrup as is proper. Katie got a deliciously chilled martini that had grapefruit juice in it. I thought the little iced caddy that carried her refill was innovative.
Katie, in my opinion, did a great job channeling Coco Chanel while we enjoyed the sun.
We got complimentary cornbread and honey butter. The bread was light and soft with just a little grit, as Katie said she likes it. Was it as good as the ultimate cornbread? No, no, of course not. But it was very good.
All of the starters looked very tasty, but of course we had to try the fried green tomatoes. They came on a mayo-based sauce, nicely seasoned and piping hot. I wanted them to be just a bit more well-done, but they were very good. They were crispy, and the breading wasn't too thick. We even ate the garnish.
When dinner came, one of the entrées we had ordered had been substituted with the meatloaf (which did look really good). Our waitress swapped it out fairly quickly, apologizing, and told us she would give us any dessert we liked with her compliments, which I thought was very nice. She needn't have worried, since Katie and I were sharing, anyway, we simply started on our first entrée, the smoked brisket with blueberry BBQ sauce, and a cheese and whitebread casserole (not appearing on the Bernie's website menu at the moment). I have a blueberry BBQ sauce recipe I've been wanting to try for some time, and I love brisket like I love beer and discount clothing, so I had to try that. Katie suggested the fried chicken, and I told her she was my soulmate.
My pic doesn't do the brisket justice, but it was perfect. It melted in your mouth, had just a light smoke, and even the sides were great. The asparagus was cooked with just the right amount of snap, and that whitebread and cheese soufflé (or casserole) had that flavor like something you'd get in a real southern diner. I wanted to dive into a mound of it, suffer a cave-in, and eat my way out.
When the fried chicken arrived, I didn't think it looked like it would be crispy. Happily, I was very wrong. It was well-seasoned and crunchy all over. Jack Sprat (I mean Katie) had the piece of white meat, and I had the boneless piece of thigh. The mashed potatoes and gravy, and the smoky and just-the-right-amount-of-heat greens were heaven.
We were stuffed, but of course we accepted our free dessert. We settled on the bananas foster bread pudding. I'm sure it was better warm, but Katie and I plowed into it cold later that night, and it was still sinfully rich and delicious.
Bernie's was, to me, just how dining should be: unpretentious, authentic, al fresco on a perfect day, beautifully presented, moderately priced, and within strolling distance from your own home. Especially after enough martinis.