Kafka, Purgatory, Broder, SE Portland

I first went to broder a year ago and had a lovely smoked-trout hash with a square fried egg on top and, of course, aebelskivers. It was all very delicious and original, packaged cogently in a sleek uniformity. Since that first time I have been back twice, but the food was not the main attraction. Broder’s website is not shy about discussing what has become synonymous with the small swedish cafe, more than half of the about page covers it:

our wait times average anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours depending on your party’s size.
on weekends we offer a comfortable waiting area in savoy’s tavern where coffee and other beverages are available. and while we do our best to accommodate everyone [sic] of our guests, we try not to provide wait times, as they are widely inaccurate. this is due to several factors, including, but not limited to the following:

-guests’ variable dining progressions
-inaccuracy of wait list due to guests coming and going

we promise that your patience will pay off, we take great pride and joy in providing you the best experience possible.
we are happy to wait for those who are happy to wait for us.

There is also a link on the website to an interview in pdx.eater with the manager of broder that is all about the wait. 

I worked two years as a hostperson in a busy restaurant, and the patterns of table turnover and wait list estimations became an art to me, and the patience of the public was my best friend, or my worst enemy. A symbiosis exists when a restaurant is busy: there are no empty seats so people must wait—they realize they are waiting for something that is worthwhile because there are no empty seats. It’s the same logic that produces a blockbuster film—the line becomes part of the experience, the anticipation escalates the pay off. The fried egg better be really square. The Phantom Menace better not suck.

There’s a quote that illustrates how I feel about these situations—which I enjoy when I am getting paid to manage them (I have also worked at two movie theaters) but avoid whenever possible—and I found it in a display in someone’s front yard on Clinton Street the second time I went to broder a half block from the cafe.

You do not need to leave your room.

Remain sitting at your table and listen.

Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary.

The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

It is ascribed to Kafka. With these words in mind we decided not to wait an hour on the sidewalk outside for brunch. It was a weekday morning.

I generally believe that the laws of supply and demand have a way of making excessively popular product in some way comic or otherwise absurd. For example, Coldplay was a good enough band but then everybody in the world seemed to like them all of a sudden and it quickly seemed like a mistake to have ever liked them at all. That’s a bad example. The cronut: the croissant donut that debuted with enormous success last May at a boutique bakery in Manhattan and then immediately, because of the mythic enormity of that success (again: lines, waiting), became a joke. And whenever I find myself in a line at a place that has been bent cartoonishly by the forces of demand, such a thought comes to my mind, “you do not need to leave your room.”

The third time I went to broder we decided to stay. I had promised my girlfriend we would go, and this particular Thursday morning we committed to it, waiting be damned. We went to the foyer of the adjacent Savoy Tavern and sat at an unoccupied booth, the only of the five tables available in the unlit closed bar. Strategically positioned benches created an enclosure keeping us out of the rest of the untended bar. We sat at our table, remained sitting and listened. Of course everyone was talking about this situation: a baker’s dozen of human beings sitting patiently in a dark room told to do so only by a piece of paper and the fact that other human beings were already doing this, normalizing it. The paper also told us to help ourselves to coffee, but there were no cups on the coffee table—an actual foot-tall coffee table, a comic height from which a grown, standing adult would serve him or herself.To a paranoid mind, or just one who has worked as a hostperson under potentially vitriolic situations, this is a recipe for trouble. It seems like a social psychology experiment from its Stanley Milgram/Stanford Prison experiment heyday. One can easily imagine a young Jack Nicholson standing up, surveying the room and shouting “Which one of you nuts has got any guts!” If you came to, forgetting how you got there, and asked the person next to you what everyone was doing there she would respond, simply, “waiting.” And you two would go back to sitting in silence and you would think you died and that this lightless tavern with coffee and no mugs was purgatory. I didn’t ask the host’s name, but he looked like a Peter.

But the whole situation turns out to be rather innocuous. You don’t wait quite an hour (again: this was a weekday) and the food is good. Just read the New York Times article by the bathroom. A unique spot on “a quintessentially Portland section of Southeast Clinton Street.” I ride my bike past it every workday and there is always someone waiting outside. Luckily Dots across the street has started serving morning brunch on the weekends.  There is no natural lighting, but the vintage fixtures make up for it, and you are not there to wait. You are there to eat. Brunch in Portland can, but does not have to, be a kafkaesque perversion of reality.

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