Milwaukie Cafe serves up food made with 'love'
If you like baked eggs, polenta bowls, smoked brisket, collard greens and homemade biscuits, then the Milwaukie Cafe and Bottle Shop has you covered.
The restaurant, located in the Ardenwald neighborhood on Southeast 32nd Avenue, has become popular with locals who can walk or bike there, said owner Shea Pirtle.
"We love all our customers, and they really appreciate us," he said. "They love the food because they can feel the love and passion that goes into it."
The cafe will be three years old in September, Pirtle said, noting that he originally opened the place with Chauncey Roach. The two first met over 10 years ago, when both worked at Nostrana, a popular Italian restaurant in Southeast Portland. Roach has since left the business to be a full-time, stay-at-home dad.
"He is a food innovator and was a big part in starting this, and his recipes carry on," Pirtle said.
He added that he wants to maintain and sustain what Roach has left behind, and that legacy includes "brining and smoking our own meats in a smoker out back and making the biscuits from scratch."
Although Pirtle worked for almost a dozen years at Gino's in Sellwood, Milwaukie Cafe is his first business venture.
Now, after nearly three years, Pirtle said the customers are what he likes best about owning the cafe.
"When the restaurant is full on a Saturday, I know most of the customers," he said, adding that "when you know the regulars, you can build friendships."
Food and drink
The cafe currently serves beer, wine and hard cinder, and Pirtle plans to eventually apply for a liquor license.
"I've always enjoyed beer, but wine didn't start for me until Gino's, where I spent 12 years working with one of the best wine lists in town," he said.
The Portland area has become known for its caffeine culture, and Pirtle serves Water Avenue Coffee Co.'s coffee and Steven Smith tea.
He said he already had built a relationship with the local coffee roaster and noted that the tea company has "great blends and the owners have been super helpful."
Pirtle is also the cafe's baker, turning out cinnamon rolls and cookies, among other items.
"I had no baking experience until this place. Baking is hard; there is a learning curve for sure," he said.
Although the most popular menu items include smoked brisket, Pirtle's favorite dish is the pork and pickle biscuit, made with smoked pork shoulder.
Although Pirtle now lives in Oak Grove, he used to live in Ardenwald and enjoyed going to Liz's Creative Cafe which previously occupied the spot where the Milwaukie Cafe is now.
"I remember thinking that this place could be such a cool neighborhood spot," he said.
When he heard that Liz Martin was leaving the space, he and Roach made a "spur of the moment decision" to get the lease.
Because he appreciates the support of his customers, Pirtle hosts the Ardenwald-Johnson Creek Neighborhood Association meetings after-hours in the cafe, and also caters the Ardenwald concerts in the park.
Pirtle is looking forward to summer when he will be making dishes with local tomatoes, other seasonal vegetables and peaches.
He sources most of his produce from Winslow Forest, a Community Supported Agriculture enterprise located on a 0.68-acre urban lot near Milwaukie.
The cafe serves breakfast all day and on weekends serves brunch with special options.
What sets Milwaukie Cafe apart from other places?
Nobody else "in Milwaukie is doing anything like us," Pirtle said.
What: The Milwaukie Cafe
and Bottle Shop
Where: 9401 S.E. 32nd Ave., Milwaukie
Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily,
Menu items: Baked eggs with veggies, pork shoulder or brisket, $10-$12; polenta bowls (gluten free) with scrambled eggs, roasted veggies, brisket or smoked chicken, $9-$12; French toast, biscuits and gravy, and eggs benedicts, $10-$14; and sandwiches and other specialties, $7-$12