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Rostra rating: 3.5
Platitude or attitude? Day drinking or drunk food? Jam on Hawthorne or Stepping Stone? Fortunately, MagoGuide does not have to choose, but one simply cannot resist the urge to compare two of Rose City’s iconic breakfast/brunch spots.
MagoGuide has been a big fan of Stepping Stone for years during our Alphabet District phase (see Bummed About Besaws? Stroll over to Stepping Stone for Breakfast), but Jam’s rather restricted hours ( 7:30AM to 3PM daily) made breakfast logistics difficult until we transferred our flag to East Portland. Now, however, the tables have been turned on Stepping Stone and Jam is Team Mago’s prima colazione champion.
While Jam disposes of around double the covers available at Stepping Stone, it turns out to be a distinction without a difference. At prime time, both places have serious lines and associated waits. Their approaches to maintaining order amongst the hungry hordes, however, are completely divergent. Stepping Stone pulls no punches with its culinary philosophy: “You eat here because we let you.” Jam reveals a kindler, gentler side with “Everyone loves it here; you will, too,” and backs that up with the provision of two safe spaces in the form of a children’s play area and, um, the bar. As a dipsomaniac ligyrophobe, it worked for me, especially since the bar seating is such that your food is nice and close to your face.
Mago tip: Macrophobes and sociophobes should pursue petit dejeuner at mid-morning weekdays. The bar is also a nice walk-in option for singles and couples at off peak. If you like the social aspects of Portland queuing, then go for prime time weekend brunch.
But Jam is way more than a well designed Chuck E. Cheese’s. For starters, and despite social media criticism, Jam’s coffee is quite decent. Then there is the booze. Jam has more craft beer taps than Stepping Stone but also unapologetically offers Rainier and PBR “because they are cheap and people like them,” so there! And you sure as hell can’t get a red beer at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Seeing draft Rainier with house bloody Mary mix on the menu took me back to hangovers of bygone days at the Oxford Saloon in Missoula. In combination with numerous bloody Mary, mimosa, and boozy coffee options, Jam’s friendly and efficient service makes it a premier day drinking spot.
The real reason to eat breakfast at Jam on Hawthorne, however, is the food. Here are highlights from our continuing attack on their large and tempting menu.
Pulled pork huevos rancheros: two corn tortillas layered with cheddar, pepper jack, black beans and pulled pork with house ranchero sauce, two eggs and cotija served with hash browns. For the huevos, I have to give the edge to Jam over Stepping Stone’s version. The ranchero sauce was robust with a nice dose of cumin. The dish itself was an excellent platform for Jam’s bespoke habanero-based sauce, which disposed of sufficient by not overpowering heat as well as providing a hit of vinegar that contrasted nicely with the flavorful and slightly chewy black beans. The eggs were perfectly cooked to order and the pulled pig candy brought the dish together. It would be nice if diners could substitute a duck egg for the two of chicken origin, as they can at Stepping Stone, however. Jam’s hash browns come up just a tad short of Stepping Stone’s where they are darker and have a crispier crust.
Corn beef hash: made with pulled bespoke corn beef, bell peppers, red onions and house hash sauce mixed with hash browns and grilled. This monster is Jam’s answer to Stepping Stone’s smothered badass. It is also an excellent way to get your browns deep brown. Unfortunately my eggs were a tad overdone due to the heat of the ginormous mass of meat and taters upon which they rested prior to pick-up service. I went plumb crazy for the shredded corned beef, though, because you can eat twirl it around your fork like pasta.
Nibbler sandwich: with egg, cheddar, and bacon on a biscuit. A mile away on Division, the purveyors at Pine State biscuits should be afraid, very afraid. They make damn good biscuits at Jam and they also have the lines stretching way up the block to prove it. And when you split that biscuit and stuff it with a perfectly cooked egg, nice crispy streaky bacon, and a generous amount of sharp cheddar, it is even better.
The mark of a great breakfast place, however, is not all the huge specials or the number of inventive scrambles but how they handle the humble yet essential “two eggs any style with toast, taters, and a choice of….” Jam delivers on the basics as well with perfectly cooked eggs no matter how you like them, toast that easily beats Stepping Stone, where decent toast is definitely their Achilles heel. Jam’s humble two egg breakfast also contained the biggest surprise of our continuing visits to date. I have no problem with vegetarian preparations of all stripes, except for that ultimate oxymoron “vegetarian meat.” But here is a flash from the old dog department: Jam’s Morningstar vegetarian sausage is so good that I am very tempted to try it in a blind taste test with genuine pig candy–except that I am a little afraid of the outcome, maybe after a red beer or three.
Bottom Line: Jam on Hawthorne and Stepping Stone are not really competitors, but different points on Portland’s boozy breakfast spectrum. You could hit pause on a bender around 3 AM at Stepping Stone on a Friday or Saturday night, sleep eight to ten hours and then press resume at Jam on Hawthorne, take a nap, repeat. Be sure to let MagoGuide know how that works out, OK?