Columbia City Brunch
Geraldine's Counter Does Breakfast Basics Right
4872 Rainier Ave S, 723-2080,
Tues-Thurs 7 am-9 pm; Fri 7 am-10 pm; Sat 8 am-3 pm, 4:30-10 pm; Sun 8 am-3 pm.
Someone I'm just getting to know told me that on Sunday mornings he likes to sleep in, get up, make himself as big a breakfast as possible, eat all of it, then go back to sleep. I enjoy this idea immensely, though typically I don't like to eat much right after I wake up. I make coffee, putter around, graze on leftovers sitting on the stove, and fantasize about a big lunch.
All of us have our own breakfast ritual and, for the most part, we eat alone (or at least in our own heads), quietly preparing ourselves for the day, feeding ourselves exactly what we please. Breakfast is personal, and we're all a little vulnerable in the morning, so eating breakfast with someone implies a certain level of intimacy. The best breakfast partners are friends—people you're comfortable being sleepy, smelly, and/or hungover around, people you actually want to look in the eye, even if those eyes are a little puffy and crusty.
In just over three years, Geraldine's Counter in Columbia City has established itself as a popular and worthy place for people to break biscuits together. (And Geraldine's biscuits—fluffy, dense but not dry, with a perfect, golden-brown crumbly crust—are awesome.) Gary Snyder and Stacey Hettinger—the same folks behind Capitol Hill's El Greco, home of my favorite breakfast dish in town, the El Greco Benedict—clearly understand what a neighborhood craves. With Geraldine's, they created an inviting, light-filled, laid-back restaurant that specializes in American comfort food. It's a genius move. While I do not love the acoustics of the place, which create and carry a cacophony of voices that drives me slightly batty, I do love that Geraldine's is almost always full with a diverse crowd of people that actually represents the population of Columbia City, all of whom seem thrilled to be there, eating with each other.
Geraldine's best breakfast offerings are of the standard, glorious, artery-clogging variety. I couldn't tell if my chicken fried steak (served with hash browns and two eggs, $9.75) was a round or hamburg, but it didn't matter because it wore its thick, crunchy, salty flour coating so well, spilling just the right amount of oily meat juice with every slice of the knife. Geraldine's gravy, thankfully, is heavy on the pork sausage, and has so much oil that tiny golden pools of it can be found throughout. Because of this, I will forgive the gravy's heavy, occasionally overpowering dose of dried herbs. (My friend Betty ordered an extra side of gravy to go with her biscuit that came in a mug. I have since considered returning to Geraldine's for a mug of gravy and a biscuit, and eating it like crackers and soup.)
Corned beef hash ($8.75) is excellent—large cubes of moist and briny brisket (many with a sweet slab of fat attached), potatoes, slightly charred onions and bell peppers, and crispy bits off the griddle. It's topped with two poached eggs, whose runny yokes ooze and bind the whole mixture together smoothly.
Betty's Sweet White Corn, Havarti & Herb Scramble ($8.50) was surprisingly bland, and rather disappointing. The corn was yellow, not white, and clearly came from a can (which is just criminal considering it's summer). Also, the only herb present in the scramble was chives. At least she had the aforementioned biscuit and gravy to enjoy. Geraldine's could also stand to revamp their shredded hash browns. It's possible we got the tail end of an old batch, because the servings were very small and dry, and looked like bird's nests on the plate. Very unfortunate.
I don't make it down to Columbia City all that often, but I always get a little jealous when I do. On just a small strip, there's a fantastic variety of food options—La Medusa, the Columbia City Bakery, Bob's Quality Meats, the Wednesday farmers market, Jones Barbeque, Tutta Bella, and Geraldine's Counter—that range from absolutely sublime to reliably delicious. Geraldine's Counter isn't perfect, but it doesn't need to be. Despite disheartening hash browns and a few missteps, it's well worth the trip.