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I rarely take any time off. I horde vacation days, akin to that frenetic squirrel of Ice Age fame with his quest to save his favorite acorn from the evil clutches of being used up. I scrounge and scrape and count and recount: so I can take it all in one big chunk and fly back home from the SF bay area to Bangladesh. It’s a long trip.

But not taking any time off is not pretty. So this year I’ve been trying to make one or two exceptions in the interest of preservation of sanity (mine as well as those around me). So I took Friday off.

I made plans to meet a couple of my friends from Dallas and we picked Portland as our destination. But really, our plan was to just pick up a car and head out onto the coastal roads of Oregon and then drive on down to SF. Of course, a given that no coast-side ride-along will be complete without frequently stopping along the way to oooh and aaaah at the scenic spread ahead of us.

Armed with restaurant recommendations from ex-locals and after wading through countless restaurant reviews from the eatery-yoda of yelp, we thought we had a place picked out for our first meal: friday morning brunch in Portland. When my first preference pick turned out to be closed (brunch only on weekends), we were in a bind, with raised hopes and dashed dreams. Another crystal ball consult with yelp gave us the answer: Broder.

We had spent the night at a hotel near the airport and now made our way to SE Clinton Street – a very cute residential neighborhood with pockets of small-town-downtown-ness interspersed almost flippantly amid the lawnery of the homes. The colorful bike stands caught my eye – imagine a kindergartener’s dandelion stem and the curved stalks holding up the leaves: then imagine steel structures in hot pink that mimic nature’s curves and serves as a station for you to lock your bikes to!

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Broder is a Scandinavian establishment, reknowned for its brunch fare. The restaurant is small, with a bar and grill area to one side, and tables along the opposite wall, densely packed in. The décor was simple and elegant – in particular, their black metal “tree” ceiling light fixture intrigued me. There were fresh flowers and quirky artwork scattered along the wall behind the bar area. Overall, pretty cute.

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As we entered, we were informed of a five to ten minute wait. We strolled outside as we waited, admiring the bike stands and wondering the choice of color. By the time we were seated, we had done our homework studying the menu and were ready to order – a large coffee and a double-shot espresso to start. As we waited, maybe a little impatiently stirring in our seats, famished by now, I studied the happy hour menu – partly because I was curious, but mostly because I couldn’t take my eyes off the word “aebleskivers” 😀

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Service was actually very prompt. Very soon after we requested our caffeine, the friendly server brought out our drinks. Now that I’m looking back on it, I’m wondering why I didn’t get an orange juice or something, so I’d have a drink of mine to write about 🙂 I’m really not much of a coffee drinker myself, but my friends seemed to like the strong coffee.

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Our server announced the specials of the day with a flourish, and I was immediately taken by the “cabbage rolls” with elk meat, served on a Swedish potato pancake, and topped with a cold and tangy slaw. When the dish came out, it did not disappoint. The cabbage rolls were stuffed with ground elk meat, rice and spices – with an interesting sweet undertone that perfectly complemented the elk meat, even though normally I am not a big fan of sweet flavors with my proteins. I dug in happily, slicing away at my cabbage rolls in contentment, forking over strands of the potato pancake and layering it with the slaw into a biteful of textural and flavor extravaganza!

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My friend ordered the “Swedish hash” – cubed potatoes with peppers and onions, with smoked trout mixed in liberally. The hash was topped with a double baked egg (think poached eggs except baked) and an elegant topping of chopped red beets. The dish came out paired with walnut toast slices for your butter slathering pleasure.

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My other friend had ordered the scramble with gravlax, served with a Swedish pancake as a side, and the walnut toast. Gravlax is interesting – a cold cured salmon with sugar, salt and dill. Back in the middle ages, the salmon used to be buried with salt above the high tide level, and hence the name “grave lox” or buried salmon. The “scramble” itself felt like a slight misnomer – it was more of a square baked omelet with the flavors and textures of gravlax intricately woven into it elegantly.

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As we plowed through our incredibly scrumptious brunch, we decided we couldn’t quite leave without sharing an order of the pancakes. A menu was brought back out, we pored over our dipping sauce options: honey lemon curd, syrup, lingonberry jam or applesauce. The applesauce was quickly vetoed, the lingonberry jam a definite yes, and finally we opted for the “safer” syrup choice in lieu of trying the lemon curd. The pancakes came out in a heap of steaming pancake balls, dusted with powdered sugar and accompanied on the side by the two dipping sauces.

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I’m not quite sure of the best way to describe the pancakes. I’ve pondered whether they were baked or pan fried – the outside was perfectly dry and bereft of any oil or fat, yet lightly crispy with just that one subtle hint of a resistance as you sink your teeth into the ball. The inside was light and fluffy – almost like a corn bread without the grains. Still steaming, the pancake-ball insides hungrily sopped up the syrup or lingonberry jam. I took a bit of the pancake ball first without the dipping sauces – just to get a sense of its unadorned taste. Interestingly enough, a cinnamon-nutmeg-cardamom flavor came forth pretty dominantly, right alongside the mild sweetness. It was something that made you tilt your head to the side in mild (and amused) puzzlement – did I taste that right? Then as you take the leap of faith and invite the dipping sauce to the party, that’s when it finally makes sense. The notes of spice blend remarkably well with the sweet from the dipping sauces and transform into a delicate harmony of taste on the tongue. Wow!

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Broder was an exceptionally relaxing and laid back brunch on a Friday morning away from the humdrum of our regular workweeks, in an eclectic but elegant atmosphere, with friendly servers and some amazingly well executed Scandinavian brunch favorites.

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