Shari’s is an Oregon-based restaurant chain similar to Denny’s in both menu and atmosphere — which is to say, very middle-of-the-ground — but they’re open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s Christmas day. After over 6 hours on the road, we quickly checked in to the hotel and started researching places for dinner. Lesson learned: Portland literally shuts down on Christmas day. Yes, Chinese restaurants are open — but really, Chinese food in Portland? We weren’t willing to risk it.
None of us were too happy about starting our Portland trip at Shari’s — fighting tooth and nail for a parking spot and elbowing our way into a packed house on a Christmas evening. But we ran out of options. Luckily, the host was on the ball, acutely aware of all incoming traffic and quickly whipping out his pen and pad to make sure everyone entering the foyer was either seated or on a wait list.
(Top to bottom: 1. Steak, shrimp and stuffed hashbrowns. 2. Nuclear green salad.)
After a brief 10 minute wait, the six of us were seated at a corner banquette and began pouring through the predictable menu of classic American dishes: glossy shots of immaculately grilled steaks, perfectly sliced and portioned turkey dinners, shockingly green salads, and gratuitous close-up shots of pie slices glistening with sugary fruit filling and topped with a generous dusting of coarse sugar. Having dined South of the border many times and being pre-exposed to the portion differential, Case and I wisely decided to split our meal: A charbroiled Flatiron steak with shrimps and Shari’s own signature hashbrowns stuffed with melted cheese, sour cream and topped with smoked bacon bits and scallions. Our medium rare steak — was, well medium rare — and nicely seasoned. The shrimps were juicy and the batter crispy. Surprisingly, the stuffed hashbrowns was quite tasty: it was basically a baked potato with the topping stuffed inside well-shredded and fried spuds.
Feeling utterly obligated to balance this excess of carbs and protein, we ordered a side green salad which was served with a side of glutinous Italian vinaigrette-type dressing. As expected, the salad was dried out (although we were fascinated by the vibrancy of the colours) and the dressing was just really heavy and sugary.
I can’t recall what our compadres ordered — but I believe the entire gamut of menu was ordered: country fried steak, ribs, pot roast — it was excess at its best and worst.
(Clockwise: 1. Coffee comes in its own personal-sized carafe. 2. Portland brew. 3. They have good pies.)
Having demolished the meal, we were ready for more. Everyone at the table was eyeing the dessert menu — and we all settled on pie: Peach, Apple and the local favourite: Marionberry — some were a la mode, others were not. Prior to this visit, we hadn’t realized that Shari’s were well known for their pies. Now, we can see why. They were downright delicious. Accompanying the pies were two cups of Joe. Portland, like Seattle and Vancouver have a pretty healthy coffee culture — so even the chain restaurant brew is pretty decent.
Our service throughout the evening was top-notch, which caught us off guard. All the servers pinch-hitted for each other with genuine smiles, checking up on us every 10 minutes and our glasses of water (which, by the way rival Vancouver’s in taste and cleanliness) were never empty. Myself and Case’s portion of the meal ended up being $27 including a 25% tip (good service, and it was Christmas after all — plus, not having to pay tax on the meal made it easier to up the tip).
Low expectations, combined with good execution on a ho-hum menu and top-notch service made a potentially depressing holiday dinner a relatively enjoyable one. We’ve dined at Shari’s before (always out of necessity, and usually leaving disappointed) — this time, we left pretty happy.