It's a common malady among several of my friends. We're walking or driving someplace together and see a sweet little building or storefront that's been abandoned or underused, sometimes for years, and say, "Gosh, wouldn't it be fun to turn that into a darling café/bakery/bar/lunch spot."
Ginger cake with lemon curd at Palace Cakes.
We then fantasize about what the menu would be, whether we'd make our own pasta and which coffee roaster we'd choose for our house blend. Our dreaming never goes further than that, since most of us know folks in the food service industry and know what a crazy, backbreaking job it is to realize that dream of just the right place with just the right menu that finds just the right customers who come back again and again.
Two places that seem to have found that magic combination are Palace Cakes, Elizabeth Beekley's ode to pastries your grandmother would approve of, and Kristen Murray's Maurice, the sparkling white oh-so-French "pastry luncheonette." Both are teensy spaces with very limited seating, but seem to have hit that zeitgeist of place, time and offerings that spell instant success.
Beekley's bakery scored a building I've had my eye on for years that sits just on the western edge of the pretentiously dubbed West End neighborhood. No newb to the pastry business, Beekley and her sister—they are two of eleven sibs, all apparently crazy bakers—took the town by storm in 2007 with tiny filled cookies sold from their Two Tarts stand at several farmers' markets.
Gorgeous but not over-decorated, sitting on antique cake stands and vintage plates, Beekley uses basic ingredients to turn out deeply flavored cakes that pair perfectly with a cup of house coffee.
Counter seats at Maurice.
Maurice, located just across West Burnside from the Godzilla-like epicenter that is Powell's Books, is a bright oasis of civility, a little taste of the Île-Saint-Louis sandwiched in a row of non-descript storefronts. Like Beekley, Murray is no stranger to the pastry scene in Portland, having made desserts for the likes of Vitaly Paley's eponymous Paley's Place and the late Pearl District mega-bistro Fenouil.
Quiche at Maurice.
Savory and sweet baked goods are the focus of the intensely curated menu that may feature a light and fluffy seasonal quiche, a savory meat pie, lefse, poulet au pain or pigeon bisteeya alongside a perfectly composed green salad and desserts from tarte tatin to Swedish fika cookies and a glace du jour.
If my mother was still with us I'd take her to Powell's for a bit of book-browsing, then to Maurice for a light lunch and over to Palace Cakes for dessert. She would have called it a perfect day.