When I was in Portland a couple of weeks ago, I met my niece at St. Honore Bakery (love it!) in Northwest Portland. After lunch, we took a little stroll around the neighborhood and I came upon THIS building:
I was so surprised to recognize it as the location of an old favorite lunch place that my friends and I would go to once or twice a week when I worked in Northwest Portland about 30 years ago! This used to be called Harris Wine Cellars, located on the corner of NW 23rd & Thurman. Inside this front door was a tiny, dusty, wine shop kept by an older gentleman wearing a tweed jacket and bowtie who sat at a big oak desk in the corner reading the New York Times through his gold half-eye spectacles. I have a clear picture of it in my mind. At the time, I wasn't into wine, so I never stopped to look at his collection, but I'm sure there were some rare and aged vintages in that small shop. But my friends and I, we would be on our short hour lunch break from work, and rush on through that room to the large open lunchroom through a doorway in the back of this wine shop. From 1981 to 1985, my work friends and I would go here weekly for lunch.
Harris Wine Cellars was a great place. The large high-ceilinged room had long tables in rows, and you took a seat at the tables with other people - communal seating style. It was kind of like a cafeteria with class. Two older ladies would calmly work the room, and came to offer you the menu with a quiet smile: a single typed half-sheet of paper. As I remember there were usually two daily soups, four sandwiches, and just a few desserts offered on the menu. There was a bit of a French-flair to it and indeed, the entire building including the wine shop made you feel as if you were having lunch somewhere in Europe. Paris, perhaps. As I remember back, this place may have been one of my first introductions to the finer things in life (well that and my summer job at Waverly Country Club, but that's another story for another day). There was something slightly aristocratic about the place and menu. And it held a mystique and appeal to me.
But my friends and I weren't concerned about that at the time. We ordered coffee or iced tea, a sandwich, and would often share a dessert while we talked about weekend plans and the latest office gossip. Our plates would arrive and we'd eat our lunches, I still remember the taste of good-quality Dijon mustard on the whole grain, thinly-sliced dense bread, with "country" ham. It was simple, yes, but not ordinary.
I moved away from Portland in 1985 and never thought again about Harris Wine Cellars until I saw this place across the street on our walk...25 years later. The neighborhood has obviously changed in the past 25 years, but there are still some small historic buildings with small businesses. With a little internet search, I discovered that the Harris family sold the building to the city of Portland, who converted the historical building into a branch of the Multnomah County Library (good choice!), and it appeared to be in full use. Rows of book shelves and people reading at library tables where we used to eat lunch and chat.
If anyone from Portland area has any info about the Harris Wine Cellars - especially their menu or recipes from that time - I would LOVE to hear about it. Please send any info my way. In my online research I only found a recipe for their Shrimp Salad Sandwich. I remember an Egg Salad sandwich on rye, delicious soups, and a Peanut Butter Pie. Does anyone else remember that? Or have access to the recipes? How I wish I had a copy of that old menu now....
Good memories. Harris Wine Cellars lunchroom.