Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

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Home of the good burger

Realizing I might sound like I'm joking, or being sarcastic, I say this in all sincerity:

At some level, I really like being called "hon."

Last night, between work and the movie, I treated myself to my seasonal hamburger. Yes, I said "seasonal": I tend to have maybe four burgers a year now, at most. I started budgeting my burger consumption after a Steve Duin Oregonian profile of Harlan Ellison, who was in Portland in 1997 to read at Powell's and conduct some business with Dark Horse Comics. Duin wrote that, following his mid-'90s heart attack, Ellison was on doctor's orders to eat no more than two burgers a year. And that he preferred at least one of those semi-annual burgers to be from a Portland eatery (a particular McMenamin's, if I remember correctly). At some time post-that, I decided that was a good idea and paced out my own burger eating. The thing is, if I'm only gonna have an occasional burger, I want it to be an especially good burger.

The Virginia Café makes good burgers.

Last night I had the Starlight, with bacon and a layer of bubbly, chunky bleu cheese. That was $8.25 well spent. And it was time well spent, in a restaurant I like. And I'm not the only one.

The Virginia Café has been at its current location (SW Park between Alder and Morrison) for over 80 years -- and was founded nearly 100 years ago a few blocks away -- but it's likely not to be where it is a year from now, if it's around at all. A 35-story tower is slated for its block, replacing the restaurant, the Zell Bros. jewelry store and other buildings, and plenty of people aren't happy about that. I want its dark-panelled depths to stick around and keep feeding me and others well -- I'll leave the rhapsodizing about the bar's drinks to people with more experience bar-drinking than I have -- but if there's only a finite time I can enjoy the place, I'm going to enjoy the place.

I almost took myself to dinner there the night I saw Waitress, at the Fox Tower theater one block over, but decided I wasn't hungry enough for the portion size I'd get there (I also didn't want to get home too late), so I got a slice at Pizza Schmizza instead. That hit the spot, that time, but I wanted to eat at the Virginia again sooner rather than later.

The place feels vintage; the last remodeling was done in 1979, 28 years ago, so making the restaurant up-to-date is not a priority (the two TVs above the bar are the only obvious post-'79 features, and often they're showing things like VH1 Classic or Charlton Heston westerns). Vintage photos, ranging from magazine page-size to several feet wide, are all over the walls; so are vintage ads, photos of patrons, small mirrors, entries in the Virginia's coloring contests, and lipstick imprints (another contest: make the lipstick imprint as large as possible, or as shapely as possible, or as alluring as possible, with carefully-studied and -considered standards for what makes perfect imprints). The bar menu is a cartoon of the Virginia's main floor, and the place is packed in the cartoon. It's usually packed in reality, too, especially the bar side. And it's noisy, but not oppressively so.

I was there for about 40 minutes last night, doing a bit of reading, plenty of eating, and just general soaking-in-the-ambience. And that included my cute server.

She was the one who called me "hon."

Which made me smile.

As I was paying, via my debit card, I asked her if it was more convenient for the restaurant workers if tips were added to the debit, or were paid with cash. She said it didn't matter, but she thanked me for asking. (Always I'm learning better tip etiquette. I like the example of Kevin Smith, former convenience store clerk-turned-filmmaker: when he tips at restaurants, he always pays 50%, that's five-zero not one-five, to support those who are still in the service industry. He's a veteran of it. He understands it. And now that he's reasonably rich, he gives back in that little way.)

I walked to the theater after that, to work off some of that good burger. And I won't wait until it's another season to eat at the Virginia Café again. It likely just won't be a burger. That seasonal thing again, you see...
Tags: harlan, portland

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