July 12, 2012

Eat and Run: Mom's Cafe, Portland

Just follow your nose to find this out-of-the-way gem.

From staff reports

There's a lot of secret little places around Portland that hungry office workers know about but are hidden from the general public. The cafe in city hall used to be one of those places, but it's now gotten enough ink that it can no longer be considered a secret.

click image to enlarge

Turkey breast roll-ups from Mom’s Cafe at One Canal Plaza in Portland.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer


WHERE: Basement of One Canal Plaza, Portland; 761-8284

HOURS: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday

CHEAPEST GRUB: Breakfast -- fresh fruit muffin, 99 cents; lunch -- homemade soups, $2.99 for 12 ounces, $3.79 for $16 ounces

WAIT: Five minutes if you go after the lunch rush

PARKING: On street or in nearby Fore Street parking garage


RATING: **** 1/2

Based on a five-star scale

Mom's Cafe is another one of those places.

Located in the same office building in the Old Port that's home to Key Bank, Mom's Cafe is clearly targeted to the people who work there. But the low prices and the quality of the sandwiches at Mom's are sure to lure outsiders once they know it exists.

I've heard one or two mentions of Mom's during the many years I've lived in Portland, but really had no idea exactly where it was or what kind of food it serves. One online reviewer raved that the cafe's thick-cut bacon is one of the city's best-kept secrets.

That comment seemed kind of hyperbolic, but it only served to increase my curiosity. So one recent sunny day, I wandered over to One Canal Plaza on the hunt for Mom's.

I ran into a friend and got distracted catching up, but it turns out that the friend works in the same building as Mom's. She assured me I was on the right track. Once you enter the building, you take the elevator down to the first floor, which is, in reality, the basement. (There should be stairs, but I didn't see them.) I stepped off the elevator, and it seemed as if I should go to the right.

From there, I just followed my nose. Literally.

I knew I was close to the cafe because as soon as I stepped off the elevator, I picked up the scent of bacon. I followed the odor to the end of the hall, and there was the cafe, to the left.

It's a really small place. There's a very tiny island in the middle of the cafe with just four stools around it. If you decide to try this place, plan on getting takeout.

Mom's sandwiches come on your choice of bread or sub roll, or you can order it as a roll-up. The sandwiches made with bread range from $4.69 to $5.19, while 8-inch subs range from $5.59 to $5.98. All roll-ups are $5.98.

Basic sandwiches are turkey breast, roast beef, oven-roasted chicken, vegetable and baked Virginia ham. These include your choice of cheddar, Swiss or American cheese and your choice of two vegetables: Lettuce, tomato, dill pickle, black olive, green pepper or Spanish onion. Extra vegetables cost 25 cents each. Roll-ups and sub sandwiches come with all the vegetables.

Cheese is 35 cents extra on the BLT, albacore tuna, chicken salad and egg salad. Bacon is $1.50 extra, which seems steep but at least is the thick-cut variety.

I tried a turkey on multi-grain with tomato, lettuce, onion and bacon, and the check came to $7 and change. It was a hearty lunch, and I would definitely go back to Mom's to try something else.

On the day I visited, the specials included a citrus-infused four-bean salad for $3.75. The soups of the day were sweet and hot Italian sausage and lentil, and hamburger vegetable. The cafe also regularly serves homemade chili and corn chips ($3.99 for 12 ounces and $4.99 for 16 ounces).

Mom's also serves breakfast, including a decent array of breakfast sandwiches. An English muffin with egg and cheese is $1.89; add bacon, sausage or ham, and it's $2.09. Other breakfast options include granola and fat-free yogurt, and a bagel breakfast sandwich.

Mom's is definitely worth a visit during a busy work week. It's not that hard to find.

Just follow your nose.

The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $7.


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