At Peels, the latest feather in Taavo Somer's and William Tigertt's Freemans cap, it's hard not to stare: depending on your interest, you'll be struck first either by the sight of the many mouth-watering pastries in the case beside the Stumptown coffee bar, or by the parade of carefully disheveled, attractive people and their very expensive footwear. As with Freemans, the scene at Peels is part of the draw. But, fortunately, both restaurants rely on more than just their good looks to keep the crowds.
Billing itself as a regional American restaurant, Peels seems to focus on the Southern region—with a breakfast menu that's heavy on collard greens and comfort food.
For our first visit, we skewed toward the savory. The Greens & Eggs ($11) doesn't sound as interesting as, say, the Atticus Finch, but it's a flavorful combination. Poached eggs sit atop creamy collard greens and mushrooms, with a biscuit on the side that comes in handy for sopping up the very wet mix.
Iron sides ($12), a dish of baked eggs, grits, mustard greens, and cheddar, served in an iron skillet, wasn't markedly different from the Greens & Eggs—except that the eggs were fully cooked. Bites with grits and cheddar were delicious, but bites without tended to be dry and might be improved with some runny yolks.
But just as we found at lunch, the sweet seems to be the kitchen's strength. The Meltin' Melnick ($13) is essentially a French toast sandwich (reminiscent of a Monte Cristo), with custardy bread enveloping bacon and extra-sharp cheddar. The French toast is good enough to stand on its own and the salty-sweet dish is perfect for the indecisive. It's on this dish that the mind lingers; I find myself trying to justify it as a necessary part of a well-rounded diet days later.
Flapjacks ($11) are simple--a short stack topped with berry compote--but they meet the mark: they're light and fluffy and are served with real maple syrup, poured from a glass log cabin.
Alternatively, the pastry case has plenty to make a meal (albeit a sweet one), and we're looking forward to further sampling. The namesake Peels muffin ($2.50) blends Rosemary with nutty buckwheat, and finishes with the zesty flavor of preserved lemons.
While the muffin is a true success, the Monkey Bread ($3.25) disappoints: what should be warm and gooey is served cold, with stiff Mascarpone, and it lacks the pliability of Mom's version. The buttery, flaky biscuits are perhaps the real star, and a solid meal would come in the form of the Build-A-Biscuit ($3 and up): start with classic buttermilk and choose from options like scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, country ham, or avocado.
The restaurant still needs to work out some service flaws. On both visits, the servers struggled to meet the demand for coffee, attributing the issue to the use of French Presses. On our second visit, our entire order was lost and we waited over an hour for our food—all while one pair of diners beside us came and went. But so long as you are prepared to take a little time and linger over your breakfast, Peels has plenty to offer.