James John Cafe
Once upon a time, I was a substitute teacher, and occasionally I’d be assigned to James John Elementary. After a harried morning in the classroom, I’d cut across the playground and head into downtown St. Johns for lunch. Over time, I developed a real soft spot for this plucky Portland annex, because while it isn’t always much to look at, it’s got heart. Along the main street, a busy tienda sells garish piñatas and delicious dollar tacos, the old time camera shop makes sure lovingly-restored typewriters go to good homes, the loopy gelato shop makes you feel like you fell down the rabbit hole, the proud little volunteer-run farmers’ market brightens the plaza all summer, and James John Café nurtures the neighborhood with excellent coffee, fresh-baked pastries, a full bar, and satisfying eats like cassoulet, roasted vegetable bread pudding, smoked trout hash, biscuits ‘n gravy, and a half dozen sandwiches.
Pushing back from the table after your meal, you might seriously consider relocating to St. Johns, for the food and the piñatas.
The unassuming, black awning-sheltered storefront opens up into a big, peaceful café with soaring pressed-tin ceilings, well-worn sofas framing a coffee table strewn with NYT sections, and a vintage bar lined with hipsters sipping Stumptown coffee, fresh-squeezed lemonade and PBR. The décor is sparse but interesting—deer heads hang on the walls above muted still-lifes of fruit, and an antlered rabbit with a saucy expression is mounted above the doorway to the kitchen.
Occasionally, chefs/owners Aaron Solley and Suzanne Bozarth (formerly bar manager at Paley’s Place) host four-course communal-style dinners for a lucky few, with seasonal menus that might include mushroom consommé, pickled shrimp salad, braised beef short ribs with horseradish potatoes, and espresso pot de crème. Pushing back from the table afterwards, you might seriously consider relocating to St. Johns, for the food and the piñatas.
Cuisine: New American
Executive Chef: Aaron Solley
Owner: Aaron Solley and Suzanne Bozarth
Atmosphere: Big roomy space in a historic building right on St. Johns' main street, beautiful high tin ceilings and antique bar, a relaxing gathering spot for neighborhood folk to have a chat or read the paper
Outdoor seating: Sidewalk tables
Best Seat: They're all great, but the sofa is extra comfy
Noise Level: Normal when full, quiet when sparsely occupied
Dress Code: Casual
Bring the Kids: Yes
Bathrooms: Back of the dining room, down the hall
Parking: Street parking is free and can be challenging to find right out front, but relatively easy to find on a side street
Cocktails: Full bar and craft cocktails
Teetotalers: Sodas, juices, and the house lemonade is delicious
Coffee: Water Avenue Coffee
Tea: Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants
Ideal Meal: Biscuits with chocolate gravy, breakfast sandwich, hash, cassoulet, chicken salad and almonds sandwich
Vegetarian Friendly: Yes
Good for the following occasions: Brunch, Lunch With Friends, Dining Solo, Coffee & Pastries, St. Johns Snack Break