Restaurant Review: Cafe Rio

Cafe Rio from outside

Editor’s note: We all went to Cafe Rio together, and our friend Lorna Nakell spontaneously wrote this review about our experience. (P.S. We try to mark when restaurants are vegan/vegetarian friendly, and this one very clearly is. Also, the espresso drinks that we had were awesome!) Thanks Lorna!

Café Rio is a hip enough sounding name for a Portland eatery—but don’t be deceived. Immediately upon entering this small establishment, friends and I were disappointed. It seemed that the owner couldn’t decide between having a sit-down or take-out restaurant, so they went for something in-between—not a cart, but also not a full dining establishment either—a “cartaurant.” Although there were five in our party, there was only one table—in the whole place (okay, it was actually two smaller tables that we had to fit together), and that table would only accommodate four of us. My son was left to make himself comfortable in an upholstered chair (complete with attached swivel table) that looked like it was teleported in from an 80’s style hotel lobby.

The menu appeared simple enough for their small kitchen set-up and featured many variations of their specialty dish, GF waffles. In addition, they offered scrambled eggs with your choice of toppings. At first we were afraid that they would be microwaving the eggs, but were pleased to find out that they actually had two small sauté pans at the ready.

Dishes we ordered included two different egg scrambles, three different kinds of waffles, a scone (brought in from an outside baking co.), coffees and a fresh squeezed orange juice. This is what happened: Orders for our table came a little too staggered. We were surprised and saddened when our food was served on paper plates looking like it was prepared by my seven-year-old son (no offense, Calder).

Scrambled Eggs

Sorry for the image quality - but...

The egg dishes came without sides of toast or garnishes of any kind. Although the sausage in mine was tasty, the eggs were crumbly and they skimped on the spinach leaves. The waffles, on their own, ended up being pretty tasty and a good consistency. But, initially, we had a rough go at it because in addition to having to navigate waffle cutting with plastic utensils, we were informed that they didn’t have any butter or jam, but would we like some coconut oil instead (Ummm, why would I want that? Do YOU use that?).

Waffles with Banana and Nuts

Bottom line: Friendly and accommodating service, airport style presentation and atmosphere. Although I want to be encouraging to any dining establishment that is trying to incorporate GF food into their menu, sometimes all the pieces of a restaurant just don’t fit together the way they should. So, in regards to Café Rio, I have to say that unless you live in their hood and are too tired from partying the night before to drag out ye ol’ waffle iron and whip up some Bob’s Redmill pancake mix (which, by the way, is what they use), by all means give them a try. If not, there are so many other great restaurants that serve GF goods these days, you shouldn’t go out of your way to visit Café Rio.

Product Review: Pamela’s Gluten-Free Baking & Pancake Mix

We’re getting close to our one year anniversary of Gluten Free Portland dot Org, and a lot of our long-term readers will know by now that I love pancakes and am on a one-man search for the best gluten-free pancakes in the world. Right now, my preferred gluten-free pancakes are the Trader Joe’s frozen kind, which we reviewed here. We also tried the Trader Joe’s mix, reviewed here, but I liked the pre-made ones better, mostly because the mix doesn’t have much flavor. Over the year we’ve received a lot of comments from people that we should try Pamela’s Gluten-Free Baking & Pancake Mix. So we finally did it.

Pamela's Gluten-free Baking & Pancake Mix

If you have trouble getting Pamela’s mixes at your local store, you can get them on Amazon. Here’s a list of the ingredients: Brown Rice Flour; White Rice Flour; Cultured Buttermilk; Natural Almond Meal; Tapioca Starch; Sweet Rice Flour; Potato Starch; Grainless & Aluminum-Free Baking Powder (Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Potato Starch); Baking Soda; Sea Salt; Xanthan Gum. Those of you who watch for allergens in ingredient lists will have caught the buttermilk and almond meal. Their cross-contamination statement states that this mix is manufactured on shared equipment that is also used with tree nuts, soy, eggs, and milk. Seeing as how we’re talking about the ingredients, their serving-size (two 4-inch pancakes) contains about 390 mg of sodium. That compares well to the frozen Trader Joe’s, which have 430 mg in a serving.

Mix it up

Making pancakes with this mix is ridiculously easy. Depending on the size of your skillet, it can be a good idea to pre-heat the skillet. You’ll want it hot enough that drops of water will sizzle, but not so hot that they jump. Put the Pamela’s gluten-free mix in a mixing bowl and add eggs, oil, and water. I also added a half teaspoon of vanilla. Obviously, you’ll want to add the water last, and do the thing where you add most of it in and then mix it up to make sure your mix doesn’t get too watery. Your mix should be wet enough that it pours, but thick enough that it’ll hold together when you pour it on the skillet.

gluten-free pancake!

It is in the very nature of pancakes that your first batch won’t be good. I always cook only one pancake first to make sure the temperature is right. If the skillet is too hot, the insides won’t cook. If it’s too cold, the outsides won’t brown properly and the pancakes will be dry.

Steaming Hot Pancakes

Gluten-free pancakes!

Gluten-Free Blueberry Pancakes!

I also made some blueberry pancakes. By now you’re probably like “Yes Yes Dave, but how did they taste?” I thought they were good. They cook up fluffy and moist. If someone were to cook them for me, I would eat them happily. Sienna didn’t like them much and said that they had a strange aftertaste. She said that they tasted like ashes. Maybe we were expecting them to be really amazing because of all the positive comments we’ve read. It’s pretty clear that this mix is rather popular with the gluten-free crowd. I would say that the Pamela’s mix is better than the Trader Joe’s gluten-free mix, but the finished pancakes aren’t as good as the Trader Joe’s frozen packaged pancakes.

Freeze them pancakes

Speaking of frozen pancakes, I like to make a large batch of pancakes and then freeze them to eat later. They reheat very well.

I think that, ultimately, if you miss pancakes and want to make some from a mix, I would recommend giving Pamela’s a try. From the disclosures on the package, it looks like there isn’t a chance of gluten cross-contamination, which is nice. The recipe is easy, and besides just pancakes, the package includes recipes and directions for making waffles, crepes, muffins, chocolate chip cookies, and also for breading chicken or fish. (For breading chicken and fish, we really love using garbanzo and fava bean flour with pepper and paprika – see our recipe here).

We’ve been having a lot of good luck using some of the various gluten-free flour mixes available on the Internet. Maybe it’s time for me to start looking for some.

We want to know: Do you have a favorite store-bought gluten-free baking mix? How about a flour mix or pancake recipe on the Internet? Send us a link. Let us know in the comments!

Times we have visited: 1 (So your mileage may vary.)
Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: about 45% more (based on prices of wheat-based mixes on Amazon)

Check out other Pamela’s Mixes on Amazon.