Joe Brown's Cafe has lasted so long for good reason




Why: Joe Brown's Cafe was established in 1932, making it the oldest restaurant in Vancouver. Brown sold the restaurant in 1985 to Lew Carlton, who has been keeping the tradition going ever since. The cafe is open seven days a week, save just four holidays a year — Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

The menu is filled with a variety of diner-style choices, and breakfast is served all day.

Atmosphere: The cafe is one of those iconic places where stepping through the door is a nostalgic visit to a bygone era. Light green, muted gold and black is accented by stainless-steel hardware and honey-colored lattice. Old-time product ads, witty sayings, and photos of people, cars and a few landscapes decorate the walls. The L-shaped counter has seating along its entire length, booths are along one wall (complete with hat/coat hooks), and there are some tables and chairs to fill in the gaps. The space is comfortable and functional, unpretentious and close but not crowded.

What I tried: I had The Fried Thing (a breakfast sandwich) and my dining companion had the corned beef hash.

My breakfast sandwich was made with fried ham, eggs and melted cheddar on grilled sourdough. I settled on house-made hash browns to accompany it. The other options are a waffle, two pancakes, or two slices of French toast. I appreciated that the sandwich was not greasy in spite of the fact that the majority of its ingredients were fried. The ham was sliced thin, appetizingly lean and included in good proportion to the egg and cheese, with the bread having just a slight toasting from the grill. The sandwich was of hearty size and it held together well. I requested that the hash browns be made extra crispy, and I was not disappointed.

My dining companion enjoyed all the elements of his breakfast and noted everything was prepared perfectly.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: Breakfast choices include many options and portions. In addition to standard breakfast fare, there is a hamburger and cheddar omelet, and a Texas special omelet made with house-made chili, cheddar cheese, onions, taco meat and salsa.

For lunch, there are fourteen burgers to choose from, including a mushroom and swiss burger and a Cajun burger. Among the hot sandwiches are a Hamburger Dip (served with au jus), a pastrami and a Malibu chicken breast sandwich.

A taco salad is available, as is a delicious-sounding crispy chicken salad made with tomatoes, bacon, cheddar and/or Swiss cheese.

Regular and malted milkshakes, sundaes, a root beer float and ice cream should adequately satisfy for dessert.

Other observations: Service was friendly, our beverages were quick to the table but the food was not — though it was fresh and piping hot when it arrived. I enjoyed the old-school diner atmosphere. The only serious wear was on the ceiling near the front door, where it looks as though there has been some water damage that was covered with paint.

Take-out is available.

Cost: Combination breakfasts and skillets cost $3.50 to $13.99. French toast, pancakes and waffles are $2.99 to $6.99. Omelets (made with 4 eggs and served with additional items) are $7.99 to $9.99. Crepes are $4.99 and $6.99.

Lunch specials top out at around $10. Sandwiches and burgers range from $3.99 to $9.99. Salads and soups are between $2.99 and $8.

Desserts are no more than $5.50.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

Where: 817 Main St., Vancouver.

Telephone: 360-693-6375

Health score: Joe Brown's Cafe received a score of 0 on June 6. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428