Eat Here: Sweedeedee
July 20 2014
Even before a move to Portland I had heard buzz about Sweedeedee, a humble little joint on Albina that whips up amazing pies and hugs in the form of home made corn cakes and oven-baked bacon. Walking into the unassuming dwelling tucked away in cozy North Portland, one is welcomed by the quaint sounds of a record player. At the counter you’re greeted by a huge array of pies, breads, cakes, and cookies, and it’s hard to resist an entire honey pie in favor of a sensible breakfast.
What makes this place oh so special is not simply its charming white walls and wooden floors, or that absolutely everything has been thrifted, or that a 45 minute wait seems a grateful sacrifice. No, what makes Sweedeedee so welcoming is that the place just seems, well, honest. “Honest” may be an unusual way to describe a restaurant or a setting, but it really is just that. It feels like you are in your best friend’s kitchen.
We caught up with owner Eloise Augustyn, a total sweedee (the pun needed to happen sometime or another), to chat about how the cutest place in Portland came to be.
Take us to the beginning, where did it all start for Sweedeedee?
It happened over a lot of years working in a kitchen. I lived rurally for about 10 years in Wales, returning to Portland in 2004, and I guess I just prefer everything at a slower pace. I always envisioned opening a little country cafe, and so, those are the roots of this place.
Why open a restaurant? Why give your experience a home?
You know, I don’t have an answer to that. I think that for as long as I can remember I knew I was going to do it. Since I was young, I dreamed of a small kitchen.
What’s in your fridge at home?
Well, a lot of kimchi and radishes, as well as a lot of seasonal berries. The staples, of course, always butter, eggs, and greens.
The name “Sweedeedee” is a track of of Michael Hurley’s album Arm Chair Boogie, but what made you want to name your restaurant after it?
I had had the original name that I came up with about 10 years ago, which was “The Bothy”, and I was totally set on it. There was even a sign made as kind of a “here’s your deadline, what are you going to do?”. Then one night, really late, I was listening to the Arm Chair Boogie album and there is a line “Wash the clothes, Sweedeedee, and hang ’em on the line./I can see by the way you wash the clothes, your cooking must be fine”. It’s a term of endearment, I’ve always liked all the different ways that you can say “darling”.
What’s your favorite item on the menu?
The Baker’s Breakfast, because that was always my breakfast.
Sweedeedee seems almost like a collective of sorts by the way you guys support local farms and vendors. How important is this sense of community for you?
That’s why the cafe even exists, it’s everyone bringing their creative talents to the space, our staff and our vendors. Most of our produce is grown in Aurora, about 30 minutes from Portland, where we get all of our salad greens and mustard greens. It’s amazing to see how everyone makes these seemingly out of reach dreams a reality. Like Mike of Simington Gardens, I couldn’t imagine the work it takes to run a farm and he’s just a thirty year old guy figuring it out.
What kind of experience do you hope to create for your guests when they walk in?
One of my main hopes, and one of the ways that I would feel that this space is successful, is that we are approachable to everybody and anybody. I’m comfortable eating out alone, but I know a lot of people aren’t, so I worked to create a place where it was easy to pop in and get a meal then maybe realize that it was more than just a sandwich and end up staying for 15 extra minutes to enjoy a slice of pie. I wanted to turn it into a special place for people to dine alone, take a rest, have a proper meal, and slow down a little bit.
What are you guys listening to these days?
Well, when it first started it was just my record collection but now we pull records from Mississippi Records [the record shop which shares a dwelling with Sweedeedee]. I think the top record is definitely Milk and Honey, but we’re always playing Elizabeth Cotten, Waylon Jennings’ Singer of Sad Songs, and a lot of Lee Hazlewood.
What do you do with all that leftover pie?
To be honest, there usually isn’t a lot of leftovers. But of course, we have a lot of friends of the neighbourhood who come to take away the end of the honey pie.
Maybe the secret to Sweedeedee’s success is that they have caught on to the need to get back to the basics of cooking with heart, rather than with ego.
All photographs by Laura Holland.