Buckwheat groats should be a shoo-in for healthy diets: The whole grain's been linked with to a lowered risk of high cholesterol and high blood pressure. It's packed with manganese, magnesium and fiber. But groats are such a tough sell in Seattle that Portage Bay Cafe is yanking them from the restaurant's breakfast menu.
I'm familiar with buckwheat groats from kasha varnishkes, the Jewish soul food dish of bow-tie noodles, sweated onions and admittedly bland groats that Russian immigrants carried over from the old country. So I was terrifically excited to see them listed on the section of Portage Bay's menu reserved for items eligible for breakfast bar garnishing: A hot buckwheat cereal studded with fresh fruit and nuts sounded so virtuous I figured I could skip the green tea.
"Um, have you had buckwheat?" my server asked skeptically when I requested the standard helping, served with sweetened hemp milk, banana slices and Theo cacao nibs. "It's different."
She eventually agreed to place the order, but only on the condition that I'd ask for pancakes if I didn't like my porridge. She checked in multiple times while I was eating, reporting that she'd told another customer about my surprising progress when he asked her to describe the groats. "Maybe I shouldn't be so down on it," she said.
For the groats, though, her conversion came too late. When Portage Bay switches to its spring menu, it's booting the buckwheat in favor of rice porridge.
"We had a sweet rice porridge," recalls Jeff Smith, general manager of the Roosevelt location. "That was what the customers grew to love if they were gluten-intolerant and wanted something vegetarian."
The porridge will return as a sweet congee, with a savory congee replacing the wintertime grits with red-eye gravy.
"We decided to get even more creative and that's where the congee concept came from," Smith says. "The sweet version will have some maple syrup and coconut with maybe some almonds and fruit, while the savory version will include a slow cooked boneless pork chunk, wilted greens and poached eggs."
Although few patrons are likely to miss the buckwheat groats, Smith doesn't rule out another menu appearance.
"The groats was a great idea in its inception," Smith says. "However our feedback from the customers was that they all collectively missed the sweet rice porridge. Stay tuned, we reserve the right to bring the buckwheat groats back in the future."