Spicing up the menu, and the conversation
By Angie Chuang
December 7, 2006
Edition: Sunrise, Section: Metro
Portland Neighbors: In Portland, Page 30, 31
Norma's Kitchen , Bruce and Norma
On land, many Portlanders know Bruce Broussard as a political rabble-rouser.
The African American Republican activist and commentator has made everyone from U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer to the Portland Rose Festival
Association sweat. Broussard doesn't invite middle-of-the-road responses --and
rarely has them himself. Love him or hate him, one thing's for certain: On the congressional
campaign trail or his public-access television talk show, Broussard gets
noticed. But travel a few miles north of
political centers, to
's world of floating homes, moorages and life
things are a bit different.
On water, Hayden Islanders know Broussard as "Norma's husband."
Friday morning, as Norma Broussard oversees a simmering pot of gumbo at Norma's
, Bruce tapes up
copies of the Creole-Cajun cafe's new menu on the windows.
"It's her thing. I'm just a worker here," he says with a wink.
"Out there, I'm in the mix of it all. Here, they don't recognize me."
Norma has run a catering business and written food articles in the community
newspaper for years. Now, she and Bruce have the café overlooking the water,
right next to Columbia Crossings moorage, which owns the little hutlike building. Inside, they've decorated with Mardi Gras beads and masks, and tongue-in-cheek wall art by
Norma's Uncle Warren --cans of light beer attached to strings are labeled
"Cajun Wind Chimes." Around the corner and out of sight, on the way
to the restrooms, a "Bruce Broussard for Congress" poster decorates
The Broussards took over the cafe, which had been up
for lease after a coffee shop left, in October. Bruce likes to joke that he
lost his campaign manager (Norma) a month before the election. Broussard,
challenging the firmly entrenched Blumenauer, a Democrat, garnered nearly 20
percent of the vote with a $500 campaign. And that was after he was bounced
from a City Council race for filing for the House seat. Norma says her
husband's showing sends a message about the system.
"More and more," she says, "people are wanting politics by the people."
Nevertheless, Norma, more into jambalaya than controversy, says she's been
trying to cajole her husband out of the political life. "But I can't take
him completely away from it. It's his passion."
Bruce and Norma are both from
, in the heart of Cajun country.
Norma says she learned to cook from her mother. There were no recipes, she
"You asked questions, you watched, and you tried it. And then you were corrected,"
Norma has also been trained at
Health & Science
as a food and nutrition
adviser, and has an affinity for healthy Cajun cuisine, which she says is not
The couple moved to
after Bruce, a
former U.S. Marine, served two tours in
. Their first home was in
Northeast Portland, then in
They bought a houseboat at Jantzen Beach 30 years ago,
as a weekend home. In the early 1990s, they moved there full time.
"There are not many folks like us here," Broussard says. "It's a
very conservative bunch and definitely not a diverse bunch."
But Broussard says he's always been about getting people to see past race and
stereotypes --whether of African Americans, boaters, whites or Republicans
--and becoming part of the
community was no exception.
Brad Howton, general manager of Columbia Crossings,
is a regular at the cafe. Hayden Islanders see themselves as a world apart from
landlubbers, he says, and their pride in the close-knit community on the water
overrides politics and race.
in general is pretty invisible to
people," Howton says.
Word is already getting out about the food at Norma's Kitchen, he says. Boaters
appreciate being able to get a meal right off the docks, and everyone's
grateful to have a different culinary option. "It adds a little spice to
Inspired by the campaign, Bruce says he'd like to focus on shifting the Republican
Party's focus and demographics --and he sees
as a staging ground.
"I'd like to let Republicans know that they were leaders for the abolition
of slavery, the citizenship of African Americans and the Voting Rights Act
time," he says. "Now, you go to the Oregon Republican Party's Lincoln
Day Dinner, and it's all white."
Bruce says he's been snubbed by
African American community for being out of step with its left-leaning politics.
None of the local African American newspapers or radio stations granted him an
interview during the campaign, he notes. He'd like to organize a Lincoln Day
Lunch event that focuses on African American contributions to the military,
particularly black World War II veterans. He'd like to have it at the Hayden
Island Yacht Club. And Norma will cater.
Veterans' issues are particularly close to his heart. In 2005, Bruce fought to
keep the African American veterans' group, the Buffalo Soldiers, in the Grand Floral
Parade after the Rose Festival Association denied their entry on technical and
alleged safety-related grounds. The very public battle raised African Americans'
and veterans' ire against the Rose Festival, and gave the association's PR
people a week of heartburn before they let the group in the parade. Yet Bruce
shirks off the idea that he's more a gadfly and thorn in the side than a
serious political contender.
"I am not leaving by any means," he says. The support he rallied in
the congressional race will allow him to be a watchdog and critic of Blumenauer.
"I won by losing. I'm gonna be on his butt like
white on rice."
Speaking of rice, Norma checks on a batch, with red beans, and gives her
husband a look that says, "That's enough of that political talk." He
heeds her unspoken request. The subject shifts to life on the river.
"We are having fun. It's comfortable in here," Norma says, scanning
the cozy cafe. "It's like being at home."
has been his
escape for the past three decades.
"I'm so busy out there in politics. I like to come out here and be on the
water and fish. It gets me away from it all," he says. "It's how I
Friday, December 29, 2006
By GRANT BUTLER
with its big-box retailers, has never been a big food destination. Now there's
reason to linger, with the arrival in October of this down-home temple to
Broussard tends the stove, whipping up terrific gumbo and pulled pork, while
her husband, Bruce, makes sure customers get a dose of Southern charm.
The chow: The
dishes here are Bayou classics -- which means they're
rich, filling and loaded with vibrant Creole and Cajun flavors. The gumbo is
thick and loaded with bits of spicy sausage, chicken and shrimp. The barbecued
ribs have a tangy sauce that will make you pucker up.
Real deals: The hot
sausage dogs ($5.50) include a side of either cole slaw or corn salad. And you can get that gumbo to go and serve the brood back
home; $19.95 per quart.
Hangout factor: The
space is bright and overlooks the Columbia Crossings moorage, so there's a
steady stream of boaters coming through the door. The vibe is "let the
good times roll," with Mardi Gras beads and masks
adorning the walls.
Liquids: Limited to
coffee, soda pop and water, though a liquor license is pending.
The cole slaw could use some additional zip.
Inside tips: Check
out the daily specials board, where the temptations might include hearty red
beans and rice and muffuletta sandwiches. The counter
seats by the big picture windows are ideal for bird watching while you're
enjoying a bite.
12010 N. Jantzen Drive