The Land of Princess Charlotte
If ever a king there was of the Realm of Portland Food, it was Henry Thiele. As a celebrity chef, caterer to the social elite of Portland, spokesman for food and wine, purveyor of Princess Charlotte pudding, German pancakes, and bratwurst with sweet-and-sour lentils, Henry reigned as chef supreme from his arrival in town in 1914 until his death in 1952. And his name and fame lived on; Henry Thiele’s restaurant, helmed by his widow Margaret, lasted another four decades, finally closing in 1990.
|Benson Hotel grill, ca. 1915|
Here he was hired by the entrepreneurial Simon Benson as chef of his Hotel Benson, and here he thrived. Simon Benson aimed to make his hotel the premier society flashpoint of the city, in which endeavor he had formidable competition from the Portland and Multnomah Hotels. But the genial Thiele soon had a following, and the Benson did much catering for women’s clubs and business gatherings. His European training and experience gave him a cachet, and his dishes achieved local fame. James Beard wrote two pages of praise for Thiele’s masterful cooking in his autobiographical Delights and Prejudices. “This man had a fawning manner and great ambition, but he was a great, creative chef,” said Beard.
In the early and middle 1920s, Thiele left the Benson for several restaurant adventures on his own. He opened a grill in the new Sovereign, a residence hotel; he took on the management of Simon Benson’s new Columbia Gorge Hotel near Hood River; he delivered box lunches on a fleet of motorcycles; he angled to operate the restaurant at the new lodge at Multnomah Falls; he opened a large new restaurant on SW 10th Avenue north of Morrison Street, and a coffee shop on Alder. These did not all pan out, and at one point Thiele faced bankruptcy.
|Benson Hotel menu, October 23, 1916|
“And Thiele’s Princess Charlotte pudding! I have tried for years and years to duplicate it, from the first days of The Benson, but have never achieved the same quality. It was rather like a fine bavaroise, but creamier, with praline in it and a supremely good cassis sauce over it.” –James Beard, Delights and Prejudices
|From Dining a la Oregon by J. A. Armstrong, 1959|