rest courtney
Image: Kim Nguyen

THE BEST SERVERS in town don’t always have to sport a starched, white, button-up shirt, drape a white towel over an arm, and speak in affected tones to prove their worth. In fact, there’s an art to waiting tables in restaurants that lie at the other end of the dining spectrum—coffee-and-a-slice-of-pie diners; hectic, kid-friendly pasta joints; even rowdy tapas restaurants. Hence our pick for this year’s Waiter of the Year: Courtney Wilson-Gorham. Wife of chef John Gorham (see p. 122), Wilson-Gorham heads up the dining room at Toro Bravo: Every night she’s taking drink or food orders for 60 or 70 diners, with each table ordering 5, 10, maybe even more dishes at a time from a menu of some 50 items. Of course, she’s got the help of a cadre of other servers, but it’s Wilson-Gorham who always seems to be doing most of the heavy lifting.

She pulls this off with a certain no-nonsense efficiency we’ve seldom witnessed at other restaurants in town. She’ll still stop to chat with you for a few seconds, sure, though she’s got a knack for conversing and accomplishing several tasks at the same time without you even noticing. Such multitasking should be part of the job, right? Except that we’ve encountered one too many servers in Portland who’ve managed to make us feel rushed or unimportant while they attempt to pour our water, write down food orders, set down our drinks, and ask how old our children are all in one breath.

As many seasoned servers in Portland did, Wilson-Gorham learned much of what she knows from Portland’s reigning queen of table service, Kimberly Paley (see p. 124) of Paley’s Place, where Wilson-Gorham worked as floor manager for five years. Before that, Wilson-Gorham and her husband traveled together across the country, working in resorts and restaurants in Virginia and California, before settling in Eugene and then Portland. As a result of her travels, Wilson-Gorham exhibits a kind of humble, world-savvy, seasoned knowledge of her customers that keeps her centered, focused, and gracefully in charge of what has become one of the busiest restaurants in Portland.