What do you do when you only have about 12 hours in a city that is rapidly making itself known as one of the preeminent food destinations in the country? In our case, start eating as soon as you get off the plane. A few weeks ago, Angela and I went on my very first trip to her home state of Oregon for a weekend of hanging out with her family, relaxing, and of course eating our way from Portland to the coast.
We arrive in Portland late on a Thursday night and waste no time in making our way to Grain & Gristle, a gastropub featuring cocktails, beers and food indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, and most importantly in our case, a kitchen that doesn't close until midnight.
Grain & Gristle's decor, with its all-wood furnishings and flooring (including a beautiful U-shaped maple bar) and exposed beams, effortlessly creates the feel of a rustic tavern - it's easy to imagine loggers resting here after a long day in the woods, instead of the hipsters that actually populate the place.
Poke fun at these crazy Portlandians all you want. But when I order a cocktail and it's only $8? These people just might be onto something. In LA, a craft cocktail will likely run $11 minimum and sometimes more like $12, $14 and up. Welcome to Portland, people. I challenge you to find someone mixing cocktails in excess of ten... or even nine bucks. I start with the Kentucky Iced Coffee (below), essentially a toddy made with Portland's own Extracto coffee and a healthy pour of whiskey. It's followed up with a Descender IPA from GoodLife Brewery in Bend. A complex and hoppy IPA I find to be close to on par with great California IPAs like Sculpin and Pliny. Only two in and I'm already really enjoying drinking in Oregon.
And eating in Oregon, as well. We dig in for a pork-centric dinner, starting with light and airy rinds ($4), served with a creamy, tangy “mustardy dipper.”
Next up? “Porky” croquettes ($6): succulent cubes of head cheese (if you don't know what it is, don't google it - all you need to know is that it's not cheese, it's meat and it's delicious), breaded, fried and served with the same mustardy dipper as the rinds.
Our third fried food item of the evening is a huge plate of onion rings ($4), ultra thin, crispy, and greasy, which in this case is a term of endearment. They are addictive, ideal pub food, and even though we know we have more food coming, we can't stop eating them.
We take the very tiniest of breaks from the fry fest to dig into a salad of dandelion greens, radicchio, and hazelnuts ($8), lightly dressed with an herb pistou and topped with grated cheese. It's a pretty straightforward plate, but the crunchy, slightly bitter greens are exactly what we need to justify the rest of our meal.
We revert back to our protein-focus with an impressive board of house-cured meats and pickled veggies (onion & carrots), a steal at $10.
And we haven't even gotten to the entrees yet! In our defense, we don't quite realize the entrees are entrees when ordering - with prices ranging from $10-$14, our LA-state of mind has us envisioning a sort of parade of small plates. We are shocked at how wrong we are. Angela's Lambwich ($10) with pickled peppers, onions, 'chovy aioli, and fries is subtantial enough to sate the hungriest of lumberjacks. Yet it also satisfies our foodie sensibilities: the shredded meat is full of flavor, and the fries are flat-out phenomenal.
The fried trout with fennel, lemon, and sweet onion on a bed of tartar sauce ($12) is similarly hearty, but would be equally at home in a more formal setting. Fish doesn't get fresher than this, or better cooked - the crispy skin gives way to firm, flaky meat without even a hint of fishiness.
For $11, we get a surprisingly hefty portion of tender, braised pork shoulder resting in a pool of jus along with gold potatoes and green beans. Simple and satisfying.
After all this, we are stuffed and ready to leave. But something tells us to stick around for dessert, and we are really glad we listened. The Tutti-Frutti Fresh Claffoutti is outstanding - rich and buttery, with the sugar balanced nicely by the tartness of the cherries. One of the best desserts we've had in a while.
Hours: Monday-Friday, 12:00p-12:00a, Saturday-Sunday, brunch from 9:00a-3:00p, dinner 5:00p-12:00a