Twenty years ago, when Oregon’s craft beer movement was still finding its footing, pizza and tater tots counted as solid pub grub. Today, a new brewpub’s menu might be as ambitious as its beer list, a change that reflects not only the growing sophistication of the craft beer movement, but the changing demands of beer drinkers. Especially in Oregon.
“Portland is such a beer town,” says Stormbreaker Brewing owner Dan Malach. “People know what they want.”
And local brewpubs and beer-centric bars are willing to give it to them. Here are a few that are working to craft a dinner menu worthy of a world-class tap list.
From the planning stages of his new brewpub, brewmaster and owner John Harris made it no secret that food would be a paramount part of his business.
“I am a big fan of beer and food pairing together. It’s important to me that our guests have an awesome experience dining here,” Harris says. “My motto is, the beer will bring you in and the food will bring you back. Well, the beer also.”
Ecliptic’s menu, like its beers, is eclectic but accessible. The adventure starts with the appetizers, which include deviled eggs topped with salty anchovies (try them with the Mintaka Stout) or Baccala, a tasty salted cod dish popular in Italy. There’s also a rotating list of about a half dozen seasonal entrees and an extensive charcuterie selection.
When Harris opened the pub, he worked hard to find a chef who could serve up more than the typical bar grub. Enter Michael Molitor, who got the job. Molitor spent nearly a decade at Pazzo Ristorante, and before that, worked under James Beard-award winner Philippe Boulot at The Heathman. Each month, Molitor and Harris host the Lunation Dinner, a brewer’s dinner that highlights seasonal ingredients.
Pub standby: The Ecliptic burger is among the best in town – a ½ pound of Norhtwest-raised beef topped with pancetta and red onions and finished off with gruyere and Russian dressing. You can go in more adventurous directions on the menu, but you can’t go wrong with the burger.
Something different: It’s hard to pick just one item off the menu here, as Molitor likes to push the envelope on pub food, but we’ll go with the Baccala, a delicious salted cod and potato fritter that’s unlike anything else on the menu.
It’s hard to imagine a pub doing more with the limited space Stormbreaker has. When owners Rob Lutz and Dan Malach took over the space on North Mississippi that used to house Amnesia, all they had to work with was a grill. They moved that out back to free up more of the popular patio seating, installed a limited but effective kitchen, and hired hospitality and catering service Grand Cru to formulate a menu that offers great dinner options without trying to do too much. Burgers are the star of the show, but they share the menu with house-made pickles, local charcuterie and a rotating grilled cheese sandwich.
Pub standby: The Juicy Lucy Burger, two patties topped with bacon and red onion jam, fontina cheese, lettuce, tomato and herb aioli.
Something different: Stormbreaker has the cure for the common kale, serving the ubiquitous leafy green warm with bacon, aged gouda, almond and seed brittle, soft egg and Balsamic brown butter dressing.
Bonus points! Upset you didn’t get one last drink at Produce Row before it unexpectedly closed its doors last month? Well, you can still get a drink made by one of its bartenders. Lutz regularly worked the bar at the Southeast Portland watering hole, and his years of experience as a bartender pay off on Stormbreaker’s drink menu. Mixed drinks are an afterthought at most brewpubs, but if you want to wash down your meat and cheese plate with something stiffer than an IPA, try the White Hopper, hop-infused vodka mixed with tangerine and peach purees.
This neighborhood pub in Creston-Kenilworth is easy to miss if you don’t know its there. C-bar is housed in a nondescript corner building on the relatively quiet Gladstone Street thoroughfare. Inside, it’s anything but bland. C-bar offers 20 rotating taps that make up one of the most carefully cultivated beer lists in Portland. And the food menu is a mouthwatering blend of comfort-food classics and Northwest cuisine.
Standby: The buttermilk fried chicken with red pepper mashed potatoes, and creamy collards with bacon lardons offers up enough food to serve two, and should not be missed. It compares with some of the best in town, it just costs less.
Something different: Canada’s favorite gut-busting appetizer has exploded in the U.S. recently, so maybe it’s a stretch to call poutine “different” these days, but C-Bar’s stands out. It was recently featured on the Travel Channel, so don’t be surprised to see it at the table next to you.