Review #11- The Tannery Bar



​Fall in Portland is a bit schizophrenic.

 

Emily and I were hoofing it against the stiff breeze down Burnside, still trying to reconcile the warm weather earlier in the day with the fact that we were both now scarved, gloved, and double-coated. Darkened windows of houses and apartments leered in from opposite sides of the busy road- there was a threat of rain.

“So what are we going here to try?” Emily suddenly pipes up, her hands deep in her coat pockets.

“I was told they have a Fernet-Branca Chocolate Pie, and there are interested parties that want to make it for themselves,” I state matter-of-factly.

“Adam and Nancy, huh?”

“… Yes.”

Emily chuckles. “Well, I hope they have more than chocolate pie here, I’m friggin STARVING.”

“I hope they have friggin’ seats that AREN’T outside…. oh good, doesn’t look too busy.” We hustled inside the Tannery Bar and left the wind outside.

Tannery Bar is pretty easy to miss. A tiny, windowless building except for the front, and directly across from a supermarket and small shopping plaza. The exterior is extremely minimal, with a few uncovered outdoor tables for smokers, people-watchers, and folks with warm coats. Inside, however, we were greeted with an air of warm, unpretentious rustica.

 

​The restaurant is long and shallow, with a small open kitchen behind the bar and long tables of communal seating. There are a few stools at the window where no one in their right mind would sit- simply because it puts you right in the way of passing patrons and servers.

Emily and I get seats at the far-end of a table, underneath antique tools and oil lamps. My back is to the main thoroughfare, so I try to sit as close to the table as possible- I’m keenly aware that not everyone is used to saying “Behind!” when they are slipping past someone, and as wonderful as the kitchen smells, I’d rather not be wearing anything from it.

The menus land, and the first order of the night is drinks. The cocktail menu is fairly straight-forward- mostly house riffs on old standards. There’s a Dark and Stormy featuring blackstrap rum and orgeat… a White Russian featuring orgeat, housemade coffee liquor, and dusted nutmeg…at least three different kinds of Old Fashioned. They are VERY proud of their orgeat, apparently. In the end, Emily chooses a “Jessie’s Girl”, and I decide to play it straight with one of their “shot and a beer” combos, the “Rebel Rebel” (now apparently called “The Bowie”)- a bottle of Rebel Czech lager and a shot of Rebel Yell Reserve Bourbon.
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Decent drink
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Best wifey.
Next, food. Most of the menu items are definitely meant to go with your drinks, and- like the cocktails- are thoughtfully-executed iterations of pub standards, like their fried Brussels sprouts with Cholula aioli, cheese board, and Tannery fries. Emily selects the Hangar Steak, medium rare, and I go for the Tannery Burger- an eye-catching little monster of locally-sourced beef wrapped in goat cheese, topped with bacon and caramelized onions. To lead off, though- a pretzel.
Not just any pretzel, though- a FRESSEN pretzel
Fressen is a local bakery that specializes in old world German baking.
My colleague Victoria spent several years working for them, including twisting such pretzels as these, following recipes that had to be updated to remove certain classic ingredients- like lye. One day, while we were discussing tattoos, she revealed that she’d decided her first tattoo would be the first baked good she’d made one thousand off. Consequently, there is a soft pretzel somewhere on her body- I did not feel it was professional to ask where.
All of this is to say that, these pretzels are GOOD. The people who make them have a long history of making good pretzels, and Tannery has chosen to serve them up warm with malted mustard butter and dijon. 

Emily and I have lived near Philadelphia most of our lives. We KNOW something about soft pretzels, and… my God, YES. After the first bite, we fall upon that curvaceous little wonder like a two-person plague of locusts.

Shortly after the vacated plate is removed, our entrees land- both Emily’s steak and my burger are accompanied by a small escort of the handcut fries and the house salad. The salad is a simple, but pretty little number- dolled up with hemp seed, sprouted almonds, shaved parmesan, and poppyseed cider vinegarette.

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No, I am STILL NOT with the whole ketchup-and-mayo thing out here. They can call it aioli or whatever- it’s mayo, and it does NOT belong with my ketchup, thank you.
Now, Emily and I are practically obligate carnivores- I make no apologies. We both are also ridiculously fond of fries in all their expressions, Emily especially.
The salad went first- for BOTH of us.

This is not to say the burger and the steak weren’t excellent- they absolutely were. My burger flowed with the mingled juices of onion and tender beef on a grilled brioche bun, and Emily’s steak was grilled to perfection. Something about that salad, though, made it positively addictive. Tart. Crunchy. Tangy. Sweet. Salty. It was all there, and all ours.The entrees evaporated quickly, and we were ready to finally achieve our stated goal- an analysis of the Fernet Branca Chocolate Pie.
They were out. The chef only makes so many a day, and it had been 86’d.

Disappointment would be an understatement.

As we donned our coats and prepared to slip back out into the windy night, Emily happened to catch a glance at someone’s menu.
“Hey, you know they do brunch?”
“Huh… well, I guess we’re doing that next.”
​“Possibly a good idea.”
__________________

[A week later, Saturday morning.]

I was never a big “brunch” person. Brunch was a thing for Sundays, Mother’s Day, and people who slept late enough to want their breakfast at 11am- so just the experience of walking back down Burnside toward Tannery was fairy odd. I had looked over the menu, however- and I was told there would be waffles. From my first Eggo to the finest Belgian- I am a round-heeled, loose-walleted pushover for waffles.

If the nightlife at Tannery was a little busy, brunch was pandemonium. Above the din of voices and clattering dishware, a waitress tells us we can sit at the bar or grab seats all the way at the far end of the last table, where a couple had vacated just minutes before and had yet to be cleaned down. Given the choice between a face full of busy kitchen or looking at a couple of crumbs for a few minutes, Emily and I decide not to be picky.
The menus land, almost unnecessarily. Emily gets a gussied-up Irish coffee called “Muddy Waters,” I get a Bloody Maria (a Bloody Mary made with tequila instead of vodka), and we make our selections.

We had looked over the menu- and we wanted waffles.
Emily went for the Morricone- a dainty little waffle topped up with mascarpone, Lomo ham, argula, a poached egg, and an apricot grappa glaze. I decide to just rub my face right into the stereotype and go for the Timberline- a waffle served up with country fried steak, a fried egg, homefries, and smothered in sausage gravy.
As you may expect, there were no survivors. Emily’s Morricone was sweet, luscious, and complex- and mine was the beautiful mess of meat, starch, and gravy that I rarely indulge in but always have a spot in my heart for- usually the small space NOT occluded by fat deposits after such repasts.
Again, the Fernet Branca pie was raised… but we decided it must wait for another time. Both of us had had quite enough, and I didn’t need MORE in my gut to waddle uphill back home with.
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I REGRET NOTHING

Three weeks later, Tuesday evening.

The post-shift. A long day of work, a long walk home, and I’m on my own. This review had waited QUITE long enough. It was time to get the last piece of the puzzle that is Tannery. I’d had their dinner. I’d survived their brunch. The goal post was now in sight as I unbuttoned my wool coat in the door.


“Hi there- just me tonight, and… do you have the pie?”
“Let me check…. Yep! We got some!”

“… A piece of that and a White Russian, please.”

​ It’s distinctly more calm in the dining room on a Tuesday evening. Only two people manning the tiny kitchen, and a single server pulling triple-duty as waitress, bartender, and hostess. I slip into the nearest stool at the bar and watch the cook casually peel potatoes and stir a pot of chili. The waitress buzzes about, and I wait for my cocktail and pie.

The White Russian is quite good. I don’t blame them for talking up their homemade liquors, but I could have easily missed the orgeat if I’m honest. The crafting of the White Russian is beautiful- the cream floats on up in a slash broken only by the occasional ice cube, implying “Some small amount of assembly required.”
At last- three weeks after Emily and I walked through the door for the first time, I finally get a piece of the Fernet Branca Chocolate Pie. It is velvety brown, dusted with powdered sugar, and topped with a loose glob of chantilly cream.
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It’s not bad.
A very nicely-done chocolate mousse pie on a cookie crust. The herbal bitterness of the fernet riffs on the inherent bitterness of the dark chocolate, and almost balanced by the sweetness of everything else. The texture is cold, smooth, and creamy, melting into a chocolatey goo with every bite. I finish it off with the last traces of my White Russian.
Chocolate pie may just not be my thing.
At least I can finish the review now.

 

WHEN: Dinner hours are Mon- Sat, 4p to 1a. Brunch is on weekends from 9a to 2p. HOW: Just swing in.
WHY: Because you need a casual, not-too-swanky place with great food for a date night. Or you really want a hell of a good brunch. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Review #10- Pepe Le Moko

WHERE: Pepe Le Moko, 407 SW 10th Ave., Portland, OR

 

Fridays are the days I get to myself, and I like to take that seriously.
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As much as I love spending time with my wife, getting out on my own and putting pavement under my shoes is a necessity. I can walk the up-and-down streets of Portland, breathe in the wet air, and be alone with my thoughts. When I was job-hunting, almost every day was like this- me, a heavy coat over a tidy suit, and a briefcase full of legal-sized hope looking for my next answer.

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Review #9- Kachka

It had been a very long day.
Emily and I had spent much of the day out shopping, and both of us were more than ready to put our weary feet up and get some solid dinner. The words of a trusted friend led us to the front door of a particular restaurant in the Cultural District of Portland… and no farther.
That’s the funny thing about spending the day shopping- as necessary as everything we got may have been, perusing the prices on the posted menu gave us pause. It sounded heavenly… but heaven would have to wait.

“Well shit.. where now? What are you tasting?”
“Umm… food?”
“…Yeah, same… don’t you have a list of places to try now?”

It was true. Since starting on this food writing gig, I’ve learned that one of the best ways to find good food is to hit the streets and ask where everyone is eating. As it happens, my friend Sam had given me a lead on some theoretically cheap eats a while back.

​”Hey, you feeling Russian?”

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Review #8- The Big Legrowlski

WHERE: The Big Legrowlski, 812 NW Couch St., Portland, OR, 97209

Let it never be said I’m not a sucker for a good gimmick.

I can’t remember when I first saw the cinematic cultural touchstone that is the Coen Brother’s “The Big Lebowski.” I think it may have been while I was flipping through channels and came across the stark and baffled faces of Jeff Bridges and John Goodman after the famous “ringer at the bridge” scene.

A moment later, John Goodman uttered the line that formed a cornerstone of my life philosophy since college, and I was a fan forever:

Since that boring night on the Jersey Shore, I have downed more than a few White Russian cocktails and irritated two girlfriends and my wife with viewings and trivia.
For the most part, they abided it well. (See what I did there?)

Thus, finding a certain bar during my perambulation of Portland can only be expressed as a sign from the Heavens.

I truly am a round-heeled pushover for the things I love, especially fandom.

The sign at The Big Legrowlski in Portland, Oregon

“That’s just like, uh, your opinion, man.”

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Review #7- The Bivy / Saint Burrito

Where: The Bivy/ Saint Burrito 113 SE 28th Ave., Portland

 

I was 25 when I was first exposed to the glory of food trucks.

My older sister invited me to visit her in New Brunswick where she was attending grad school. Besides record exchanges, all-you-can-eat mediocre buffet sushi, and other wonders of the modern world- Steph said I HAD to get a “fat sandwich” from one of the grease trucks while I was there.

Fat sandwiches are what the country would eat for every meal if no one discovered kale and Whole Foods fell off the face of the Earth. Everything you can fit on a New Jersey sub roll- usually starchy/meaty/deep fried things- all wrapped up into a 10-inch long heart-murdering missile of joy. She brought me to a square of trucks staffed by evil/enterprising young student bent on the perfection of these lethal concoctions, and I- to my only partial shame- finished a chicken finger/fries/meatball/cheesesteak/Parmesan/mashed potato sandwich in one sitting.
We sat in a parking lot, knocked them back with bubble tea, and felt no pain.

 

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Review #6- Neat

WHERE: Neat, 2637 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR 97214

  Sometimes, you just want a good whiskey. Not complicated cocktails, not pastel drinks, not funny or cute names.
    You just want a place to be quiet, to relax, and to enjoy a goddamned whiskey.    Walking down Hawthorne Boulevard in just such a mood, I was on my way to another bar that had an interesting name. I’d passed by it before, and thought it looked fascinating.
     Neat is not that bar. It’s the bar that kept me from going there just after sticking my head in- everything I needed, and a shorter walk to boot.

Review #5- Pambiche

Where:  Pambiche, 2811 NE Glisan St., Portland, OR

 

Cuban food is one of those things I THINK I know more about than I do.  There’s a stereotype to be sure- rum, mojitos, lots of pork, absurdly powerful and sweet coffee drinks, and pressed sandwiches. As for Cuban sweets, I guessed there was a lot of dulce de leche (or caramelized sweetened condensed milk,) coconut, palm sugar, and tropical fruits.​

Lucky for me, I got to find out just how right (and wrong) I was.

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