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  • 27 Nov 2014

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Bread & Brew: A marketplace worth its salt

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Old Salt Marketplace in Northeast Portland freshens up comfort food with seasonal ingredients to create dishes like hearth roasted beef with heirloom tomatoes, padron peppers and onions.Ben Meyer is going to be famous for his biscuits.

For a multitalented chef and entrepreneur, this might be a bit of a letdown. But if he didn’t want to go down in history for them, he shouldn’t have put “Ben’s biscuits” as the first item on the menu at Old Salt Marketplace, which opened in May on Northeast 42nd Avenue near Alberta. They’re airy and tender, rich and melting, with just that perfect tinge of buttermilk bite. Served with soft honey butter, which is topped with crunchy crystals of salt, they’re a perfect anchor for a revolving cast of very approachable suppers.

Meyer runs the place along with his partners from Grain & Gristle — Alex Ganum and Marcus Hoover — and it’s a similarly comfortable and wood-grained space, but with ambitions to be more than just a restaurant. It’s also a deli, a cooking school, and yes, you can come in and just buy some salt, harvested on the Oregon Coast.

It all comes together at the intersection of comfort food and seasonal improvisation. Vegetables like kale, summer squash, fennel and new onions are often joined on the plate by less expected summer fruit.

Fresh green beans, actually a pretty mix of green and yellow, are accessorized with fat blackberries and blueberries, crunchy almonds, and whipped goat cheese. It’s a good play of textures, although the berries and the beans don’t actually do that much for each other. Still, the novelty and freshness are appreciated.

Grilled albacore also is served with summer fruit — a salad of bitter greens with wedges of plums and grilled apricots. The fish is from Oregon waters, in thick, generous slabs that are carefully grilled. It melts in your mouth. It’s heaped on a sauce that is a little too sweet, especially considering the fruit on the plate, but salty olives bring things back into balance.

A more subtle reminder of the farmers market comes through with pickled asparagus that adds all kinds of grassy and vinegary notes to a great potato salad.

In fact, Old Salt Marketplace doesn’t just prepare market-fresh produce. It also hosts a farmers market every Thursday afternoon, starting at 4 p.m. Recently the small collection of outdoor stalls featured cherries, fresh bread, herbal tinctures and Reverend Nat’s hard ciders.

Inside, a butcher counter is open daily, serving sandwiches at lunch, as well as huge rib eyes, giant pork chops and a panoply of sausages.

Meat also is showcased on the restaurant side, in entrees such as roasted chicken, grilled pork served with crispy pork rinds, and a destination-worthy plate of hearth-roasted beef. It’s served straightforwardly salty, in pink and brown slices, with charred spring onions and Padron peppers.

Pulled pork also was excellent, luscious and savory. It was featured one night as a grab-and-go special, an idea that is probably going to bring in a lot of neighborhood business. Every night you can pop in for takeout meal, for around $10 a person. They’re ready so quickly that you barely have time for a drink at the bar — but get one anyway, if you’re in the mood for beer.

One of the owners also owns Upright Brewing, a consistently great local brewery. Flora Rustica, on tap, is a light saison flavored with calendula and yarrow. At half a skosh away from being too bitter, it’s refreshing and elegant, made for hot summer nights.

The cocktails are interesting, but they really need more sweetness to bring out their fruity and boozy components.

The take-out dinner also had one small shortcoming. The heap of pulled pork was boxed up with romano beans, stewed with bacon until tender, and firm, flavorful black-eyed peas. There wasn’t any starch — no rice, not potatoes. If I’d known, I would have ordered more biscuits.

11 a.m. to midnight daily, 5013 N.E. 42nd Ave., 971-255-0167, www.oldsaltpdx.com

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