February 10th, 2010 MATTHEW KORFHAGE | Food Reviews & Stories
 

Fire Starter

Matchbox Lounge is so much more than a bar.

     
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GETTIN’ HEATED: Matchbox’s grilled-squash pizzetta.
IMAGE: David Reamer

Matchbox Lounge, a mod-sleek, red-lit, almost-three-year-old bar space on Southeast Division Street, was probably best known, when it started, as a pleasant drinking annex to the waiting line at pre-Whiskey Soda Lounge Pok Pok. In part because of a solid reputation in the service industry—it’s a regular haunt for the staff of Castagna—and in part because of the addition of a new chef, it’s since come into its own as a destination in and of itself.

Chef John Patrick Kennedy, previously head at Colosso and lead-line at Pok Pok, is meticulous in his sourcing; the menu boasts Painted Hills beef, Carlton Farms pork, Draper Valley chicken, Gathering Together greens and vegetables, and Little T American Baker and Grand Central Baking bread, not to mention the usual fresh-local-seasonal lineup. The pickles on the burger are housemade, the meat cured for days or slow-cooked since morning.

Although the burgers are well known, what first drew me to this place was its pizzetta, now my favorite in the city. Unlike the case in most of Portland, its oil-brushed crust is neither cracker-crisp nor doughy and overthick, but rather retains both thinness and chewy integrity, while being neither oversalted (I’m looking at you, Basta’s) nor sticky (a common, and fatal, flaw). The Lounge offers two ever-changing varieties, which recently included a great adobo matriciana with pancetta ($9); I’ve had and enjoyed the wintry vegetarian grilled-squash ($8) as well.

Elsewhere on the menu: The lamb tagine ($12) is one of the few quality Moroccan dishes around—the lemon-nutmeg-cinnamon spicing is Christmas in the mouth, the harissa richer than most—and is another high point on the menu, as are the preternaturally fluffy empanadas with pear-pepper jelly ($6). The bar’s tiger prawn linguine ($12) is also well prepared, although the reliance on beurre blanc requires that one mix in the hard cheese that comes strewn across the dish.

Cocktails are mid-to-pricey, with standout winter drinks, in particular Moroccan coffee (151 rum, Kahlua, Bailey’s, $8) and a spiced Buffalo Trace toddy ($7). Well drinks and beer are at city-standard prices and service, as at most industry haunts, is relaxed and friendly.

  • Order this: The adobo pizzetta with beer, or the tagine with a bourbon.

  • Best deal: The $5 happy-hour Manchego-pancetta Painted Hills burger, served until 6 pm or from 10 pm to bar close.

  • I’ll pass: The fizzier cocktail fare goes down a little too swiftly for the $8 price point.

EAT: Matchbox Lounge, 3203 SE Division St., 234-7844. Dinner 4 pm-2:30 am Tuesday-Saturday, 4 pm-midnight Sunday-Monday. $ Inexpensive.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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