Cameron Forsyth has never lived in Portland. This did not stop him from opening a Portland-centric restaurant in his native Canada.
Yes, our city has a culinary embassy in Vancouver, B.C. The existence of Portland Craft might seem weird to us—especially, I'd bet, to Portlanders who lived here in the rugged years before the vegan bike hipsters arrived—but it makes sense to him.
"You think about a French restaurant—someone calls it Bordeaux and you sort of know what you're getting," he says. "If we called this 'Friendly Craft Beer Restaurant' it wouldn't really work."
As it turns out, we can be proud of Portland Craft. At 5 pm, the restaurant is filling with people who don't take off their jackets until the second pint. The locals order $7 Black Butte Porters ("something a little different") and charmingly flub the pronunciation of Seattle's Elysian Brewing ("I'll have the ELLY-shy-ann stout"). By 6:30, it's packed. "We'll run a line soon," the bartender laughs. "Oh yeah, we're doing it right. We'll even hold the line if we don't need to."
Mount Pleasant, the bartender says, is the name of the neighborhood. He offers this tentatively, and a shiny new sign announcing it suggests maybe it's still in the testing phase. This gentrifying stretch of Main Street, which looks a little like Northeast Sandy Boulevard, has pho places, a Russian butcher and a 24-hour Church's Chicken along with bicycle rebuilders and coffee shops selling Intelligentsia roasts. It's the sort of place you see a man wearing a businesslike blue peacoat with a Daniel Boone coonskin hat.
"It's a really great neighborhood—the perfect place for this concept," Forsyth says. "I mean, this is a neighborhood where you see bikes. We're still trying to get enough bike racks.... In the summer you see bikes chained up all over the chain-link fence and in the trees."
The concept looks like a chalkboard etched with Pacific Northwest beers—it's heavy on Hopworks and Alameda, along with Deschutes, Rogue and more—and great Portland-style food.
"Portland food?" Sure, it's a thing, Forsyth says. No matter how self-aware a city is, it can be hard to see it from an outsider's perspective. When Forsyth looks at Portland, where he's often traveled, he sees burgers, pork belly with potatoes, a sausage-heavy charcuterie platter and cheese grits. The kale- and beet-topped burger, which is made with butter pressed into one-third of a pound of ground beef, is excellent, as are the accompanying salt- and pepper-coated fries. There's a small pickle plate—it's called "We Can Pickle That" and has grapes, daikon, yellow bell pepper and cantaloupe for $4—and a fried chicken and waffle platter called "Put a Bird on It" ($15).
Forsyth offers the Portlandia references expecting a chuckle from someone who hasn't heard them all before.
As it turns out, it's easy enough to lose something in international translation. Forsyth—who speaks with round O's—has had more significant blowback over that platter. Fried chicken and waffles, a combination he says is mostly unknown to Canadians, works really well. But the plate was missing something. Watermelon, he found, gave an otherwise too-blah plate a pop of pink and served as cool cleanse for the palate. Canadians, of course, aren't blighted by our nation's history of racism. Forsyth had no idea pairing fried chicken and watermelon could be seen as insensitive until someone tweeted their intention to boycott his restaurant. He was confused. "Oh my God, I didn't even think about it even a little bit," he says. "It's food on a plate, and that's it. We're not trying to be offensive."
In this country, I might well lead the boycott. But from sweetly innocent Canadians, it just works. Great Portland-style food—as only available up north.
- Order this: âPut a Bird On Itâ ($15).
- Best deal: Sumac chips ($3).
- Iâll pass: âPig and Potsâ ($8).
EAT: Portland Craft is at 3835 Main St., Vancouver, B.C. 604-569-2494, portlandcraft.com.