| BREW BASH: The new Laurelwood NW Public House is known for its garlicky spuds. |
IMAGE: AMY OUELLETTE
As a self-appointed mecca of the microbrew, Portland should be frothing over with pubs-short for "public house," so called because enterprising Brits in the Georgian era took to brewing and serving beer to the public out of their homes. In the U.K. (where pubs number at least 60,000), these joints are meeting places, post offices, rendezvous points for every aspect of public life. The English pub's iconic status may be unachievable in the States, but two Portland establishments, the Sellwood Public House and the Laurelwood NW Public House, are determined to try.
The Laurelwood NW Public House falls squarely in the category of "gastropub," the term for a tavern with a focus on fine dining. Laurelwood has already achieved, ahem, laurels for its organic brewing techniques, and its original location in the Hollywood district shares space with the actual brewhouse. Diners can gaze through glass at the massive barrels while sipping a pint of Laurelwood's half-dozen house beers.
Laurelwood's newer Northwest digs are a little more cramped. It's located on the first and second floors of the old Northwest 23rd Avenue house that Laslow's Northwest once called home. But the menu carries through Laurelwood's mix of casual pub grub and upscale entrees. The first type of cuisine is Laurelwood's best-a sloppy, guacamole-laden quesadilla ($6.95) or the house specialty, garlic fries tossed with malt vinegar, parmesan, parsley and a bold quantity of chopped garlic ($5.25). Grilled burgers (beef, chicken, turkey or garden) are generous and affordable ($7.95 for Cathy's Special, which comes with bacon, cheddar and a fried egg).
Things get a little shakier when it comes to the fancy feasting. The N.Y. steak (a grilled 10-ounce strip loin, $12.95) isn't the best cut of meat you'll ever eat, although the whipped potatoes and rosemary-ale mushroom gravy that accompany it are excellent. Some of the entrees, like the stuffed portabella mushroom (a pile of peppers, feta, artichokes and onion, $11.95), seem overpriced and at odds with the spartan seating and un-pub-like overbright lighting. The shepherd's pie ($9.50), a nod to traditional English pub fare, is a welcome exception, combining savory roasted meats and sausages with onions, garlic and carrots in that spectacular gravy. The selection of a half-dozen pasta entrees with an option to add chicken, salmon or steak steers Laurelwood away from the pub concept and into the weird world of Olive Garden-style à la carte. Beers and burgers, and a crackling heap of garlic fries-that ought to be enough gastro for any pub.
The Sellwood Public House is low-profile-drive to the end of Antiques Row, turn left at the "Occasions Ballroom" sign, and walk up a long stairwell. Located inside an old social club, the pub has the casual disarray of a private home's den. Mismatched furniture is grouped loosely in an informal seating area. TVs mounted near the ceiling broadcast sporting events. Decor is masculine and hockey-themed. The menu offers pasta, meaty entrees and sandwiches, but pizza is the restaurant's raison d'être. The dough is made fresh daily, and hand-tossed in two styles-New York, which means crisp crust and traditional toppings, and Gourmet, which means herby, thicker crust and an array of splashy topping options.
As gourmet pizza goes, Sellwood's doesn't miss a trick. Brace yourself for strong flavors and spicy combinations. The Piccata ($12 medium, $15 large, $19 extra-large) blends a garlic-flavored white sauce with diced chicken breast, mushrooms, capers and roasted garlic. The Mr. Italy ($13.50-$19.50) is an orgy of Italian sausage, salami, onions and black olives, swimming in a tart tomato sauce. The kitchen gracefully accommodates half-and-half requests, additions and substitutions. You can also, of course, construct your own, with ingredients as standard as pepperoni or as exotic as green chili. If a whole pie sounds like too much commitment, you'll love Sellwood's special feature: Any pizza on the menu can be had by the slice for a cool $2.25 (25 cents per additional topping). Now that's loyalty-inspiring. Add free wi-fi (just wipe your greasy hands before hitting the laptop) and Sierra Nevada on tap, and let the zombies come.
Laurelwood NW Public House, 2327 NW Kearney St., 228-5553. 11 am-11 pm daily. Credit cards accepted. $$ Moderate.
Picks: House garlic fries, grilled burgers, quesadillas.
Nice Touch: Brewer Christian Ettinger's organic house beers.
Sellwood Public House, 8132 SE 13th Ave., 736-0182. 4-9 pm Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday. 4-10 pm Friday-Saturday. Credit cards accepted. $$ Moderate.
Picks: New York-style and gourmet pizzas, including the Piccata and the Mr. Italy.
Nice Touch: Manly den decor, construct-your-own slice, Sierra Nevada on tap.