The Northeast Portland 'hood of Concordia may be the word on every realtor's lips these days, but you wouldn't know it come mealtime. Foodwise, most people associate Concordia with the McMenamins Kennedy School, a popular revamp of an aged elementary school that includes multiple bars and microbrew-themed eateries. So it's noteworthy that Concordia Ale House, the latest entrant into the neighborhood's dining scene, is, well, a microbrew-themed eatery.
No problem there: Portlanders demonstrate heroic stamina in tackling the region's wealth of beer options. The rub comes with the edible half of the equation, which is as unremarkable as the beer list is extensive.
To be fair, Concordia is somewhat handicapped from the start. The physical space (in the former Etcetera Tavern) is awkward: an L-shaped room that exhibits all the charm of a cell-phone store. The back 40 feels more like a rumpus room, stocked with a couple of junior-sized pool tables. A handful of beer posters fail to contribute much ambience, though a delightful mural depicting frolicking, clearly inebriated elephants (left over from the Pink Elephant, which opened in the space in the '20s) helps set the mood.
At the crux of these unprepossessing spaces is the bar, where the real magic happens. In addition to spirits, Concordia offers more than 100 beers, including at least 20 on tap. The dedication to the brewer's art is palpable here. The selections range from crystalline pilsners like Victory Prima from Downingtown, Pa., to rich, seemingly bottomless stouts like Speedway from San Diego's AleSmith.
But getting to the beer you want may be a problem. The beer menus offer brief summaries of each style but little else: The draught list only includes the name of the style-e.g. "stout" or "IPA"-and location of the brewery. You'd never know, for instance, that Portland's own Roots Organic Brewery's kolsch is made without hops, which is a neat trick indeed (the beer takes its funky character from chamomile and other unorthodox herbs). To compound the problem, the staff-while universally friendly and welcoming-have varying levels of expertise, making recommendations a hit-or-miss affair.
No such confusion surrounds the kitchen's offerings, which are consistent to a fault. Rather than perfecting one style, the kitchen offers too many: a few Mediterranean-themed pastas ($9.50-$11.25), fish and chips ($11.75), beef or chicken gyros ($7), burgers and sandwiches ($7-$9.25), and appetizers like brie with roast garlic ($8). All are oversized, most are competently executed, and none betrays a human touch: Pre-packaged croutons, stodgy rolls and dry Buffalo wings ($6) are staples at restaurants all around the country. Ultimately, you feel you could be eating just about anywhere.
Then again, apparent drawbacks can be pluses: The ale house's generic carpet is a fine place to plop the toddler once the beers arrive. And one could dine on far worse than the middle-of-the-road fare here. With time, hopefully Concordia Ale House will come to reflect the neighborhood it's named for, rather than the other way around.
Concordia Ale House, 3276 NE Killingsworth St., 287-3929. 11 am-2 am daily. $$