It's not every day that a restaurant gets a second chance to make a first impression. But for the 10-month-old Green Dragon Bistro & Brewpub in industrial Southeast Portland, that rarity has become a reality.
When it opened last September, Dragon brought together beer expert Jim Parker, brewmaster Lorren Lancaster and couple Tonya Mayhew and Kevin Reynolds. But in mid-May, restaurant newcomer Ed Schwartz, an investor in Dragon's sister business, Integrity Spirits, bought the holdings of all parties but Lancaster and has infused the business with much-needed cash, sprucing up the never-quite-finished interior and overhauling the menu and service.
We're happy to hear about those changes, because in our first few visits, the food didn't stand up to ample beer choices. A dry turkey Reuben ($8.50) awash in trademark gooey dressing has been ditched, although the excellent fries accompanying that sandwich have stayed. Perfectly crisp and lusciously seasoned, these spuds are some of the city's best. Likewise, IKEA-quality happy-hour Swedish meatballs ($4) have disappeared. But the peculiar "Santa Fe egg rolls" ($4), globby blobs of cheese and spicy sausage wrapped in a flour tortilla and then crispy-fried, are still there.
On our most recent visit we devoured tasty pulled-pork sliders (three mini sandwiches for $7.50), but a buffalo burger, served with those great fries ($8.50), was the real highlight. Piled with caramelized spicy peppers and onions with a barbecue-sauce kick, the lean meat was flawlessly cooked and seasoned—a perfect juicy burger for a Goliath of an appetite.
And then there are the beers, 19 of them on rotating taps, some of which eat like a meal themselves. The hoppy offerings change weekly (or daily) due to the mercurial tastes of barkeep Parker ("If you love it today, it might be gone tomorrow," Schwartz cautions.) Still, it's a safe bet those taps will harbor a generous and rare selection of beers, mostly focusing on Northwest brews, currently including Astoria's monster Fort George Stout ($3.75, 8-ounce glass) and a barrel-aged Five Ton Strong Ale from Portland's own Lucky Labrador Brewing Company ($3, 8-ounce glass).
Service still needs Schwartz's attention. A lunch server was pleasant but absent, neglecting our table in favor of cozying up and chatting at the bar. A standout, however, was a knowledgeable and welcoming happy-hour bartender—who turned out to be the new general manager, Andrew Sloan.
One oddity: It seems a pity that you can't pull up a stool at the 40-plus-foot concrete bar and sip one of Green Dragon's own beers. Schwartz is trying to remedy that situation. He's invested $120,000 in a new 15-barrel brewing system, and is currently interviewing brewmasters in the hopes of bringing a handful of Dragon brews on tap for the public by the end of summer.
The open space can house a big crowd, with plenty of tables in addition to the bar, and a giant garage door opens onto the street for air and sun on hot days. Next door, the smaller bistro is a comfortable place for families to visit, boasting a half-dozen larger tables with peek-a-boo views into Integrity Spirits' distillery. Even better, Schwartz is renting the QHut space adjacent to the brewpub; he says come Aug. 1, the area will become a huge outdoor beer patio.
Good thing there'll be plenty of space, because if the crowds give Green Dragon another try—and they should—the brewpub will be needing that extra room.
Green Dragon Bistro & Brewpub, 928 SE 9th Ave., 517-0660. Lunch and dinner 11 am-11 pm Sunday-Wednesday; 11 am-1 am Thursday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.