For a limited time, heirloom tomatoes are back.
Long before the McRib, Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Whopper Melts stirred up excitement about limited-time menu offers, nature had its own way of introducing and then abruptly cutting off supply to coveted foods: growing seasons.
Consider, then, the heirloom tomato the original Unicorn Frappuccino—a deliriously colorful, invigoratingly sweet, infinitely Instagrammable delight that’s only available for a few short weeks each year. Everyone from backyard gardeners to high-end chefs looks forward to this late-summer fruit, whose versatility lends itself to everything from salads to soups to sandwiches to pizza toppings. Of course, heirlooms are also delicious all on their own, plucked straight from the vine.
To celebrate the peak of the Pacific Northwest’s tomato harvest, we’ve been scouring social media accounts for weeks looking for signs of their arrival at local restaurants, calling (and re-calling) host stands to confirm heirlooms have finally hit menus, and sometimes even pleading with industry friends to add specials featuring the produce.
It was a delicious race against time—and one you can still participate in before we return to the dominance of the less flavorful, homogeneous red spheres found in supermarkets year-round. Here are a dozen juicy picks to help you get started.
Summer Garden Veggie Pizza ($18 half, $30 whole) and BLT ($16)
6112 SE Foster Road, 971-888-5973, assemblybrewingco.com. 11 am-10 pm daily.
Assembly Brewing offers what is arguably Portland’s most authentic Detroit-style pizza from owner-brewer George Johnson, a Detroit native who learned from one of the masters. This spacious FoPo brewpub is filled with tributes to where Johnson grew up, like the beautiful wall-to-wall mural that depicts the art of brewing in story form inspired by Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals. Assembly almost always stays true to its convictions—from the use of authentic brick cheese and blue steel baking pans to staying adamantly 21-plus in a family-friendly, school-adjacent neighborhood.
For Assembly’s heirloom specials, the brewery is exploring more Pacific Northwest flavor combos, like a sweet tomato version of its summer garden veggie pizza and a panini-pressed heirloom BLT with butter lettuce, bacon and thick slices of tomato. I don’t know if the Motor City would approve, but I can certainly get behind the garden veggie topped with grilled corn, zucchini and wedges of uncooked heirloom tomato in red and yellow, which is then splattered with a chile-lime aioli like a Jackson Pollock painting. This pie is like eating a backyard cookout with your vegetarian friends, with all of the flavors of grilling season captured on each slice. You won’t even miss the meat. Even if it’s not quite traditional, at least the tomato is placed on top of the cheese like any self-respecting Detroit-style pizzeria should do. EZRA JOHNSON-GREENOUGH.
DOUBLE MOUNTAIN BREWERY
Heirloom Pie ($19 for a 10-inch, $35 for a 16-inch)
4336 SE Woodstock Blvd., 503-206-5495, doublemountainbrewery.com. Noon-9 pm daily. 1700 N Killingsworth St., 503-206-4405. 11 am-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday. 8 4th St., Hood River, 541-387-0042. 11:30 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday.
Double Mountain Brewery has been dropping its seasonal heirloom tomato pesto pizzas since shortly after the original Hood River pub opened in 2007. Back then, Oregon was not known for pizza, and the New Haven style that co-founder Matt Swihart brought to the pub was almost as big of a draw as the hoppy ales. Double Mountain was ahead of the curve when it came to heirlooms—the pie has become a cult favorite, inspiring fans to check the company’s Instagram feed every summer to find out when it becomes available. I take it one step further and ask the staff to notify me as soon as the first Royal Anne Organics heirloom tomatoes arrive.
Double Mountain seems to know that all eyes are on these special pies—every single one comes out thin and crusty, yet they are stiff enough to withstand a heavy layer of ripe circular tomatoes. The heirlooms themselves come in a rainbow of colors, sometimes blood red, sometimes ectoplasm green, sometimes golden like a sunset. No matter the hues, each pizza is topped with a piping-hot layer of mozzarella and Fontal cheese and a dusting of pecorino and Parmigiano, filling the air with a scent that I would buy if it came as a candle. EJ-G.
Pickled Summer Tomato Special ($17 half, $33.50 full)
2727 NE Glisan St., 503-239-4444, dovevivipizza.com. 4-9 pm daily.
On occasion, I’ve heard some deep-dish naysayers suggest the style is just casserole masquerading as pizza. But aren’t tomatoes just vegetables masquerading as fruit? Dove Vivi’s deep-dish pizza is just as divisive thanks to the untraditional cornmeal crust—similar to what you would expect in a sweet fruit pie, with the graininess of cornbread and a graham cracker crunch. I, for one, love this crust, which is a great shell for serving layers of cheese and fun toppings like the caramelized onions on the house classic with sausage and peppers.
For the first of its many seasonal tomato specials, Dove Vivi filled that cornmeal base with a bed of gooey mozzarella, copious amounts of roasted garlic, and everyone’s favorite overused pizza garnish: arugula. I’ll admit I wasn’t initially sold by the menu description of the use of pickled heirlooms, which seemed to soak up oils while simultaneously seeping out a gelatinous membrane upon arrival. In the end, the pie won me over by delivering just what I was craving in an unexpected way. Through the magic of salting, the water-heavy heirloom’s juices are coaxed out and evaporate when baked at a high temp, leaving the natural sugars and the fruit in its purest form, and the magic of this season’s bounty on full display. EJ-G.
Heirloom Tomato Plate ($13)
825 N Cook St., 503-265-8002, eclipticbrewing.com. Noon-9 pm Sunday-Wednesday, noon-10 pm Thursday-Saturday.
Not all that many breweries add heirlooms to their menus, and those that do tend to use pizza to showcase the fleshy slices. Not Ecliptic, which, since opening in 2013, has distinguished itself by shifting its menu with the seasons (reflecting the meaning of the brewery’s name—the Earth’s orbital plane around the sun) and pushing the boundaries of pub grub by serving creative, elevated fare alongside the familiar burgers, wings and mac. In fact, it was here, years ago at a brewers dinner, where I first tried kohlrabi in a salad—a vegetable I had never heard of, let alone laid eyes on. So it was no surprise that Ecliptic has highlighted tomatoes in a similar fashion—the produce is cut with attention to beauty and precision as if each tomato were a precious gem and then dressed simply to emphasize the key ingredient’s qualities. In this case, that is the gentle acidity of the heirlooms.
Visually, there’s no other plate that mirrors the mood of late summer as well as this one. During my visit, large tomato wedges were rippled in vibrant shades of pink, orange and red like a fiery sunset that refuses to give way to fall just yet. Soft knobs of baby mozzarella cloaked in puréed Pomodoraccio tomatoes look as though they’re trying to pass as heirlooms, but, of course, their milky richness reveals their true identity. The addition of crisp breadcrumbs and whole basil leaves turns this dish into a refreshing panzanella-caprese mashup—exactly what you want to nibble on when the stubborn heat of August lingers well into September. Next time, however, I’d ask them to go light on the olive oil, which tended to mute the sweetness of the tomatoes. ANDI PREWITT.
Tomatotini ($13), White Bean Crostini With Heirloom Tomatoes ($10), and Heirloom Tomato Tart ($15)
1800 NW 16th Ave., 503-241-6559, theemeraldline.com. 11 am-2 pm and 4-9 pm-ish Monday-Friday, 4-9 pm-ish Saturday.
I got an email tipping me off to the arrival of heirlooms at Emerald Line from a complete stranger—the first sign that the seasonal specials at this train track-adjacent restaurant in Northwest Portland were going to be exceptional. The subject line merely said “tomatoes,” and what followed was a description of the sender’s lunch punctuated by a “Yum!” That was it. Just an enthusiastic prompt from one tomato lover that was received by another—oddly, sent on the day I had planned to visit the nearly 4-year-old business.
When I got there, the second clue that this would be a standout stop on my tomato tour was the plate of fire engine-red orbs on the bar, viewed through the eyes of an heirloom fanatic as an altar to the fleeting fruit. In reality, the placement was purely functional, giving bartenders easy access to a critical component in the Tomatotini. Made with four or so pingpong ball-sized fruits that are then muddled, vodka or gin (my server recommended the cucumber-infused Hendrick’s, inching it toward summer salad in a glass), a splash of simple syrup and a spritz of salt spray, the concoction is an elegantly simple ode to the heirloom. Cosmo pink early in the season—the Tomatotini could turn yellow or green later on depending on the color of the incoming harvest—it’s about as pure as you can get to the classic “slice, salt and devour with knife and fork” in beverage form.
Go for the tomato trifecta while you’re here by pairing the drink with crostini layered in an earthy white bean paste, juicy nubs of heirlooms, chopped basil and balsamic glaze as well as a tart, whose thin, flaky crust is an uncomplicated foundation for a trio of salty, savory cheeses (Asiago, Parmesan, Romano) and tomato slices as big as saucers with a depth of flavor so impressive, you could swear you just tasted a spoonful of marinara that had been simmering for hours on a nonna’s stove. AP.
The BLT ($13)
902 NW 13th Ave., 971-279-4656, jojopdx.com. 11 am-10 pm daily.
The BLT may be the most un-Jojo-like thing on Jojo’s menu. While the fried chicken sandos and burgers at this Pearl District restaurant are practically toppling over when they reach your table—towering stacks made unstable by the sheer amount of toppings the kitchen has dared to add in a culinary version of a chair-balancing act—the seasonal sandwich is a smaller, tidier affair. During my visit, all of the components remained tucked between two slices of chewy shokupan save for a sliver of bacon protruding from one side. The BLT is also simple; it has only five components, whereas Jojo’s other assemblages are made with a grocery list worth of ingredients. But that doesn’t mean this sandwich is any less delicious or visually engaging.
Like some of Jojo’s offerings, the BLT is presented cut in half and turned upward so that you can easily see (and take plenty of social media-ready pictures of) all the neatly arranged, colorful layers. Normally pillowy-soft milk bread gets added heft because it’s been toasted in bacon fat, so rest assured your sandwich innards won’t come spilling out the side due to a slippery or weak foundation. Undulating thin strips of pork provide another source of satisfying crunch balanced by the gush of tomato—mine was blushing a shade of red so dark you could almost call it purple. A generous slathering of tangy-sweet Duke’s ends up mixed with the shredded lettuce in a wonderful way that practically creates a slaw. The only sign that this otherwise orderly sandwich came from Jojo’s erratically playful kitchen is the shower of diced chives, which look like they came out of a confetti popper. Of course, you have the option to make the BLT as over the top as anything else here by adding melted cheese and a fried chicken thigh, which is a great excuse to return to see which version you prefer. AP.
Tomato Watermelon Salad ($11)
1205 SW Washington St., 503-241-2490; 1212 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-234-7786; lardosandwiches.com. 11 am-10 pm daily. 4025 Mercantile Drive, Suite 125, Lake Oswego, 503-303-9227. 11 am-8:30 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday.
Of course you can get heirloom tomatoes in a sandwich at Lardo, the mini-chain whose simple counter-service setup belies the quality of the elaborate and enormous stacks—many anchored by pork—coming out of the kitchen. But when the temperature is too hot, the sun too glaring and, frankly, you’re too exhausted to even consider loading your stomach down with a culinary anchor, opt instead for succulent tomato mixed into a lighter salad.
Striking ombré-hued wedges of the fruit, whose green flesh faded to yellow at the tapered base in my bowl, get top billing in the tomato watermelon salad because they are the star in this dish—every bit as sweet and juicy as you’d hoped. But the supporting cast of produce does what any successful secondary character should: drive the action by keeping you coming back for more variety and allowing the tomato to shine. Cubes of sugary watermelon that crunch like pebble ice almost shock the tongue when compared to the milder heirlooms, and their texture acts as a wonderful sponge, soaking up the lime-ginger vinaigrette pooled at the bottom of the bowl. Heftier chunks of cucumber and feathery cilantro also share an important role as essential cooling agents—the perfect remedy to a sweltering day.
I could take those core components and be perfectly content with that as a late-summer meal, but in a smart “clean out the greenhouse” move, Lardo finishes the blend with peppery shreds of Thai basil and dollhouse furniture-sized crispy fried red onion rings for an occasional savory bite. It’s the stuff of peak farmers markets and, best of all, there’s no assembly required on your part. AP.
LOVELY’S FIFTY FIFTY
Rainbow Chard Pizza With Fermented Beefsteak Heirloom Tomatoes ($29)
4039 N Mississippi Ave., 503-281-4060, lovelys5050.com. 5-10 pm daily.
One of the great things about heirloom tomato pizza is that the heirlooms are always the star of the show, even when they take a backseat. Take, for example, Lovely Fifty Fifty’s rainbow chard pie, in which the crispy-edged leafy vegetable takes center stage. The denseness of the chard pleasantly contrasts with the creamy yet grassy mineral character of crumbly salva cheese, which sinks into chef Sarah Minnick’s always-perfect, chewy and bubbly crust. But the whole thing would arguably be too overpowering without the meaty chunks of fermented beefsteak tomatoes that steal the limelight, adding sweetness and a touch of acid to a very salty, rich and peppery pie. But don’t forget to pair this pizza with a sparkly beverage like the house favorite Lambrusco, because even with the hot-rod-red slices of heirlooms, you could still use a little more help cleansing the salty, buttery and garlic-dense Calabrian chile oils from your palate in between bites. EJ-G.
Shapes of Nature ($25) and The Spurley ($25)
4784 SE 17th Ave., 503-662-8325, rusebrewing.com. 3-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 3-10 pm Friday, 1-10 pm Saturday, 1-8 pm Sunday.
To get your hands on one of Ruse Brewing’s Detroit-style pizzas, you used to have to brave traffic on Interstate 5 north and cross state lines to reach the company’s spinoff restaurant Crust Collective in the new Vancouver, Wash., waterfront development. Thankfully, the brewery ended the need for that long, painful commute by launching a pop-up kitchen in its Brooklyn neighborhood taproom and production facility, which pumps out pies Friday through Sunday.
Now that it’s tomato season, the tables have been turned as Vancouverites may find themselves making the trek to the Portland location for slices topped with beefy heirlooms using recipes that aren’t being replicated up north. We have to admit, these special pies materialized, in part, because of our meddling—Ezra prodded owners Shaun Kalis and Devin Benware to get some fresh ‘maters on the menu. But, boy, are we glad they took the suggestion. Visually, these may be the most stunning heirloom dishes of the bunch since each slice is crowned with a large, colorful round.
Using the fruit as a topping was something Kalis and Benware had mulled over since the latter grows his own supply of what he considers his favorite fruit. Together with Ruse sous chef Oscar Suarez, they developed a pie dubbed “Shapes of Nature,” which piles the dense crust with light capreselike components—in addition to mozzarella, they tinkered with the recipe by swapping in floppy arugula and oregano for basil and use maple sugar as the sweetener in a blackberry balsamic glaze.
But our favorite pizza ended up being an impromptu creation, The Spurley, which came together after Suarez showed up with an armload of new ingredients. A layer of brick cheese is studded with juicy, salty nubs of lardon with a crisp exterior and springy center. A bed of crunchy strands of iceberg that appear as though they were run through a paper shredder make the perfect cushion for the heirlooms—all canary colored on my pie and looking as cheery as a sunrise, which are then drizzled with a tangy jalapeño ranch that offers just a murmur of heat. Eat at least one piece as intended with all of the components intact for the full “BLT as a pizza” effect. But consume at least one slice like an Oreo by removing the tomato topper and savoring every delightfully juicy bite of it all on its own. AP.
SEASONS & REGIONS SEAFOOD GRILL
Heirloom Gazpacho ($6 cup, $8 bowl) and Heirloom Tomato Sandwich ($13.95)
6660 SW Capitol Highway, 503-244-6400, seasonsandregions.com. 4-9 pm daily.
Approximately five days into my heirloom crawl, my smartphone caught on to the mission. Suddenly, I was inundated with social media ads filled with red, yellow, orange and green globes of fruit being served at a restaurant I’d never heard of. Out of curiosity, I added Seasons & Regions to my list of stops, wondering just how many heirloom dishes could possibly be on the menu at a place that bills itself as a “seafood grill.” Turns out, there were plenty.
The number and variety of tomato offerings is due to the fact that the owners, known as “Chef Greg” and “Farmer Wanda,” moved to a 14-acre farm in Estacada eight years after opening their establishment on the border of the Multnomah and Hillsdale neighborhoods in 2001 in order to supply the kitchen with organically grown heirloom produce. That includes approximately 300 tomato plants whose fruit ends up in everything from a caprese salad to gazpacho to a sandwich. The latter two could even be ordered for $9.95 each from the August Cheap Eats menu (the chilled soup special came with bay shrimp), making Seasons & Regions the best bang-for-your-buck source for heirlooms.
Constructing a satisfying tomato sandwich can be as simple as placing slices of the fruit between two pieces of cheap white bread swiped with Best Foods. But just because an heirloom can sing when coupled with the humblest of ingredients doesn’t mean it’s not worth elevating. Seasons & Regions makes what is the best tomato sandwich I’ve had to date—by far the drippiest of any listed here thanks to a small wall of golden heirlooms three layers tall. Their sweetness pops amid a backdrop of herbaceous tangles of basil and sharp half-moons of red onion—all of it coated in an oozy Gorgonzola sauce that walks the line between tangy and earthy.
That dish was only surpassed by a rust-colored gazpacho, which has all of the comforting savory flavors of a good, old-fashioned tomato soup coupled with the zing of a bloody mary. I could down water bottles filled with the refreshing liquid any day the temperature tops 90, but the medley of cucumber, red pepper and red onion hidden just below the surface turns this drink into a full meal. AP.
Beet LT ($15)
1208 E Historic Columbia River Highway, Troutdale, 503-665-6558, sugarpinedrivein.com. 11 am-5 pm Thursday-Monday.
When I first heard that Troutdale’s famous soft serve ice cream and sandwich shack had a seasonal heirloom BLT, I thought it was a great excuse to make the short jaunt to this popular recreational pit stop. In my excitement, I overlooked the fact that it was a “beet” LT, a vegetarian version of the bacon classic featuring my least favorite pickled vegetable instead of everyone’s favorite cut of pork fat. But being the pro that I am, I decided to take one for the team, and discovered the seasonal hoagie was surprisingly enjoyable (though messy). The smoked beet didn’t come close to capturing the magic of bacon on toasted bread, but the dish did convince me that every elevated BLT should have a housemade pesto sauce. In lieu of mayo, the very herbaceous and hot pesto slathered on a spread of soft, fluffy goat cheese begged for the squish of a sweet slice of purple beet and a chunky slab of heirloom tomato.
It wouldn’t be a Sugarpine Drive-In sandwich without the business’s housemade brittles—a unique obsession here. The Beet LT comes with a “bacon-spiced” sesame seed cracker version broken up like bits of candy in the roll. Ultimately, I wasn’t convinced this was a good use of my beloved heirloom tomatoes, but it was a fun sack lunch substitute for a day spent floating the Sandy River. EJ-G.
THRESHOLD BREWING & BLENDING
Heirloom Tomato Zapiekanka ($15)
403 SE 79th Ave., 503-477-8789, threshold.beer. 4-9 pm Monday-Friday, noon-9 pm Saturday, noon-8 pm Sunday.
Zapiekanka—pronounced “zappy,” like the sound of a laser on The Jetsons, and “konka,” like the sound of a Flintstones character getting bonked over the head—is a Polish street food classic that was added to Threshold’s small menu of snacks as a nod to co-founder and brewer Jarek Szymanski’s home country. Best described to a layperson as an open-faced pizza sandwich, the zapiekanka is actually much more interesting than that: a baguette layered with Polish kielbasa, morski cheese, spiced mushrooms, brined cucumbers and a tomato paste that’s similar to ketchup.
To make it even more authentic, Threshold recently started collaborating with Fressen Artisan Bakery in Northeast Portland on 12-inch-long bread that could stand up to the toppings. Every zapiekanka at the brewery is finished with that zigzag line of 15-vegetable, house-stewed tomato sauce with secret spices. But during tomato season, you can try a less traditional but even more mouthwatering version topped with heirlooms sourced from the neighboring Montavilla Farmers Market that are drizzled with a white garlic sauce. It’s the perfect way to filter Polish street food through a Portlandia beer lens, and so good when paired with Threshold’s Pivo Polish Pilsner, you’ll want to scream, “Yabba dabba doo!” EJ-G.