Ecliptic shoots for the moon, makes a pretty good sandwich.

Portland brewery food tends to be solid, but far from spectacular. That is to say, you’ll never find foodies and wine lovers making reservations to get Breakside’s hummus, Lompoc’s wings or Widmer’s schnitzel.

John Harris, owner of the spacey, spare, concrete-walled Ecliptic Brewing that opened in a former auto body shop at the top of the hill separating the industrial and recreational stretches of North Mississippi Avenue, wants to change that. Harris told Willamette Week and The Oregonian that it's his goal for Ecliptic to be considered among the top 100 restaurants in town, winning inclusion in either WW's glossy Restaurant Guide or The Oregonian's Diner. As far as Harris or I know, no other Portland brewery has ever accomplished that.

If Ecliptic makes an appearance in WW's guide, it will have changed a lot before October. Our three visits to this 3-month-old brewery found it sitting closer to the top 250 restaurants in Portland. Ecliptic's executive chef, Michael Molitor, formerly of Pazzo Ristorante, has a fresh take on brewpub staples, but his more adventurous offerings fail to launch.

That's not for lack of premium ingredients or service staff—both of which are plentiful inside this colossal space, which has an astronomical theme and enough off-street parking to accommodate the retired Discovery.

But look at the duck breast ($19), served with stewy greens and beautiful, peeled blood-orange segments. Someone apparently thinks duck should be prepared like chicken rather than beef, overcooking it until its pink juices all but evaporate.

Or consider the pan-fried black cod ($16) from the now-discontinued seasonal Yule menu. On a quiet weekday night, ours came out so cool that the fat started to thicken before we'd finished the tepid Brussels sprouts and a gravy of yellow peppers.

On the pubbier side of the menu, the fish wasn't much better. You might suspect the beer used in the beer-battered fish and chips ($15) was a Gose, because the three hunks of cod were coated in a thick layer of unpleasantly dry, salty batter. The lamb burger ($13) was also a dud, with bitter sharp chevre and extra piquant Dijon overwhelming everything else inside the Grand Central bun.

And yet Ecliptic shows signs of life elsewhere, starting with crispy fried russet potatoes ($4) paired with a warming vinegar aioli, and sweet and spicy drumsticks ($9) that were expertly confited and sparked with a caramelly sauce. Even the bed of celery  was tasty. There's also a studly ploughman's lunch ($15), which combines salamis from Olympic Provisions and Chop with local cheeses, a dab of jam and pickled asparagus.

Two sandwiches also impressed.

The first was a banh mi-style chicken sandwich ($12) built from appropriately fatty thigh meat marinated in fish sauce and kissed with char, a big pile of cilantro and a jalapeño mayo. My only gripe was the overly hearty hoagie roll.

The beet melt ($11) was a surprise favorite, the sweet pink roots roasted until a little caramelized and balanced by goat cheddar, crisp Granny Smith apples and pickled onion.

Desserts are of higher-than-expected quality and generous size, especially a cakelike sticky toffee pudding ($7) with a big scoop of cardamom-spiked whipped cream.

Oh, and the beer. Ecliptic's best claim to becoming the brewpub that Portland's fussier diners deserve is the small but growing beer lineup, all of which is approachable and balanced. The mildly roasty Mintaka Stout and the softly herbal Spica HefePils, especially, are well-suited to food pairing. They deserve a menu to match them. Then again, we've been wishing on this star for a long time.

  1. Order this: Chicken sandwich ($12) with fries, toffee pudding ($7).
  2. Best deal: A sampler of beers ($6).
  3. I’ll pass: Fish, duck, lamb.

EAT: Ecliptic Brewing, 825 N Cook St., 265-8002, 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday-Saturday.