One of the big secrets of the food-review business: After making three or four visits in quick succession, even the best restaurants look good in the rearview. Actually, the spots we're most eager to return to aren't the best, but the ones that left us wondering. This week, we returned to see what happened to the places we were most curious about from the past year.
Son of a Biscuit
2045 SE Division St., 971-888-5933, sonofabiscuit.com.
Date: Aug. 1
The pitch: Nashville-style hot fried chicken from Little Big Burger's Micah Camden.
Issue: "Biscuit's 'Nashville-style hot chicken' is the equivalent of 'New York-style pizza' at an East Tennessee gas station…. I pleaded for 'extra-hot' on my third visit to Son of a Biscuit, and got Popeyes spiciness."
Now: Well, it's oranger, anyway. Son of a Biscuit has added an "extra spicy" option as part of its series of minor tweaks (emo music?), and the chicken actually might be better (moister inside, crisper outside), but it's still not spicy. There's a rich color, but the spice comes from a paprika-like warmth. This still ain't Nashville.
Eb & Bean
1425 NE Broadway, 281-6081, ebandbean.com.
Date: Aug. 5
The pitch: Organic and locally sourced froyo and toppings in a sleek, modern space.
Issue: "The only problem is the froyo, which lacks the flavor punch we've been conditioned to expect in a dessert. Everything we tried was surprisingly tepid in flavor."
Now: Much improved. This Lloyd District froyo shop has bettered everything in the past six months, starting with the toppings, which include a cold-brew coffee and bourbon sauce that along with whipped cream, butterscotch crumbles and cocoa-rich froyo made a late push toward being one of our favorite desserts of the year. But it's the new froyo flavors that most impressed, including a weird and wonderful version of a non-dairy linzer cookie froyo—a complex blend of hazelnut, raspberry and cinnamon.
7712 SE 13th Ave., 327-8755, reverendsbbq.com.
Date: May 21 and June 18
The pitch: The team behind the excellent Laurelhurst Market steakhouse does barbecue in dining-starved Sellwood.
Issue: "Ribs whose right sides consisted of dripping piles of fat, and whose left consisted of oversalted jerky, drier than the bones they were attached to. Utter rib failure."
Now: Whole different rib game. For one, Reverend's has moved to a St. Louis cut, obviating previous issues with trimming. The ribs are meatier, and that salty charcoal is gone. They could still use a little more moisture, but all in all, a 100 percent turnaround. When the smoky and rich ribs are paired with maybe the best collard greens in town, it's on the level of other solid 'cue spots like Slabtown Ribs or Leroy's Familiar Vittles, even if still far below Podnah's Pit or Smokehouse 21. The brisket—lamented in our pages for being too fatty back in May—was decent but a little dry. Go figure.
2235 SE 11th Ave., 477-9418, baerlicbrewing.com.
Date: July 30
The pitch: New brewery on Southeast 11th Avenue.
Issue: "I've been able to taste only five beers in two visits, the best of which was an ultra-hoppy Primeval Brown Ale. The crowd was thinner the second time, too, perhaps because people are holding out for fresh batches of coffee stout and IPA. In the meantime, Baerlic might consider biting the bullet and putting some guest beers on tap."
Now: They've got a full lineup of 10 beers, including more ambitious offerings like an oatmeal Pilsner, a beechwood-aged version of Arctos Northwest Winter Ale, and a dry-hopped barleywine. The Primeval is still the best thing on the board, though.
5846 NE Sandy Blvd., 971-407-3429, btupdx.com.
Date: Oct. 8
The pitch: A brewpub with Szechuan food.
Issue: "The first in-house [beer] offering, Out for a Rip IPA, was finally tapped last week. It gets a rip: It was far too sweet and tasted a bit like the juice from canned corn…. More of a concern is the absurd mildness of the Szechuan dishes. On the last of my four visits, I pleaded for heat in the Szechuan chicken, dan dan noodles and mapo tofu and was told I'd get it. Each would pass for mild at Lucky Strike or Szechuan Chef, and are likely to disappoint pepper heads."
Now: Better across the board, though still not soaring. The beer list has been rounded out to include the excellent Rusty's Red and a clean lager made with Chinese short-grain rice. The IPA isn't particularly strong, but it's much improved. The Szechuan chicken, meanwhile, came out relatively spicy on request, in a smoky sauce with a heavy dose of earthy peppercorns. It's not what you'll get from Chinese-run Szechuan restaurants, but it's got greater depth than it did before.
Bridge City Pizza
5412 SE Woodstock Blvd., 777-4992, bridgecitypizza.com.
Date: July 22
The pitch: Chicago-style thin-crust pizza and Italian beef.
Issue: The Italian beef was the best we ever expect to have in Portland—"wetter than an otter's pocket, chock-full of meat and jus that they prep for days"—but we just plain didn't try the pizza.
Now: Well, stick to that killer Italian beef. The pizza's crust is thin and cut in squares, but it's nowhere near as crisp as the Chicagoland classic. It's a little doughy, like a Northwest pizzeria slice. And where you'd expect that classic overloaded cheese char in the South Side pie, you instead get sparse cheese floating in thin marinara. Maybe they make pies like this somewhere in Chicago, but nowhere we know.
131 NW 13th Ave., 820-7721, fatheadsportland.com.
Date: Nov. 19
The pitch: Suburban Cleveland's much-awarded brewpub opens a place in the Pearl, promising a sought-after IPA.
Issue: "The taps haven't yet poured the flagship Head Hunter IPA—a revelation in North Olmsted, Ohio, though hard-pressed to rank among Oregon's top 10 IPAs—but it's already becoming one of the Pearl's more pleasant bars."
Now: Well, they have the IPA. Head Hunter is gooey sweet, with a hoppy bite that latches onto your tongue like a bear trap—which a lot of people love. Then again, the week's batches may have been running a little sweet, because the Alpenglow weizenbock that impressed on our first visit was unbalanced this time. The sandwiches are still big and sloppy.
726 SE 6th Ave., 841-6675, trifectapdx.com.
Date: Jan. 22
The pitch: Ken Forkish of artisan bread and pizza fame hires Higgins sous chef Rich Meyer and opens a Frenchy tavern in the former Spike's Auto Upholstery space.
Issue: "Trifecta still feels like it's settling into its foundation…. On one of my three visits, we were served roasted grilled marrow bones that were far too rare. That beautiful bread—Ken's levain is extraordinary—turned pink with blood. And that wasn't the worst part. Atop the bones sat a thick layer of piccalilli of celery root, cauliflower, onions, fennel, cider vinegar, mustard seeds and mustard…the sharply bitter concoction outmuscled everything pleasant on the plate."
Now: By September, Trifecta had really rounded into shape. Everyone has found a little something to love about Trifecta, especially when it comes to grabbing a seat at the bar for Meyer's top-shelf bar snacks, including Old Bay-seasoned potato chips, hearty housemade sausages and cider-grilled chicken with fried onions. It's also a sleeper pick for the best upscale happy hour in town, with a decadent pimento double cheeseburger on fresh ciabatta for only $10.