It might be named after a sailor, but Old Salt is more tied to the land than any other restaurant in Portland. In a Cully neighborhood evenly split between auto repair shops and urban farms, co-owner Ben Meyer has fashioned himself as Portland's version of a woodsman.
Old Salt's butcher shop, bar and "supperhouse" is decorated with exposed beams, frontier pantry shelving and pictures of horses. Meyer spends weekend mornings chopping cords of firewood out back, for use in the restaurant's mammoth brick hearth, where Old Salt chef Ben Shade cooks pig, lamb and cow the restaurant butchers whole and sells in a case out front. The restaurant's ricotta cavatelli pasta is made from triticale wheat the restaurant's pig farmer uses as feed for its pigs, while the autumn delicata squash served with those pasta shells may come from any of four different Oregon farms.
For a butcher shop restaurant that cures its own ham and grinds its own sausage, Old Salt is uniquely reliant on local farm vegetables—green beans giving way to wax beans on a salad made with ham and lightly pickled peaches. On that dish and others, the restaurant's love of seasonal veg, house-cured charcuterie and gamy meat can lead to a certain inconsistency: Old Salt is part restaurant, part rustic-foods art project designed to make diners confront their ingredients with unusual intensity.
But when Old Salt is good, it's not merely good but great. A marbled tri-tip made from Hawley Ranch heirloom Hereford beef—exclusive to Old Salt and sister restaurant Grain and Gristle—had the most intense beef flavor of any beef I've had in Portland. On a Sunday mixed-grill platter, that perfect steak nestled against a lovely hearth-fired pork tenderloin seasoned to carnal ecstasy, and Flintstones-sized beef-marrow bones that found their counterpoint in pungent mustard greens steeped in bone juice. The pure barbaric meatiness of the Old Salt mixed grill is unparalleled in Portland. After cleaning your marrow, drink herbal German liqueur from the luge of your bones.
Pro tip: For the best experience, order the $40 a person "omakase" to get a stuttering succession of intense, vegetable-intensive bites. On Sundays, order the protein-loaded $60-$65 mixed grill, a plattered menagerie of three meats and sides that will stuff two and easily satisfy three.