To understand Grain & Gristle, consider the burger. At this no-frills box of a blonde-wood gastropub on Northeast Prescott Street, the burger is simple. It's just bread, mayo, lettuce, pickle and meat. But the thick, half-pound patty comes from a line of Hereford cows cultivated since 1856 at Oregon's Hawley Ranch, butchered by sister restaurant Old Salt in Cully and fresh-ground each day by chef Greg Smith. The pickles are housemade, as is the garlic-lemon aioli, and the green lettuce is shocked in frigid water for crispness. The brioche bun is baked specially for the burger by Grano Breads' Ulises Alvarez, who got his start baking in Old Salt's back room. You could argue that other burgers are better, but none achieve such richness with this level of elegant concision and humility.
The burger is simplicity as virtue, with all things made only for their purpose. And as a bar and a restaurant, Grain & Gristle is the same. With near-exclusive access to some of the best ingredients in the city—meat from Old Salt, beer from co-owner Alex Ganum of Upright—Grain & Gristle is a dream of farm-to-table come to humble life. The pigs used to make Grain & Gristle's kielbasa plate are fed on the wort from the same triticale beer used to brine the sausages, and the skin from those pigs go to make the bar's justly famous pork rinds. The French dip makes use of long-tenderized sheets of lamb neck, while thicker cuts from the whole-butchered lamb may end up in the daily special. The meat-and-cheese Grand Board mixes the cured meats and prime cuts of Old Salt with coastal oysters, esoteric cheeses and Smith's own rillettes, pickles and house mustard.
And yet at a hall devoted to meat, the micro-seasonal salads offer some of the most profound delights, whether a wildly herbal heirloom-tomato take on caprese or a peach-and-apple salad with an undertow of cilantro. Old Salt is a flashier showcase for the ingredients, but at half the price, Grain & Gristle has some of the city's most solid execution, offering not only fine rustic meals but a genuine service to the city.
Pro tip: Every single day, Grain & Gristle offers a $25 meal for two that includes two 10-ounce beers from Upright; recent meals have included a deep-brined lamb and polenta, and even a cut of rib-eye. Each plate has a fresh vegetable accent, and is served from animals butchered in-house at Old Salt or Ben Meyer's new meat-processing hall in Canby. That meal is a marvel.