Carefully considering the ethics and logistics of keeping a restaurant in business during a global pandemic is a unique challenge. So imagine how difficult it would be to debut in the middle of a health crisis.
At Lazy Susan, the dust—proverbial and literal—hadn't yet settled when Andrew Mace realized things might not go as planned.
"In late February, we started hearing about [COVID-19] on podcasts while we were hanging the drywall," says Mace, head chef and co-owner of the new Montavilla grillery. "By the time we were about to pull the trigger on hiring our staff, we finally realized how serious this is. Then everything came to a halt for three weeks, and there wasn't much else to do but focus more time on finishing the space."
Prior to setting up shop in the space formerly occupied by the Country Cat, Mace spent time in the kitchens of Le Pigeon, the Woodsman Tavern and Han Oak. Last winter, Akkapong "Earl" Ninsom tapped Mace to help roll out his second Hat Yai location on Southeast Belmont, and by fall of 2019 the duo was hatching a plan to convert the newly available space into a family-style restaurant they hoped would become a culinary anchor for the neighborhood.
Then the restaurant business was turned on its ear. With indoor table service out of the picture, Mace moved the kitchen outside and hoped for the best.
"Summer was coming and we have this really nice custom grill back here," says Mace. "So we thought it would be a good idea to wheel the thing out there and use that as a way to introduce ourselves to the neighborhood."
For the next month. Lazy Susan sold boxes to go for $15 featuring sides like radish and potato salad, grilled proteins, including pork shoulder and fennel sausage, and a fluffy crescent roll on top. Throughout June, the pop-up sold out almost daily.
Then Mace hit the brakes again—this time for the birth of his son on July 4.
The grill is now back inside, and Lazy Susan is trying its hand at an outdoor-only setup one might call a more "traditional" restaurant model in these bizarre times. The focus on farm-fresh ingredients means the menu will evolve at a rapid clip, but here's what to expect when you pay a visit:
THE DINNER ROLLS
Prior to the birth of their son, Mace's wife, Nora, held the reins as the in-house pastry chef. Expect a procession of updated French and American classics in the future. For now, though, Nora's flaky, gently browned crescent rolls are the perfect starter for the traditional meat-and-veggies meals at Lazy Susan.
For Mace, one of the most appealing aspects of Lazy Susan's location is being just a stone's throw from the weekly Montavilla Farmers Market. There, he was introduced to Glasrai Farm, which provides farm-fresh veggies for the handful of sides that preclude the mains, like a plate of sliced cucumbers with dill atop a bed of rich green goddess dressing, or a glistening heap of bright-red cherry tomatoes topped with tuna and olive oil.
Mace gets his beef through a pilot program offered by Jared Gardner of Nehalem River Ranch. Instead of subjecting the centerpiece of his menu to market beef prices that have soared since COVID-19 started, Mace follows the lead of European brasseries by procuring cuts from mature dairy cows that are generally ground up for burgers rather than plated at American steakhouses.
"There's some pretty amazing cuts in there that aren't getting pulled out at the butcher table," says Mace. "We're using things like hanger steak, bavette, flat iron, hearts, tongues. All those things are great on the grill, and the flavor is astronomically different than conventional beef. You get a lot of really great fat content from the cows being 100% grass fed that even younger cows with a similar background would lose out on to some degree."
EAT: Lazy Susan, 7937 SE Stark St., 971 420-8913, lazysusanpdx.com. 4-9:30 pm Friday-Sunday.