Judith Stokes knows better than to look at Yelp. But as she prepared to reopen her Kenton restaurant Derby at a new location earlier this summer, she had to update hours and contact information on the site.
It was there she saw a review from December 2020, when the first location closed, incorrectly stating the business had been sold.
“Probably a good thing since the previous owner always seemed unhappy and approached customer service with the worst attitude,” Yelper Ursula W. wrote. “Aside from that, they had a lot of trouble managing COVID.”
“I don’t know who in the fucking world had an easy time managing COVID,” Stokes says. “It is like a year and a half, and we still don’t know what’s going on! Nobody understands what us restaurateurs have gone through. Everybody just kind of has to keep playing it by ear.”
In truth, Stokes and Derby have been managing COVID just fine. Having pulled off a pandemic pivot to a takeout and market focus, Derby is both a work in progress and an act of imagination: an all-in-one restaurant, bar, cafe and market with a patio for outdoor dining and events, like live music and Peachy Spring’s Drag Bingo.
Derby’s market sells grab-and-go staples like soups, salads, sandwiches, cocktails to go, beer and wine. Eventually Stokes hopes to stock meat from her provider Rossalini Farms as well as produce farmed by former Po’ Shines chef James Bradley and the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition.
For now, Derby is first and foremost a brunch restaurant with a classic paralyzing choice: sweet or savory.
If you’re dining in a group of four, no problem: You can split the cardamom custard French toast, mini macadamia nut waffles, massive (20-ounce) breakfast burrito, and the white cheddar, arugula and mustard aioli breakfast sandwich.
You may also want some “bacon for the table,” harissa patatas bravas (really more like spicy home fries) or the excellently flaky, layered housemade biscuit—either solo or with gravy.
Sides like pandesal sweet rolls—not unlike a Hawaiian sweet roll, but with a more substantial crust and crumb—and longanisa sausage are a nod to Stokes’ Filipino heritage.
She first started making Filipino food in Portland with her Mississippi food cart, Tita’s Pista, more than a decade ago.
“I would love to serve my food,” Stokes says. “I really want to do my chicken adobo. I want to do some fried rice. I want to do some Korean short ribs. That’s the stuff I really love doing. And Kenton, there’s no Asian food anywhere close here. So I was hoping to fill that gap.”
Right now, she’s at the restaurant almost every day from 9 am to 1 am, and obstacles like food and supply shortages, Delta-reduced demand for indoor dining, and the ongoing difficulty most restaurants are having staffing up are holding Stokes back from all the ways she’d like Derby to shine.
The restaurant hasn’t even been able to keep its Portland Monthly-famous smash burger on the menu because supply chain issues have delayed the kitchen’s exhaust hood.
In the meantime, to have the bar open at night, there are pop-ups: Allie G’s (savory Filipinx baked goods), Mis Tacones (vegan tacos and tortas) and Rangoon Bistro (Burmese). This keeps Derby in compliance with Oregon law that requires bars to serve food—until Stokes can staff and supply enough to feature her own dinner menu.
For now, our two favorite cocktails make a little more sense at brunchtime. The Cold Fashioned takes cold brew coffee and doctors it up with everything you need for the day: Buffalo Trace, Dolin Rouge vermouth, orange liqueur and bitters. The BDMS is a next-level bloody mary, upgraded with extra house pickles and a pepperoni straw, named for the apparently forgotten ‘90s Portland band Big Daddy Meat Straw. They were a favorite of Stokes’ from the X-Ray Cafe days, but most people think the name is a BDSM pun or typo.
As for that Yelper? She inspired a limited-edition Derby T-shirt, which Stokes’ friends, customers and fellow restaurant owners couldn’t snap up fast enough. It bore not only text from the review, but a play on CJ McCollum’s infamous “I’m trying Jennifer” Twitter exchange and subsequent meme, which was itself a T-shirt: “I’m trying, Ursula!”
EAT: Derby, 8220 Denver Ave., 503-719-7976, derbypdx.com.9 am-midnight Wednesday-Sunday.