Portland should have a conservatory. If you haven’t been to one—or never really paid attention during Clue—they’re like greenhouses but for leisure. In a city as overwhelmingly populated with plant lovers as ours and with such gigantic seasonal affective disorder complaints, a muggy glass house full of ferns might really take off.
Until that happens, though, Ann Lee’s comfortable yet somewhat Space Age ambience restaurant The Soop is the next best thing.
Located just around the corner from Providence Park on West Burnside, The Soop has certainly been mistaken, by more than one person, for a kitschy soup spot—it actually doesn’t have a drop.
Soop is a Korean word for forest, and when you visit, you’ll see why the name fits so well. Especially in the evening, The Soop glows with shades of warm magenta emanating from lamps hanging over microgreen planters in the kitchen and all around the restaurant.
“We grow green radish, purple radish, mustard greens, arugula, sprouts, sunflowers, pea shoots, and just lots of other lettuces,” Lee says, casually listing her crops.
Before she opened The Soop at the beginning of January 2021, Lee originally thought about starting a farm. She’d always wanted to offer a microgreen subscription service, but she thought the land around Portland was too expensive. So, about five years ago, Lee started teaching herself about hydroponic farming, “mostly from the internet,” she muses.
Now Lee has a part comfort food, part grow house restaurant and an unconventional microgreen approach to dishes as dissimilar as bibimbap, chicken and microgreen nachos and even the BLT.
The Soop’s BLT is easy to obsess over, due to the thick cut of smoked applewood bacon that it’s built around. Held firmly in place by generous applications of avocado, the fresh lettuces, sprouts and pea shoots poke out from beneath the toasted sourdough bread offering a delightful, fresh crunch. You’ll be thinking about it for a while after, and it poses quite a conundrum when all you want is that BLT but you also want to try the other dishes on The Soop’s menu.
One detraction: Against the freshness of the restaurant’s other produce, items not grown in house, like carrots, noticeably lack flavor. For that reason, The Soop’s microgreen bibimbap stands a little above the restaurant’s traditional version.
It’s strange to imagine fresh lettuce could make such a difference, but Lee has built her business around it. She’s even been running an unadvertised version of her original idea—a microgreen subscription service. For now, Lee has no great designs to hydroponically grow the rest of the vegetable kingdom, though she does grow new lettuces. She’s pretty into lettuces.
EAT: The Soop, 1902 W Burnside St., 971-710-1483, thesoopportland.com. 10 am-8 pm Monday-Friday, 11 am-8 pm Saturday.