Sweedeedee has always been a little hard to define. The line springs to mind.
The North Portland corner brunch spot was perpetually in demand pre-pandemic, so a wait was always something to expect—perhaps even look forward to, if you wanted to catch up with friends.
As it is, there’s a wait on a weekday evening to try Sweedeedee’s new dinner menu, but that could also be because it has only six outside tables—and is only serving outdoors at the moment. The white cafe tables are precarious on the uneven sidewalk slabs, but the chairs are sturdy and the evening light makes you wonder why Sweedeedee never did dinner before.
Of course, it did various dinnerlike things, hosting natural wine bar Sardine Head being one of them. But for this new approach, owner Eloise Augustyn partnered up with former Tusk chef Sam Smith to take what Sweedeedee does best and make it dinner.
“We really want it to feel like a neighborhood cafe,” Smith says. “It could be a casual place or a special occasion place, but we want it to feel affordable. It doesn’t have to be this fancy thing.”
The menu is deeply seasonal and farm fresh. While not exclusively vegetarian, it’s certainly vegetable heavy. A sign of Sweedeedee’s style is obvious in its summer tomatoes, served in olive oil with padrón peppers, basil and salt. It’s an incredibly simple dish but somewhat jaw-dropping for its colorful beauty and bursting, herb flavors.
Similarly unexpected is the menu’s cucumber and watermelon salad, which isn’t very sweet at all. Instead, the yellow watermelon flesh provides a crunchy, firm texture, while most of the flavor is carried by the cucumber, chile oil and sprigs of dill.
“I love fruit in salads,” Smith says. “Honestly, it doesn’t have to be sweet. People’s expectations are changing. And, of course, in summer, there’s such an awesome variety of fresh herbs.”
Smith hopes patrons will order an assemblage of items and share. Perhaps the roast chicken, a vegetable dish, some Grano sourdough to sop up the olive oil and then a bottle of wine for the table. Sweedeedee remains a great place to explore natural wines—built by No Saint’s Gabriella Casabianca—, but most on the menu are solid by the bottle.
“We’ll incorporate a cocktail program soon,” Smith says of upcoming menu changes—the menu is intended to always be shifting. “Sweet vermouth digestif, Negroni, Cynar spritz.” They’ve also completely done away with the old brunch favorites. He foresees peaches on the menu come fall. “Cheese, black pepper, chiles” are the flavors he lists.
And while those too few tables still seem a problem, Smith says the secret to swift service at Sweedeedee is coming in the off hours.
“Even when we’re really busy, food comes out pretty quickly. Tables aren’t really lingering for hours. We start serving dinner at 4 pm, and from 2:30 to 5 pm, well, I’m looking at one full table outside right now.”
EAT: Sweedeedee, 5202 N Albina Ave., 503-201-7038, sweedeedee.com. 9 am-9 pm Wednesday-Saturday.