Portland Drink and a Bite Highlight: Higgins Portland

For Foodie Friday today, I continue my new series highlighting a Portland Drink and a Bite of food that I think not only is best in class within Portland, but is a classic representation of the character of Portland. Of course, that Portland Drink and a Bite Highlight is also delicious, and unique.

My pick this week is Higgins Portland. Higgins Restaurant and Bar is one of those classic Pacific Northwest cuisine restaurants that changes its menu weekly to reflect what is the best in local products for not only the season but for the week. There are many restaurants and even food carts in Portland now that take advantage of the best ingredients from the farmers and producers locally here, but Higgins has been doing so for more than 20 years, and promoted this responsibility and represented Oregon worldwide.

Chef Greg Higgins (2002 James Beard award as Best Chef in the Northwest) and the Higgins Restaurant and Bar philosophy strongly sources not only local ingredients, but focuses in supporting on local small farms, organic, and sustainable agriculture practices. Higgins believes not only in delicious food on the table, but stewardship of our soil, water and air.

Higgins’ premise is “food is community – an idea that creates respect, commitment and responsibility from farmer to chef to diner.”  (See more at the Higgins website. There is also a wonderful profile for the Higgins 20th anniversary at Oregon Live.).

It’s no wonder than that when visitors to Portland ask where they can try Pacific Northwest cuisine, Higgins is always on my list of recommendations. Higgins is a white tablecloth restaurant that is perfect for a business lunch or a classy meal of lunch or dinner.

You notice the focus on celebrating freshness and the best ingredients right away with even the complimentary bread service, which comes with perfect bread- crusty crunchy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside- that you can enjoy with organic extra virgin olive oil.
Higgins Restaurant bread service, which comes with perfect bread- crusty crunchy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside- that you can enjoy with organic extra virgin olive oil

Try to start with the famous Charcuterie Board of artisanal cured meats and pickles. It’s justifiably reknown – it superb in offering an array of flavors and textures upon its giant marble board, as what you would expect when you hear Chef Greg Higgins has loved charcuterie since he was a boy and has books in his library on charcuterie that daties even to the 17th and 18th centuries.

Higgins Portland Restaurant- Charcuterie board of artisanal cured meats and pickles

The specific bite I want to highlight for this Portland Drink and a Bite though is the Higgins Lunch and Bistro menu option of the Open-faced sandwich of pastrami, grilled onions & sharp white cheddar. Here I substituted the salad with their daily soup, a butternut squash with quinoa that day.
Higgins Lunch and Bistro menu option of the Open-faced sandwich of pastrami, grilled onions & sharp white cheddar - here I substituted the salad with their daily soup, a butternut squash with quinoa Higgins Portland Lunch and Bistro menu option of the Open-faced sandwich of pastrami, grilled onions & sharp white cheddar - here I substituted the salad with their daily soup, a butternut squash with quinoa

I think it’s the best pastrami in Portland.
Higgins Portland Lunch and Bistro menu option of the Open-faced sandwich of pastrami, grilled onions & sharp white cheddar Higgins Portland Lunch and Bistro menu option of the Open-faced sandwich of pastrami, grilled onions & sharp white cheddar

One of the unique things about Higgins is they have on staff not only a wine sommelier, but also a beer steward. You can rest easy ordering any beverage here because all the picks are wonderful at this Portland institution. Instead of a specific cocktail, I urge you to use your best judgement based on what is on the list. In particular I love the wine by the glass list here in highlighting producers I may not have heard of before locally.
Higgins, Portland - menu and a lovely glass of red wine, here Waterbrook Melange red blend of 47% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 4% Grenache, 2% Sangiovese and 1% each of Mourvedre, Cinsault and Counoise. From Columbia Valley, Washington.

Have you been to Higgins Portland? Have you had the pastrami there? Where do you think is the best pastrami in Portland?

Higgins Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Higgins Restaurant

A recent dinner at Higgins Restaurant was a revisit of how smooth the experience was, from the high quality food to the high quality service. As you would expect from one of the founding pioneer restaurants that defined Northwest cuisine by emphasizing the local seasonal ingredients available regionally here and is a strong supporter and promoter of sustainable cuisine, the food here changes often based on what is available and fresh. Yet, what I’m sharing below from our meal is typical of the kind of excellent experience you will have here.

You notice the focus on celebrating freshness and the best ingredients right away with even the bread service, which comes with perfect bread- crusty crunchy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside- that you can enjoy with organic extra virgin olive oil.
Higgins Restaurant bread service, which comes with perfect bread- crusty crunchy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside- that you can enjoy with organic extra virgin olive oil

Try to start with the famous Charcuterie board of artisanal cured meats and pickles. It’s justifiably reknown – it superb in offering an array of flavors and textures upon its giant marble board, as what you would expect when you hear Chef Greg Higgins has loved charcuterie since he was a boy and has books in his library on charcuterie that daties even to the 17th and 18th centuries.
Higgins Restaurant- Charcuterie board of artisanal cured meats and pickles Higgins Restaurant- Charcuterie board of artisanal cured meats and pickles

I was supposed to come in for Portland Dining Month to try the special menu they were offering, but was persuaded away as soon as I heard the specials. I started with the first special appetizer of Mushroom risotto balls with truffle and hedgehog mushrooms that came with fresh greens that only needed the barest whisper of dressing. The greens tasted as if they were just picked and cleaned just an hour or so before. It really embodies the spirit of what Higgins is all about.
Higgins Restaurant- dinner special appetizer of risotto balls with truffle and hedgehog mushrooms that came with fresh greens that only needed the barest whisper of dressing Higgins Restaurant- dinner special appetizer of risotto balls with truffle and hedgehog mushrooms that came with fresh greens that only needed the barest whisper of dressing

My special entree was the Pork Schnitzel, served with cauliflower and cheddar polenta and broccoli rabe. It was as gigantic as it looks, turning into dinner that night and the next. The next day it was wonderful to be able to look forward to going home after work to finish off the other half of this entree.
Higgins Restaurant- pork schnitzel with cauliflower, broccoli rabe, pickled onions, and cheddar polenta Higgins Restaurant- pork schnitzel with cauliflower, broccoli rabe, pickled onions, and cheddar polenta

One of the great things about Higgins is not only their great beer and wine selection so that I can enjoy fine wine while he enjoys fine beer paired with our dishes (they even have both a wine and beer sommelier), but we appreciate that they always have 2 vegetarian options to choose from. This night it was the Chickpea crepe with Mughal shiitake & oyster mushroom curry, garbanzo bean salad, horseradish tofu sauce and toasted almonds. Just as it sounds, it had great flavor that meant you did not miss the meat at all, and is an equal rather than lesser entree to all the other dinner entree options.

Higgins restaurant is an enduring Portland classic for a reason, and continues to execute and service beautifully, showcasing Northwest Cuisine reliably and always dependable for a refined meal. Dining here is much like listening to a classical music piece – timeless fine dining.

As an aside, Higgins also just announced their “Spring Tribute” menu for April 29 through May 1 (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) during their 5-9pm dinner service. The Spring Tribute menu is a fundraiser towards the James Beard Public Market, a vision towards making a daily year-round farmers market along the Portland waterfront, sorta similar to Pike Place Market in Seattle (Chef Greg Higgins is a board member of the JBPM).

The menu is offering five courses featuring James Beard’s own recipes for dishes like Sorrel soup with Fireside oysters, Asparagus in Ambush, Baked Oregon Chinook with Dungeness Crab, Bay Shrimp and applewood smoked bacon, Roasted Champoeg Farms pastured chicken stuffed with Coteghino sausage, and Warm Rhubarb Grunt with French vanilla ice cream. Geez, that sounds good. Wine pairings from Basel Cellars, Willamette Valley Vineyard, Broadley, and Northstar will round out the meal. Reservations are $125, which includes wines and gratuity. For reservations call (503) 222-9070.

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Sunday Supper at Meriwethers with Portland Creamery

Meriwether’s Restaurant is one of those restaurants I like to recommend for showcasing northwest farm to table cuisine. This is taken quite literally here at Meriwether’s- the owners have 5 acres of farm aka Skyline Farm that they use as a source. The fact that Meriwether’s also has its own parking lot makes it convenient for out of town visitors, and during nice weather their outdoor garden patio with stone paths and a gazebo with firepit are a nice alfresco dining escape.  The restaurant is within a historic building on the entrance location of the World’s Fair 1905, and the exterior of the building is pretty much the same as from that time- check out the photos inside and see for yourself!
exterior of Meriwether's restaurant in Portland exterior of Meriwether's restaurant in Portland exterior of Meriwether's restaurant in Portland interior of Meriwether's restaurant in Portland- bar area, viewed from by the host stand interior of Meriwether's restaurant in Portland

I’ve only been to Meriwether’s for brunch so far, but, they are open for lunch, dinner, and happy hour of course as well, and this would be my first dinner. But… it’s a special dinner. Meriwether’s has Sunday Supper, which is a farm to table dining series they have had for a few month to highlight their local purveyors.  This past Sunday, they featured a 4 course menu for $38 inspired from Portland Creamery artisan goat cheese while also utilizing produce harvested from their own Skyline Farm and products from other Oregon artisans. Liz Alvis, Owner and Cheesemaker of Portland Creamery, also attended and discussed and answered questions about how they produce their handcrafted goat cheese.
Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery, the menu Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery, the pics of the goats by Meriwether's fireplace

The first 30 minutes was people arriving and being seated at the communal tables, where the meal would be served family style. Most people took this opportunity to order cocktails or bottle(s) of wine. I stuck with something simple to refresh me from my fast paced walk from my house to Morrison and from 23rd St and Thurman to the restaurant (exercise! So I can eat all this cheese!). I also wanted to keep my palate relatively clean for the cheese to come. So I opted for the Lewis Lemonade with Indio Marionberry vodka, housemade marionberry puree, and hand squeezed lemonade. Unfortunately it didn’t have much flavor: perhaps all the better lemons and the bulk of the puree already got used up at the earlier brunch.

They did offer wine pairing suggestions for every course, but since they were full glasses it was more than I could hope to handle, and at the same prices as buying wine by the glass, it made sense for groups to just opt for a bottle(s) instead.
Meriwether's cocktail menu in March 2013 Meriwether's cocktail drink Lewis Lemonade with Indio Marionberry vodka, housemade marionberry puree, and hand squeezed lemonade

Executive Chefs Peter Kuhlman and Joshua Steiner started out the meal by describing how they incorporated cheese into all of the dishes. Later, as dessert was being served, Liz Alvis stood up and told us a few tales from the farm about her “girls” (the goats). Liz comes from a family that loves cheese- her mother and brother are running Mackenzie Creamery and source their goats milk from the Amish country in Ohio. So, even though Portland Creamery only started in fall of 2011, she has a great background of experience to reference.

Liz is fortunate to have her goat herd source be that of a long fine lineage (30+ year I think?), and in particular told us about how the genetics of the goats are critical in producing superior milk to then make superior cheese. One of the goats in the herd, Tetra (apparently short for Tetrazzini), is an award winning goat, in fact best in the nation, per the American Dairy Goat Association. They use some specific list of 95 points I think Liz said, and yes, there is a time just like with dog shows where the goat walks around in a ring to get shown and inspected!

You could definitely tell the care and affection she has for the goats as she explained how those ladies get the best quality grains, and just that morning as she was ladling curds she would just look out the window and smile and giggle as she watched them butt heads and be silly.
Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery Executive Chefs Peter Kuhlman and Joshua Steiner Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery Liz Alvis, Owner and Cheesemaker of Portland Creamery

And then, it was time to see and eat the proof. Serve the cheese! We started with an appetizer of Oregon Chevre Crostini with red wine poached pear, honey, and Skyline Farm greens. There was a thick generous smear of the chevre, which is exactly the right amount.
Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery Oregon Chevre Crostini with red wine poached pear, honey, and Skyline Farm greens

The salad of Early Spring Greens from Skyline Farms of delicata squash, hazelnut crusted chevre, balsamico came so green and vibrant, and with a big hazelnut crusted chevre ball for each person at the table. The salad was delicious in that it let the flavors from the freshness of the robust mixed greens and of that squash speak for itself.

Each of these communal dishes was for half the table, so plenty for 4 people! I didn’t know that the big individual plate they just gave me was going to be taken away and replaced with an even bigger plate for the main course, so I had stacked my helping all nice to try to keep a cleaner plate: believe me it was a nice portion. That salad plate is the size of my normal dinner plates at home!
Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery Early Spring Greens from Skyline Farms of delicata squash, hazelnut crusted chevre, balsamico Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery Early Spring Greens from Skyline Farms of delicata squash, hazelnut crusted chevre, balsamico

They also were very generous with the soft doughy focaccia bread, bringing out a couple plates so that everyone could not resist taking 2 or 3 servings of the bread. They were SO GOOD.
Meriwether's  focaccia bread

The main course was Anderson Ranch roasted leg of lamb with farm leeks and mustard cream (with Portland Creamery contributing to the mustard cream). This was served along with an almond and cranberry couscous (I didn’t take a photo of that serving dish, but you can see it on my plate). This was again prepared so that we could taste and appreciate the original wholesome ingredients. Although I was shocked at the size of the lamb cuts when they first arrived on the table, I had no problem eating that whoooole thing. My plate was clean.
Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery Anderson Ranch roasted leg of lamb with farm leeks and mustard cream Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery Anderson Ranch roasted leg of lamb with farm leeks and mustard cream and almond and cranberry couscous Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery Anderson Ranch roasted leg of lamb with farm leeks and mustard cream and almond and cranberry couscous

The dessert course was Apple Tart Tatin with Portland Creamery cajeta and apple mousse. The cajeta, which is a traditional Mexican goat’s milk caramel that thanks to the low slow process with milk and not just using sugar to caramelize, has an extra gooey richness to it.

Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery Apple Tart Tatin with Portland Creamery cajeta and apple mousse Meriwether's Sunday Supper series with Portland Creamery Apple Tart Tatin with Portland Creamery cajeta and apple mousse

Liz also hopes to start producing aged cheeses this year, and opening an urban location with a few ambassador goats, in addition to continuing creating fresh cheeses.  And, similar to her, it’s hard for me to believe that all this delicious cheese which we had today was just 6 days ago, fresh milk from her goats. Overall, it was an amazing meal showcasing just how delicious local Northwest cuisine is.

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