BeerBoor in Portland: Produce Row Cafe

My trip to Portland in late June, primarily for a wedding, was meant to involve copious quantities of beer I don’t see on the East Coast. So pair comfort food with good beer, and I’m all set up!

Produce Row Cafe is located in, appropriately, Produce Row, and old area of Portland once laden with warehouses near the river. Like all such areas, it’s been gentrified and upgraded, in order to attract a wider audience. OMF (the guy opening the door) remembers being at Produce Row from way back when; it’s completely renovated inside, and a return visit was in order — not least for the Happy Hour menu!

We sat in the main dining area, near the bar; there were quite a number of tables both intimate and picnic-table large, plus a patio out back if al fresco dining’s your thing. Plenty of people were choosing the patio as the weather was predictably beautiful.

The beautiful bar stocked a solid lineup of the brown liquors and offered beer + shot specials ranging from Miller Lite and Weller Reserve, to much higher-end offerings. Though OMF may be a bourbon connoisseur, he was driving and I… just can’t drink the stuff. Beer it was.

My first beer of the trip: Boneyard Diablo Rojo, out of Bend. A solid if not spectacular red ale from a new brewery specializing in West Coast IPAs, which I heartily endorse. Malty but not overly sweet, and a decent hop punch to balance. Plus, Happy Hour meant $3.50 pints.

Happy Hour also meant a special menu, and as I was starved from the cross-country (in both north-south and east-west directions) trip, I indulged, to my dining companion’s amusement. First up, Frito Pie, a mere $5 on special.

Verde pork chili served over Fritos, topped with cheddar cheese, tomatoes, sour cream, fresh jalapenos and cilantro. Okay, my green pork chili is spicier (and without beans) and chunkier, but this hit the spot. It was kind of soupy, which meant a soggy layer of Fritos on the bottom; with a little more cruch this would have been superb. But it’s a big serving for so little money.

I also ordered a Hebrew National corndog — house dipped, as the menu notes — with fries for $5. That’s a big dog to be corn-dogging, too.

The breading was quite thin, which meant lots more dog than I expected. It’s a standard hot dog, and they kept the greasiness in check rather well. Battered fries arrived crisp, and went well with the grainy mustard provided, though most of that went toward the dog, naturally.

Not to say I was rather gluttonous, but yes, I had an entree as well, because it was staring straight at me. Who wouldn’t get the Chicken and Waffle: kettle-chip fried chicken smothered in sausage gravy on a waffle. And at regular price, $9 seemed a steal.

My enthusiasm was tempered somewhat when I saw it was a pounded chicken breast, not chicken parts, let alone dark meat. But it crunched, it was fairly moist, and the kettle chips are at least on-par with your potato-chip or cornflake permutations of the classic dish. And my love of sausage gravy knows no bounds.

Oh yeah, there was a mixed green salad on the plate too, so I appeared to be balancing my dinner. Lies.

Terminal Gravity IPA, Double Mountain Imperial Red Ale, and Upright Four Farmhouse Ale were procured during dinner; pictured is the Double Mountain, which satisfied my craving for more hops. Terminal Gravity brews a solid West Coast IPA, perfect for my not-yet-battered palate. The Four, however… something was amiss here. I’ve had friends gush over this beer as perhaps Upright’s finest creation, full of spicy saison notes, the right carbonation, pleasantly dry, everything you want and love in a farmhouse-style ale, right? This wasn’t that. It was all right, but it wasn’t emulating the great saisons and didn’t appear to be interested in doing so. I’ll reserve judgment that I was in fact served the right beer, but for $3.50 at happy hour, I enjoyed my… whatever this really was.

Sadly, Produce Row’s menu was light on IPA this day, so I decided to try the Double Mountain Kolsch as a capper. This was well-brewed, soft, rounded malt flavors barely touched by hop bitterness, a little sweetness, but tasty and perfectly satisfying.

OMF finally caved and got the flank steak sandwich with pickled onions for $10. I suppose watching me gorge on delicious food finally got the better of him. That roll was perfect for holding all that delicious steak, and perhaps a bit more than was needed, but that was one good bakery. Unlike my chicken, his steak didn’t require the steak knife.

By the time we were ready to leave, around 8pm, Produce Row had completely filled. The range of diners was astounding, from an MG Enthusiasts meetup in front of us (predictably middle-aged) to the groups of hipsters, to the clean-cut young families, everyone seems to enjoye the place. And with good reason: even when it isn’t Happy Hour, Produce Row is inexpensive, so add to that the friendly, warm atmosphere and the delicious food and beer, and who wouldn’t be happy coming here? It’s a bit out of the way transit-wise, but I thoroughly recommend a visit if comfort food is your thing.

Produce Row Cafe on Urbanspoon


    • says

      Ridiculously inexpensive meals virtually everywhere I went that week, and the food was perfect for what I wanted. If it was easier to get a nonstop flight to Portland I think I’d go back every year, if not more often.

      Hotel rooms can be had rather cheaply, too.

  1. says

    I have a bag of kettle chips that are begging to be made into something. I think fried chicken it will be (not deep, since I don’t like to use that much oil and I’ve no deep fryer)… yum.

    PS Why no one in NYC does a GOOD Frito Pie is a travesty (yes, I’ve had it from several respectable places around the city, no good). (Maybe that’s my problem. I need to go to unrespectable places.)

    • says

      I think no one has needed to make a good Frito pie in NYC. The one at Produce Row was very tasty — green chili always is — but the Fritos were sad. I’d rather they not be inundated. But it could be done so easily.

  2. says

    Now I want to try to make a corn dog like that. I don’t normally like them, but that looks really good. Really, really good.

    • says

      The big hindrance is fryer depth, I’ve found (if you dig, you can find my attempts from the February potluck). If you can give them all the space they need, it’s child’s play, and so rewarding, if you have plenty of friends to help you consume the results.

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