THE NEW BESAW'S restaurant is less than half a mile from its former home of 112 years—but owner Cana Flug has moved light years away.
Besaw's, at the corner of NW 23rd and Savier, was among the city's oldest restaurants, yet still had lines out the door for reassuring brunch and dinner: eggs benedict, meatloaf, and other comfort basics nourished Portlanders for decades.
Last year brought unwelcome news, when the building's owner, developer C.E. John, informed Flug that not only was she losing her lease so he could redevelop, but he was going to keep the restaurant's name. Flug filed suit to keep the historic name, restaurateur Kurt Huffman was called in to mediate, and though it was one of the more epic restaurant battles of recent lore, eventually it all worked out: John will call his future development the Besaw's building, but Flug got to take her restaurant and run. The old name is now attached to a brand-new building at NW 21st and Raleigh.
"I'm really struck by the reality of how a little time and space completely shifts your perspective," Flug tells the Mercury. "What eight months ago seemed like the most trying and terrible thing to ever happen to me in the entire world has actually turned out to be the best thing to happen to me."
The new Besaw's is striking, with tall green booths, a huge wraparound bar, and plate-glass windows. The kitchen is partially open, so diners at the bar can watch their eggs being poached, and custom-designed wallpaper by one of Flug's employees features adorable honeybees suckling at squash blossoms and nasturtiums on a luxe maroon background. Seating capacity is up 35 percent, enough for 100 people—more when the patio opens in summer.
- Natalie Behring
Construction delays stalled the opening, and by late January, Flug says, she and new executive chef Dustin Clark (a fellow Wildwood alumnus) had to open—with an entirely re-tooled menu—whether they were ready or not. And *bam* the hordes of eaters returned, as Lloyd Christmas might say, instinctively like the salmon of Capistrano. The hour-plus waits for brunch are back, while staff are still getting up to speed.
"It's just been a shit-show, there's no getting around that," says Flug, who just had her first day off since Christmas. "Having real time to calibrate and refine has been a challenge."
The reopening means managing expectations from diners who want the same food in a different place, Flug says, though some of the absolute favorites are still on hand. The eggs benedict is still around. So is that meatloaf, which is still on point.
There are also new, trendier dishes like an avocado toast with feta, sunflower seeds, and olive oil ($6), and a riotously good cider-braised oatmeal ($8) with sweet lemon curd and walnuts for texture.
"People were offended we didn't have more traditional breakfast items," Flug says. "You can't recreate history, so we looked for another avenue to create warmth. We have the same name, the same ethos, the same style of food and style of service. We're trying to stay relevant under its own umbrella of being comfort food."
Lots of the new stuff is fantastic: Don't miss the butternut squash bread french toast ($10), which comes with syrup and basil anglaise to alternate between sweet and herbal, while granola adds just the right crunch.
At dinner, the seared black cod ($26) is perfectly cooked, with smoked potatoes, black garlic vinaigrette, and an egg-based sauce that adds pop to the heavier flavors. Flug says her favorite is the roasted pumpkin and kale salad ($11), pairing the thick, soft veggies with bacon, goat cheese, and pumpkin seeds—and I agree. It's a celebration of how delicious late winter's harvest can be.
Not everything is up to snuff: A recent visit brought overcooked poached eggs (replaced immediately upon request), and the savory yogurt—a relatively new-to-town menu item—needs far more oomph from the harissa; when I said I wasn't wild about it, Flug voiced her own desire for thicker yogurt.
Flug says in about six weeks, she'll open her next project, the Solo Club, next door. It will feature Southeast Asian cuisine and bitter and amaro cocktails at night, and espresso and pastries from Michelle Vernier of Paley's Place and Imperial during the day.
And while she says she's still catching her breath from Besaw's opening, she's ready for restaurant No. 2: "I like to have a good time, but I will never be satisfied."
Brunch: Mon-Fri 7 am-3 pm, weekends 8 am-3 pm. Dinner: daily 5-10 pm. Brunch reservations for parties of six or more; dinner reservations accepted for parties of any size.
1545 NW 21st