"I PASSED BY the building every night on my way home," says a press release from the Bent Brick's owner, Scott Dolich. "It was a shoe store. Every Friday in the summertime, the owners would open the garage doors and throw a party. You could see they had a keg or two. It was very inviting. The building was meant to be a tavern."
I couldn't agree more, so it's a shame that Dolich didn't create one. The Bent Brick is a nice, laidback kind of place to stop off and grab a drink and bite to eat if money's clearly no object. (I know exactly one person for whom that's the case, but he doesn't drink.) I suppose that compared to Dolich's other restaurant, the formidable Park Kitchen, this is considerably downscale, but on a recent visit, during happy hour and all by my lonesome, I spent $50 and left hungry and decidedly un-drunk.
The food, across the board, was excellent. Same goes for the cocktails. The staff was friendly, and the servers had obviously taken the time to learn the ins and outs of even the most complex dishes (which is good, since the deliberately enigmatic menu reads like a Raymond Carver rip-off, with nary an adjective to be found: beef, smoke, onions, potato... $17). There's tremendous attention paid to ingredients—everything is sourced locally. The space feels appropriate for what Dolich's going for—a few booths, a dozen or so tables, and a long, round bar I felt good bellying up to. Sadly, and strangely, the final product feels like less than the sum of its parts. As pleasant as my experiences have been, I can't think of many occasions on which I'd return. If I'm at all hungry, it's out of my price range for after-work drinks, and if I'm going to drop $100-plus on a dinner for two (I can't imagine how you'd get out of the Bent Brick for under that), I'd opt for a fuller restaurant experience (and stomach).
That said, there's plenty to enjoy. My favorite cocktail that bar manager Adam Robinson has mixed up is his take on a Manhattan, the Path to Victory (cocktail prices, I should mention, are pretty standard and reasonable—$8). He makes it with bourbon, chinato (which seemed a little brighter than vermouth), gingersnap, and bitters, but the clincher is the way he washes the glass with light vinegar. It doesn't alter the flavor drastically, but it really gets you in the nose at each sip. Kind of inspired. You can't go wrong with their old fashioned ($6 at happy hour) or a glass of their gin and house-made chamomile tonic.
There are currently five beers on taps—including offerings from Upright, Oakshire, and Boneyard Beer—supplemented by a few more in the can or bottle. With the exception of a handful of bottles, the wine is on tap by the glass or carafe (or half carafe), and—continuing with the dedication to local products—the Willamette Valley dominates the list.
If you're just in for drinks and bar snacks, I recommend the pickle plate ($4)—haute pickled eggs are a nice touch for a supposed tavern—and the hazelnut "baked beans." The hazelnuts are prepared in a pressure cooker until they have a soft consistency (baked-bean like, as the name suggests), and served in tiny cast iron skillet with a few bite-sized pieces of Park Kitchen's famous hot dog ($5).
"Plates" average about $13, but, as the server warned me, if you're looking for a meal, you're going to want at least three of them (if you have a real appetite, even that's a stretch). My favorite dish was the albacore ($14), which comes in thinly sliced medallions alongside shaved fennel and watercress, with green goddess dressing and chopped strawberries. The summer squash salad ($9) gets my vote for best use of ranch dressing, well, ever (runners-up in that category include exactly no one), and is generously accessorized with cherries and pecans.
When I ordered the pork dish at $16—one of the heavier protein dishes on the menu—I was a little disappointed that it didn't approach an entrée-sized portion. I have no complaints about the execution (it's dressed with roasted carrots and a root beer glaze, as well as a delicate almond yogurt), but it did make me give up hope on coming back for a full meal. I'm not in the "every menu needs a burger" camp, but it's not exactly a fully developed tapas-style menu either—many dishes are priced like entrées and sized like appetizers.
If there's a market in Portland for this kind of place, more power to Dolich & Co. Everything they've put in front of me has been well crafted and executed, and the balance of flavors have been carefully considered... I just wish that I could say the same for the concept.