I WAITED in a red pleather booth (installed before the Beatles got big), as a blender mixed Umpqua ice cream into milkshakes, and a bespectacled hunk in a V-neck shook bourbon into house-made ginger beer for a $5 cocktail. Finally, my burger arrived, resplendent with two slices of crisp bacon and a fried egg, pinned down by an American flag on a toothpick.
God bless Portland's Americana.
This is All-Way, the latest from Peter Bro, owner of Broder, Broder Nord, and Savoy Tavern. It replaces the iconic Red Coach Restaurant downtown (which opened around 1960), keeping the aforementioned red booths and retro vibe, but updating the menu to reflect good sourcing and seasonality, using Cascade natural beef and (mercifully) serving tomatoes only when they're in season.
The burger itself fits the mold of In-N-Out or Shake Shack: not too big, not too thick, with a buttery crispy bun. It's a step up from Little Big Burger, where one burger isn't enough and two is too many, but it also doesn't require the commitment of a thick-ass Slow Burger (mmm). The thin patty is charred on the outside with the flavor of thousands of its predecessors, but stays juicy. In a city of many burgers, this one fills a tasty, tasty niche.
The classic, with American cheese, lettuce, onions, pickles, and a special sauce is a goddamn deal at $4.50 ($1 off at happy hour). But the All-Way burger is eminently customizable, too, with the option to add blue cheese, bacon, and a fried egg (my favorite), or vegan cheese and a gluten-free bun. Those seeking a meatier experience can order a Two-Way ($5.75) with two patties, or a Three-Way ($6.50).
The fries ($3.25) are crisp and thin, served in a cone of paper to soak up excess grease. They're easily split between two people. A classic burger with fries is just $6.75. The onion rings ($3.50)? Well, they're near the top of my list in town. Sliced thin, breaded in panko, and finished with Jacobsen sea salt, they're crunchy, flavorful, and magical. The onion doesn't slip out of its coating on the first bite. Both are just $1.50 at happy hour—a bargain that puts Burgerville and McD's to shame.
With this much winning, it's understandable that Bro & Co. have already converted half of Savoy Tavern into a second All-Way outpost. The full Savoy menu is still available, after 4 pm.
Despite the expansion, the downtown location, open since last fall, still feels a bit unfinished. On one visit, our fries arrived cold (but were replaced, crispy and hot, within minutes). On another visit, there was no chocolate syrup for shakes (chocolate shakes are the only ones I'll get out of bed for), and no house-made grapefruit fennel soda to go with tequila.
It's also best to aim for the beef. A codfish sandwich ($6) at Savoy was soggy with grease and weighed down by American cheese and tartar sauce. The Wrong-Way vegan/vegetarian burger is aptly named: It's a mushy, unseasoned mess that makes me feel even worse for herbivores than I normally do.
Still, other touches are nice. The house-made sodas ($2.50) are oversweet on their own, but pair handily with a shot of booze for just $5. Wings of the Frank's Red Hot persuasion are $5 at happy hour and $2 each (offered on the menu as "a complement to your sandwich.") Throwback candy like Idaho Spuds and 5th Avenues are also available downtown. It's just the way this city should celebrate classic cuisine.
Downtown hours: Mon-Sat 11 am–11 pm, Sun noon–9 pm. Southeast: Mon-Fri 11 am-midnight, Sat-Sun 4 pm-midnight (additional Savoy Tavern menu items start at 4 pm). Full bar at Savoy, classic cocktails and two on-tap beers downtown.