Big-Top BrewPub 

On BridgePort's Impressive Evolution

Wowzee woo, after a 14-month renovation and recent reopening, the BridgePort BrewPub has come a long way from its days as a dusty pizza shack with picnic tables. "The renovation is a result of BridgePort looking to the future," reads the website (bridgeportbrew.com), "and finding ways to broaden the appeal of the BrewPub to the booming population of the surrounding Pearl District neighborhood, while continuing to appeal [to] the loyal BridgePort supporters of the past 20 years."

In terms of "broadening the appeal," the BridgePort crew has succeeded splendidly; on a recent blustery afternoon the expansive space was packed with Pearlies and their cell phones, sipping on cocktails—and it wasn't even the dinner hour yet. I don't believe the "loyal supporters," however (mostly Patagonia hippies and flannel-shirted dads), will even recognize the new space; it's at least twice the size of what it used to be (12,000 square feet to be precise), with an upstairs and downstairs area, a conference room, three separate full bars, an upscale dining room, and even a bakery. The lighting, the sleek black industrial staircase, the skylights, and the candlelight all resemble something decidedly un-brewpub-esque. BridgePort BrewPub has hurled itself full on into an interesting experiment: a warehouse-sized eatery for the Blue Hour set.

The new space isn't a place I would hang out at, but then neither was the old one (I'm in between yuppie and hippie—call me a "huppie"), and at least the new brewpub fits into its surroundings better. And the food, compiled by executive chef Jason Noble Lee, is a vast improvement over the old fare. A pal and I ate up in the "mezzanine bar," cascading sunbeams dancing around us from the skylights. It was a nice atmosphere, though not as nice as our appetizer, a fantastic nibble plate with salami, cheese, grilled asparagus, olives, crisps, and even fried oyster. Any uppity bar worth its salt has one of these snack plates, but this is the best, freshest one I've encountered, and at $4 for the small version (which was really quite large), it was a steal. We followed it with a delicious asparagus salad (on special) tenderly topped with rare steak cutlets, and the "pork butt" sandwich, which I was disappointed to discover didn't actually look like a pig's ass, but was just a funny term for a pulled pork sandwich. It was good, though—a thick, savory version of the pub-grub standard. The only low point of our meal was the tomato basil soup, which tasted like tomato paste out of the can. And of course we washed everything down with some of BridgePort's delicious beer, my favorite being the Blue Heron Pale Ale.

We missed out on the dining room dinner because it doesn't open until 5:30 pm, but you can hit that one up if you're hankering for something a little fancier. The menu is still in development, but tasty treats like Provencal beef stew over egg noodles and paper-thin pork chops with apple and red cabbage slaw are just a few of the dishes you might find on it. You can also choose from several pizza options, one of the few remnants of the old BrewPub besides the beer. Beyond that, it's a whole new world. The BridgePort BrewPub represents one of the most dramatic transformations in Portland culinary history, kicking the city one step closer to being a major culinary destination.

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