Located in the old Nocturnal space, East Burn has many things going for it— and a couple things that remain just out of its grasp. With an upscale dining room upstairs and a game-filled rec room in the basement, East Burn attempts to be all things to all people, and, to be fair, it hits a number of its marks. But much of it feels calculated, and the hit-and-miss upscale entrées are at odds with the casual neighborhood vibe it seems to be successfully perpetuating.
The dining room is spacious, with booths down each wall and a cluster of tables not quite filling the remainder of the space. The tables are covered with stiff brown paper and diners are given a handful of Crayolas—an apparent concession to hipster nostalgia, since there is no kids' menu to speak of.
The menu has decided weaknesses and strengths. Pasta, salads, sandwiches, and meat dishes are all given equal footing along with a reasonable selection of daily specials; options for vegetarians are limited.
The flat iron steak salad with Rogue blue cheese was almost perfect, but the expertly seasoned pink steak, organic greens, and charming champagne vinaigrette were nearly undone by some seriously undercooked mushrooms. Meanwhile, the spinach salad with pears and chèvre was flawless and would have made a suitable meal on its own.
The penne pasta was nearly smothered in garlicky pesto, although zucchini and squash gave the dish some needed ballast. The portobello sandwich was adequate, but the accompanying fries were limp and needed salt. The biggest letdown of the menu was the pork tenderloin; though well cooked and tender, the sweetness of the meat was stifled by the herbal bitterness of the accompanying fennel pollen, and the side of risotto was gluey and unmemorable. Plates are delivered with a spruce tip, an indigenous but decidedly inedible garnish.
Lunch is a more successful endeavor. A sure bet is the ever-changing soup/salad/sandwich combo; on one visit, a cup of potato soup, small salad, and half a roast beef sandwich made for a varied and filling meal.In a town known for its microbrews and small-volume brewpubs, East Burn's beer list is perhaps its greatest asset. Their 16 draft beers are nearly exclusively culled from small, obscure Oregon breweries—like Eugene's Willamette Brewery and Klamath Falls' Klamath Basin Brewing—and the downstairs taproom is a fine place to hoist a few with friends. Aside from the beer, the basement's main draw is a couple of skeeball lanes; putting this boardwalk mainstay in the confines of a bar is sheer genius, since the game is easy, addictively fun, and grows steadily more competitive. The covered upstairs patio is also a pleasantly unconventional environment, with seats hanging like swings from the rafters and a couple of circular tables with small propane fire pits in the center of each.
East Burn has many things going for it, but it may take further growing pains before it falls into the inevitable role of comfortable neighborhood hangout. It still feels like they're figuring out exactly how to make the best use of the large, airy upstairs, but with a killer beer list, downstairs game room, great back patio, and a handful of respectable choices on the menu, the rest should work itself out.