WE LEFT THE HOUSE knowing that we needed lunch, but with no idea where to go. By some divination of fate, or perhaps an encouraging gradient, the car wound up down on NE Glisan in Montavilla. We stopped into a bodega for some cash, mentally noting that the place stocked not only both sizes of Night Train, Thunderbird, and MD 20/20, but also piles of cheap, fresh socks—complementary lifestyle necessities for some. Across the street was a new-ish place advertising burgers and, it being late in the game, we decided to give it a try.
This used to be the bar from hell, said Charlie, the towering and affable man who took our order, when we asked how long he'd been there. He was somewhat taken aback that someone wanted to hear his story. The alcoholics would come in, he said, and sit down, and their eyes would roll back in their heads before they even asked for a drink.
We looked over the long list of burgers and considered the malted shakes.
They'd pass out on the couches, he continued. He'd have to manually get rid of them. Charlie doesn't drink, and he never hung out in bars. He didn't know that crowds followed bartenders, and he hired a bartender with a rough bunch of loyals. The neighbors didn't like them and wouldn't come in, and then there was a shooting that made the papers.
He shook his head, "So much for my dream of having my own Cheers."
Charlie and his partner, who also run Beaverton's Canyon Grill, decided to shutter the dive—the People's Grill, it was called—and reinvent it as a restaurant. He'd always cooked, and had a sandwich cart in Lents "before carts were a thing."
His menu reflects the motivation of a good guy who just wants to feed people. His place, Glisan Burger Barn, sells mainly burgers and fries, as well as a chile verde you can tell he's been making for his seven kids for a long time. The pork is well trimmed, well seared, and brightly flavored with tomatillos. He fills his "Big A-ZZ" burrito with it, a behemoth he says he's never seen anyone finish. (Tater tots contribute to its bulk.) It comes topped with what looks like an entire fresh avocado, sour cream, and chunks of red tomato, nestled in a bed of warm, seasoned tortilla chips. It can feed three people, and is $7.95.
The real focus of the place is burgers, of course, and they are generous, uncomplicated things. Hand-formed, 1/3-pound Oregon beef patties are grilled medium, but I think they'd come over better medium-rare. ("Just tell me what temperature you want, and we'll do it!" he nearly begs me when I ask.) His kitchen guy—who always cooks in the attire of an accountant that walked into the wrong building, which is kind of cool—grills one side, flips the meat onto a griddle, then adds the cheese and vegetables before covering it all with a metal bowl to help everything melt in place. Of the 20 burgers on the menu, one of the more interesting and delicious is the $8.95 Hanoi—a bacon cheeseburger with fresh cucumbers and a peanut sauce from a nearby Vietnamese restaurant. Also popular is the $8.95 Black 'n' Blue, a bacon cheeseburger with a liberal application of rich, thick blue-cheese pecan spread. Crisp, seasoned shoestring fries come standard, but subbing in the golden onion rings for a little more isn't a bad idea.
A dozen hot and cold sandwiches fill out the menu, along with big salads (the Cobb must weigh a pound) and a beefy, sweet homemade chili. The ReuBarn, which comes on a large, soft white roll instead of rye, is tender and well balanced, with generous meat, melting cheese, and house-made seasoned mayonnaise spread. It comes out screaming hot, eats like a cheesesteak, and is nearly as juicy.
Charlie reports a loyal following for his catfish Fridays, where three pieces and fried okra go for $6.95, and a whole filet is $9.95. He makes his own gluten-free batter and dill tartar sauce, and while I never made it in for this event, the quality of the rest of the menu seems to vouch for its popularity.
Rather than just another throwaway beer haunt, locals on this nondescript stretch of road now have a clean, friendly restaurant serving fresh, good-quality diner basics. You can, of course, still get a beer or four with your meal, but after years of running the bar, Charlie knows how to deal with people who get out of hand. Just walking in and ordering lunch from him, though—and watching him chat up the neighborhood kindergartners who come in with their parents—you'd never assume the genial and unassuming giant was capable of it, or ever needed to.
Mon-Sat 11 am-9 pm. Massive milkshakes, microbrews, pinball, and wifi. Keno is available but kept in a vestigial, hidden room.