BELGIAN-STYLE mussels frites are piled high in an earthenware dish. Resting below a tumble of golden french fries, black shells glisten and yawn, revealing glimpses of large, plumped, lightly coral-colored shellfish. In the dish, the broth shimmers and steams, sending up the fragrance of cippolini onion and Samurai Rice Ale. On top, a dollop of white aioli has begun to settle down through the layers.
I work through the flavors and textures: The soft briny meat of the mussel follows the crisped and deeply terrestrial frite, and then dense quartered skins of slightly sweet aromatic onion. Each time a mussel is plucked from its shell another drizzle of liquor drips into the broth below. Slowly I clear away the mussels to get to the broth, slurping it with a courteously provided soupspoon.
This simple, rustic dish is representative of all that is good about Laurelhurst Market: It's straightforward and accessible, the portion is large (easily shared with a dinner companion), and the textures offer contrast while the flavors build to full harmony.
Butcher/charcuterie master Ben Dyer and Chef David Kreifels head the operations at the Eastside neighborhood butcher shop and restaurant, selling cured and uncured meat, pâté, and sandwiches by day and firing steakhouse-inspired entrées at night. Consequently, no matter when you go to Laurelhurst Market, you're sure to find happiness.
Though there's a charcuterie plate on the dinner menu, many of Dyer's cured creations are best experienced in sandwiches. A bargain at $4 for a substantial half, all of the options are good—pistachio-laden mortadella on soft levain bread, porchetta and crisp veggies on ciabatta—but some are amazing. Consider the ham sandwich, combining thinly sliced ham, subtly fennel-toned finocchiona salami, hot sopressatta that spreads pleasant warmth over the palate, and aged provolone. With a liberal application of oil and vinegar, crunchy shredded iceberg lettuce, and bright pepperoncinis, this is a very satisfying sandwich.
"Satisfying" also aptly describes Laurelhurst Market's dinner. Save for some hiccups in service—an absent server on one occasion and a disinterested bartender on another—there is little to improve upon.
While the menu items range in cultural provenance, there is a focus on steak and affordability. Steak frites arrive with a pile of perfect french fries, a rich sauce to justify aggressive sopping, and a steak selection that changes regularly. One evening, top sirloin was the centerpiece; perfectly crusted on the outside, prepared medium rare to order, the meat was flavorful, tender, and bested local steakhouses in quality and in price ($13).
A grilled flat iron with chimichurri was a tad less tender, but still sang beneath the Argentinean parsley and cumin condiment. At $21 it was still less than a flat iron at your average staid steakhouse.
Peripheral menu items also demand attention at Laurelhurst Market. A humble side of braised kale and bacon offered a hint of sweet alongside the fullness of bacon and salt. A starter of piquillo peppers stuffed with a halibut brandade (a light, fishy puree) was mind bending, calling to mind the flavor of fresh coastal fish cakes and the textures of sashimi simultaneously.
Also of note are roasted marrowbones. Though I'd have liked the bread to be less rough on the mouth, a spread of marrow (imagine fat with a beefier flavor) and pistou (basil, garlic, olive oil) was absolutely pleasing.
With so much good coming out of the kitchen, don't neglect the bar, which is amazing in its own right. Of note is the Smoke Signal: Tennessee whiskey (read: Jack Daniels), smoked ice, sherry, pecan, and lemon. The effect of the combination was transporting. While I was sitting in the bright, loud, packed dining room of the Laurelhurst Market, my mind was suddenly on a farm in North Carolina on a cool, gray, autumn afternoon. Smoke, savor, whiskey.
Soon after, the Belgian-style mussels frites arrived.