In Portland, for the most part, bars fall into two categories: dive and swank. Club 21s and Aalto Lounges. Mouse Traps and Vault Martinis. North Portland Paragons and Pearl District Paragons. It is a city divided between two classes of people: People who drink shots of Rebel Yell, smoke Parliaments, and eat onion rings, and people who sip Grey Goose martinis, consider cigarettes "disgusting," and eat primarily sushi and Zoloft. Each group is no doubt dedicated to their clique, but sometimes, they want a little adventure.
I classify myself as a dive bar slut. I love vinyl booths and smoky air and watching old people fall down drunk. But sometimes I want to wear one of the new mini-skirts I ordered from the Delia's catalogue, and don't want to look like a fucking idiot rolling into Angelo's on Hawthorne. Sometimes I like a bar with some class, but one that isn't filled with snobby idiots. And every once in a while, the snobby idiots want to do a little slumming, too. So we all come together at the Slow Bar, a bar that integrates rich and poor, Republicans and anarchists, PBR and Bombay Sapphire, and bar food and gourmet.
For the purposes of this review, I'm going to put the booze aside. Slow Bar has liquor, wine, beer, and champagne and their bartenders know how to make a perfect Spanish coffee or Manhattan. Case closed. It's the food I'm talking about.
Slow Bar's chef, Amy Jermain, has been all over this town, working in the kitchens at top tier restaurants like Higgens, Paley's Place, Fratelli, and Tabla. At Slow Bar, she's designed a simple, affordable, and delicious upscale bar menu, one that trumps the typical bar chicken finger basket a thousand fold. A recent lunch special featured an heirloom tomato salad with big crumbles of blue cheese that was hearty, flavorful, and delicious. The regular menu offers two great salads; one a mixed green with nuts, goat cheese, and a tangy vinaigrette, the other with bacon, crispy onions and blue cheese. Daily, there's a new homemade ravioli that runs you under 10 bucks, like the blissful four-cheese, ladled with a smoky and chunky tomato and vegetable sauce.
Bar standbys like the burger and fries are infused with a gourmet flare. The huge Painted Hills beef patty is safe to order medium-rare, and topped with heirloom tomato, pickle, and sharp English Cheddar. The fries (fabulous sweet potato or russet) can be ordered blanketed in a layer of what the menu refers to as "stinky cheese." Amy also offers a crispy vegetarian panini with pesto, tomatoes, feta, and peppers, a braised beef or chicken sandwich, and a cheese and fruit plate drizzled with balsamic. If you're blowing your diet, don't pass up the rich Guinness fondue served with fruit, sausage, and bread. This bar eating may not do your cholesterol any good, but at least your arteries (not to mention your clothes) don't feel like they were dipped in a deep fryer.
As with their classy-clean décor, big naugahyde booths, and incredible juke box, Slow Bar succeeds with their food because they stick to basics. By not trying too hard, Slow Bar comes off looking pretty damn impressive.