Last week, Jonah and I went to see Alabama Shakes (and some other great bands) on the waterfront. The concert was part of the Rose Festival, and I bought tickets for Jonah as an anniversary present. It was on Sunday night, started at 5:30, and probably went till 10:30, though we left at 9:45 (we were hungry and also weren’t crazy about the last band). Finding a place to eat at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night was not the easiest, but after a little hunting on my phone, I found that Oven & Shaker, a very hip pizza place in the Pearl, was still open. Not only were they open, but it was happy hour, my favorite. Now, the ampersand – & – is a thing in Portland. All these hip places have two words with an ampersand between for the title: Beaker & Flask, Salt & Straw, Oven & Shaker. Is it bad that I had previously judged this place because of the ampersand? Probably. But hey, I wanted to try it anyway.
So after the concert, we found a parking spot right out front (score!) and headed inside. We were immediately seated at the chef’s counter (our choice) so we could watch them make pizzas and, my favorite part, be warmed by the giant wood oven. We were greeted by a little blond hipster who was flinging dough around and asked us if we had ever been before. After hearing we hadn’t, he gave us a spiel about traditional cooking style with local ingredients bla bla bla…the same as most portland restaurants. He then left and another guy (whose name I later learned was Kyle) took over his station on the line. Now this guy, I liked: he seemed down to earth, asked how our weekend had been, chatted about the concert we had just been to, and said to ask if we had any questions or wanted to try anything. I like that.
We ordered drinks, the Nostrana salad (radicchio, parmigiano, rosemary-sage croutons, Caesar style dressing), and the goat cheese pizza (goat cheese, leeks, chives, basil, and speck). What’s speck, you ask? So did we. Kyle told us that speck is like prosciutto, except it has been smoked before being cured. While we waited for our food, we overheard some great conversations amongst the staff. My particular favorite was the bartender telling Kyle about the “margarita popcorn” he had made: tequila butter, lime juice, and salt-tossed popcorn. Kyle asked if it was a “Clyde Common popcorn” which I found entertaining. (Clyde Common is another very hip restaurant downtown that has fancy popcorn – think pimenton or truffle – as an appetizer.) We also overheard a conversation about a chitlin dish they were planning for the menu the next week.
Anyway, after a short wait, our salad came, and man was it delicious. The raddichio wasn’t too bitter, the salad was perfectly dressed, and the croutons were deliciously flavored and crunchy. Yum! Then came the pizza. The crust was up there with Ken’s (another famously delicious pizza place in Portland), and the toppings were delicious. Ours didn’t have sauce on it (tomato or other), but the leeks, goat cheese, and ample olive oil that had been sprinkled on kept it from seeming dry. The speck was delicious. And the goat cheese was SO GOOD. Perfectly creamy and melty. I really liked this pizza a lot. We finished the whole thing. Not too shabby. As we were finishing our pizza, Kyle brought us a small plate of the chitlins we had heard them discussing earlier! Made from the prosciutto skin (instead of the pig intestine as they’re usually made), soaked for 12 hours, and then fried and sprinkled with lime zest and some other seasonings, he explained that this was the latest incarnation the chef had made and asked us our thoughts. I’ve never had chitlins before, and I’m not sure I would ever order them at a restaurant, but these were pretty good! We finished our chitlins and our pizza, thanked Kyle for a lovely meal, and headed home, perfectly full and content.