What does it take to stand out in Portland’s saturated brunch and bar scene? Skee-ball, hanging chairs, and a little molecular gastronomy.
Welcome to EastBurn, the public house located on East Burnside. It’s the kind of place where you can enjoy a lovely conversation over a fire pit or play pinball with drink in hand. Show up on the right night and you may be treated to a live band or comedy show.
About EastBurn Portland
The Birth of a Corner Bar Established in 2008, EastBurn is the brainchild of owner Mike Bender and his brother, both originally from Philadelphia. After obtaining a degree in forestry and spending some time among the craggy bluffs of Maine, Bender took his passion for the outdoors to the West Coast and moved to Portland.
His brother came later, after selling a bar he owned in Philadelphia. Once here, he and Bender decided to open a bar together. Shortly thereafter, EastBurn was born.
EastBurn asserts itself on the corner of SE 18th and Burnside, an imposing two-level building with a restaurant upstairs and a casual bar downstairs. A large patio with overhead heaters, swinging chairs and fire pits provides a welcome space for people to gather no matter what time of year.
“My dad is from Germany,” Bender explains, “and a lot of pubs over there are corner bars. They are great places for the community to gather. Something for the neighborhood. A place to entertain.”
And entertain it does. Whether you are looking to throw it down at a rhythmic shock dance party or lounge downstairs with smooth sounds and skee-ball, EastBurn has it all.
“Skee-ball was one of our favorite games growing up in Philadelphia and going to the Jersey Shore,” reminisces Bender. “So we put it in the basement and it’s been a huge hit ever since.”
Fortunately, EastBurn’s eclectic nature doesn’t stop at skee-ball. One of the most prominent features are the chairs the hanging chairs. Out on the patio, two benches hang from the ceiling in front of the table. “We thought it would be fun after seeing it in a bar in Mexico,” Bender says with a chuckle.
Inside, large wicker chairs swing from chains in the ceiling. While they’re a great conversation piece, their purpose is actually utilitarian. They unhook to allow quick access to the stage when a live event is scheduled.
More Than Meets the Eye Of course, no matter the aesthetic, EastBurn in Portland is only as good as what it serves to its customers. Fortunately, with chef Brandon Smoak at the helm, the eats more than adequately compliment the ambiance.
With almost 15 years of experience working in the restaurant industry, Smoak has set his culinary sights on a trend that isn’t going away any time soon. “When I first started in the industry, molecular gastronomy was first starting to come out, so I knew that’s what I wanted to focus on,” he says.
His interest in the technique is quite apparent in his presentation of the tempura halibut. Though there’s a lot to look at, you may first notice the large white powder balls sprinkled about the plate. Don’t look twice, they’re butter.
Delicious Food At EastBurn
“We take clarified butter and we mix it with an absorbent, which is basically ground up tapioca,” Smoak explains. “The tapioca binds to the fat and turns it into a powder. But as soon as it touches water, it instantly turns back into butter.”
Scooped up with a helping of steaming tempura-battered halibut, chargrilled corn succotash and a balsamic cilantro reduction, the powdered butter melts down to provide the perfect creaminess to the tempura’s crunch.
Smoak’s infusing and recreating are also on display in his roasted beets preparation, which comes with fresh, whiskey-cured steelhead. The oak and smokiness of the whiskey barrels are on full display in each bite. A bit of pickled rhubarb provides a touch of sweet tartness, rounding out a complex flavor profile.
The final glimpse into Smoak’s deft dinner hand is visible in the honey fried pork brisket. A moist and succulent honey cured pork chop sits in a deconstructed pea soup. The soup is rounded out with chunks of pit ham and sliced spring onion and candy stripe beats. If you aren’t a huge fan of peas, avoid this one, but otherwise enjoy. We certainly did.
The Battle of the Brunches We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about EastBurn’s brunch offering. Routinely named one of the top brunch spots in Portland, EastBurn holds its responsibility well.
No brunch is true without a few adult beverages. Here, EastBurn shines. The Brunch Flight is an automatic go-to, with a house-made mini Bloody Mary, a Greyhound, a Coffee Nudge and a mini Mimosa.
For those looking to go solo, the Miami Thrice is enough to wake anyone up. Aged 151 rum is combined with strawberry, coconut, lime and mint and served on the rocks. An appealing tropical umbrella provides the illusion that it isn’t raining outside (it’s Portland, after all).
Once you need a meal to soak up your drinks, the brisket hash might be the way to go. House smoked beef brisket provides the base for peppers, onions, potatoes and an over easy egg. It may be one of the more picture-perfect hangover curing, stomach coating meals we’ve seen.
Although EastBurn is quite successful, benefiting from the one-two punch of great food and entertainment, both taking from and giving back to the community is part of what they do.
“It’s not hard to source sustainable, organic products,” Bender asserts. “Because there is competition among a number of purveyors here in Portland, you don’t necessarily have to pay three times as much to go organic.”
Where they take the local product, EastBurn gives back in time and money donated to community outreach and fundraising. Whether it be through charitable beer dinners or donations to the Portland Women’s Crisis Line, Bender wants to make sure his business reflects the values of the neighborhood.
And that it does.
EastBurn is located at 1800 E. Burnside Street in Portland, Oregon. For hours, reservations, entertainment or menu information, visit their website by clicking here. Make sure to check out their downstairs tap room, open nightly from 5:00pm to 2:00am.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is a published author, poet and longtime journalist who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over twelve years. He currently works from his home in the Pacific Northwest profiling restaurants, reviewing local plays and reporting on regional, national and international travel.