Two’fer whole trout with rice and radicchio salad –
Back in September we stopped by Ned Ludd’s for a meal and chat with owner Jason French. During our interview, one of the people French mentioned in his story was Ben Meyer. If there was ever more a sign of Portland’s close-knit restaurant industry, today’s profile brings us full circle, back to Ben Meyer and his restaurant, Grain and Gristle.
Born and raised in Indiana, Ben Meyer began cooking at a young age and credits his grandmother as one of the greatest culinary influences in his life. His first restaurant job came at 15 and his first sous chef experience was at Kevin Tubb’s Eldorado Grill, a Southwestern-style restaurant utilizing animal butchery and a diverse array of smoking techniques.
After moving to Portland in 1998, Meyer stepped into a role at Genie’s Café and worked as a butcher at New Seasons Market. Yet while he was satisfied for the moment, he had an itch.
So, Meyer did what any responsible Portlander would do and that’s take time off to tour the country by bicycle for a full year.
The year after? He lived in a goat barn and worked on an organic family-farm on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound.
Upon the conclusion of his galivanting and subsequent return to Portland, Meyer opened a small café in Southeast Portland. Still, he didn’t become a household name on the Portland restaurant scene until he opened Ned Ludd with Jason French in 2008.
After spending two years at Ned Ludd, he inked a deal with Upright Brewing’s Alex Ganum to take over a failed spot on Prescott Street, and thus Grain and Gristle was opened.
Upright Brewing focuses on historic French and Belgian brews, so the original idea was to team up with Meyer to turn Grain and Gristle into a raw, old-style experience, and indeed they’ve succeeded.
First to welcome you into the theme is the décor. Simple, with soft lights, wood furniture and a large bar in the center of the room, it has an old grange hall feel; stark lines, but big smiles.
The distinctive interior comes thanks to Marcus Hoover, who was the restaurant and kitchen designer for Rose’s Restaurant Equipment. He’s skilled in showpiece wood craftsmanship and worked as a contractor for many years. Most of Grain and Gristle was designed and installed by him, from the ground up.
Following up on the stark, yet inviting décor, the food carries a similar weight. The menu at Grain and Gristle isn’t overly large. You won’t find fifty variations on an aioli here. The few things they do are done simple and right.
Even better? They’re done affordably. Grain and Gristle’s primary draw lies in your ability to get well-portioned, delicious, farm-to-table food at a price that won’t put your bank account in anaphylactic shock.
Their famed two’fer – or meal for two – rings in at around $24 and provides an ample amount of food for two people. And we aren’t talking bargain basement for two. The proteins are sourced regionally and the produce locally. Everything is cooked to perfection and flavored well.
But before we get into the reason for the season, let’s pay adequate attention to the other half of Grain and Gristle’s distinction, and that’s their partnership with Upright Brewing. The evening starts appropriately with a dark, heavy and deliciously rich Baltic Porter.
Once the beer has properly lubricated the palate, the evening starts with a dozen oysters on the half shell. Fresh caught from the waters around Vancouver Island, these Canadian kushi oysters may be small, but they pack a big flavor punch. They’re briny and delicious and – though mouth-watering the house-made horseradish is – need no accompaniment.
With the oysters completed, the main course arrives. The appropriately named two’fer on this night is a whole grilled trout with lemon, mustard, fennel, and a little bit of coriander accompanied by hazelnut rice pilaf and a radicchio and roasted butternut squash and shallot salad with a champagne vinaigrette.
There are few things better than a succulent bite of a moist piece of fish followed by the pleasing crunch of crispy fish skin. Make no mistake, the trout delivers on this front.
The meat is flavorful and stands on its own next to the fluffy rice pilaf and radicchio salad. Speaking of the salad, you won’t forget that champagne vinaigrette. Grain and Gristle has something special on their hands with that dressing.
The night ends with a simple, yet delectable finish. A slice of apple pie with cinnamon crumble and a daub of house-made whipped crème arrives. The apples retain just enough crunch and light up under the cinnamon crumble. It’s the perfect comfort dessert to finish off a simple, yet delicious meal that evoked a certain old-style charm.
With such an atmosphere and level of culinary expression at their disposal, it’s no wonder Grain and Gristle has stood the test of time amongst Portland’s oft-cited overcrowded restaurant market. And having expanded on the concept with the opening of Old Salt Market in 2013, Meyer and Company aren’t slowing down. The future looks bright for this budding restaurant empire.
Grain and Gristle is located at 1473 NE Prescott in Portland, Oregon. For hours, menu or reservation information visit their website at www.grainandgristle.com or give them a call at (503) 822-4740.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is a journalist and freelance writer who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over thirteen years. When he’s not profiling Portland-area restaurants and residents, you can find him reporting on national and international travel and eco-tourism through his travel brand, Floppy Hat Adventures.