The American Local
It’s a fact: the great Pacific Northwest yields a bounty of delicious food that few other American geographical regions can match. And the glory of this part of the country plays no small part in Oregon’s top-relocation-state status.
As in so many other instances, Portland’s access to the best of nature’s bounty spurred husband and wife team Chris Whaley and Jenny Nickolaus to move here, open a successful restaurant, buy a house, and adopt two adorable puppies. Goodbye everywhere else and hello Portland
Americans, but Local
The American Local culminated as the fruits of Chris and Jenny’s arduous planning, which “began pretty much when we started dating,” Jenny says. But Portland wasn’t first in the equation. In contrast to the classic mantra of “go east, young man,” Chris and Jenny would first head to New York.
Although they would surely have succeeded, it didn’t take long for the pair to grow tired of the New York area megalopolis. “Neither one of us really liked it work-wise,” Chris says. “We realized we were never going to open a restaurant there.”
“Or in San Francisco,” Jenny replies. “The cost of doing business in California is much more expensive than it is here,” she intones matter-of-factly.
So, here they came and the universe liked it. It wasn’t long before their ideal location came available and the dream was realized. Situated in a cozy spot on the corner of Division and Southeast 30th Avenue, The American Local warmly beckons with a large open, communal style; a style that’s baked into the name.
“We were thinking something like a pipe-fitter’s local,” Jenny says of the large open seating plan, complete with long tables and a bar that flows into an open kitchen area. It certainly does have the feel of a grange hall or other communal spot.
The centerpiece of the room lies at the far side, where vibrant flood lights illuminate a map on the wall. If you think it looks almost familiar, but is just a little off, you’re right. The couple commissioned an artist to come up with an abstract road map of Portland and use it as the main attraction in the room. “People ask about it all the time,” Jenny says.
Using a road map as the artistic magnet was essential to explaining the adventure the couple took in getting to Portland in the first place. Both had moved cross-country multiple times, and in a logical extension of the ramifications of a nomadic lifestyle, could this near-constant being on the move have influenced their food?
Most people think of American food as the classic burger and fries or steak and eggs. Americans are really good at our in-your-face, no-holds-barred dishes, but perhaps this stereotype isn’t telling the entire story.
“To us, America is an amalgamation of culture and diversity and tastes,” Jenny says. “American food is just so much broader than just steaks, burgers and stuff like that.”
This ethos is clearly on display in the food at The American Local. It is light, yet filling; subtle, yet flavorful. These are small ingredients that pack a large punch.
The courses are ordered family-style, with well-apportioned servings complimenting each other in flavor, form and style. The evening starts out with a raw Hamachi poke served with cubed Asian pear, blackened sesame seeds, shizo, soy, and yuzu sauces. A crispy rice cake provides a light alternative to the traditional chip.
A visually appealing and equally mouth-watering vegetable then arrives to provide a hearty counterbalance to the poke’s lightness. Fried Brussel sprouts are tossed with sectional oranges and thinly-sliced jalapenos, then treated to a healthy covering of delicious aioli sauce. Most people could probably eat these all day, every day, with no problem. They’re that good.
The meat course arrives in the form of two skewers. The first is so simple, you’ll wonder if it’s missing something… then you’ll taste it. Tender salmon morsels are cooked to a perfect medium, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and charred. The second is a skewer they call “pork candy.” Locally-sourced pork belly is seared on the grill and then topped off with Vermont maple syrup and sriracha. It’s the best of spicy and sweet without being too overbearing on either.
The night ends with a dessert that reminds you why desserts are the capstone to a perfect meal. A delectable Vermont maple cheesecake is adorned with a healthy serving of almond crumble and a couple wedges of caramelized Delacita squash. It’s a dessert that’s light, crunchy, and surprising all at the same time.
The Best Ingredients
If you are noticing a trend in the use of Vermont maple syrup, take note that you are getting it straight from one of the best sources. Chris has a friend in Vermont who supplied him with maple syrup early on. And we all know where the best American maple syrup is from. That The American Local gets is from the best source is telling in the ingredients they use.
They wanted the name of their restaurant to reflect their food ethos. “Everything starts with the ingredients,” Chris says without hesitation. “I start by what we see at the farmer’s market and what our farmer’s send us.”
“Even in New York, the farmer’s markets were nothing like they are here,” Jenny replies. “We wanted local, organic, and not factory farmed.”
Their choice in sourcing is evident in the quality of their fare. Opened for two years, The American Local has been providing southeast Portland with a new option for delicious, local, culturally-influenced American food. Pay them a visit and discover for yourself what it means to eat ‘New American’ food.
The American Local is located at 3003 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97202. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30pm to 10:00pm and on Sunday from 5:30pm to 9:00pm. For menu or reservation information, visit their website at www.theamericanlocal.com or give them a call at 503.924.2687.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is an author, journalist and blogger who’s been writing professionally for over eleven years. When he isn’t writing or eating, then writing about eating, expect him to be outside enjoying the natural splendors of his home in the great Pacific Northwest.