Some establishments just have an old-time feel. They harken back to a time when tea was served with biscuits and speakeasies flourished in a back room. The Hazel Room is one such place.
Opened five years ago by Christopher and Katie Loverro, this small, non-descript space serves up big flavor and boisterous beverages with enough seats for a small room and a bar at the back.
Indeed, the Hazel Room occupies one-half of what was formerly a small house on Portland’s bustling SE Hawthorne Boulevard.
From Romance to Restaurant
Originally from Oakland, California, the Loverros moved to Portland with romance in the air.
“I think I asked her to marry me ten years before we even dated,” Chris says with a laugh. “It was all very movie romance.”
Upon arrival, opening a restaurant was the last thing on the Loverro’s mind.
“We are not industry professionals, by any means,” Chris admits. “I’ve had a smattering of all sorts of jobs, from a music audio engineer to a court reporter.”
He goes onto explain how he had a career job downtown in an office on the 30th floor before following up with an all-too-familiar, “It immediately started sucking me dry.”
With cooking always a passion, the Loverros decided to take a chance.
“I would come home and cook and say, ‘Why can’t I do this for a living?’ After all, everyone else in Portland was doing it,” Chris explains.
A moment of serendipity struck when a friend notified them of an open space next to her small boutique clothing store. This would end up being the space the Hazel Room would occupy, opening for business on October 16, 2011.
As with any fledgling business, especially a restaurant in Portland, the beginning days were filled with cramped spaces and long hours.
“When we first opened, it was Katie and myself living in a studio apartment, then we had two friends move up from Oakland to work with us and the four of us lived in a studio apartment and worked here for sixteen hours a day,” Chris says.
“To be clear, we lived in the apartment and slept here,” Katie says with a laugh.
Still, despite having no culinary background, the two have made it work, and done so in quite an egalitarian way.
“We don’t use the word ‘chef’. We take pride on this being a collaborative effort,” Chris explains.
The collaboration is obvious in the food. With a menu that varies widely between traditional American and British-type staples to Asian flavors, one can expect any number of interesting delights when visiting the Hazel Room.
“We try to mix it up as much as possible and are actually in the midst of a big menu redesign right now,” Chris says.
Small Room, Big Flavors
The Loverros also take pride in sourcing locally and making as much as they can in-house.
“We don’t make our gluten-free bread or have vegan options because it’s a fad,” Katie asserts. “We want to make this part of who we are. I was raised vegan without refined sugars and now I consider myself a conscientious omnivore.”
In fact, The Hazel Room screams ‘conscientious omnivore.’ Clever combinations of vegetables, fruit and meat are on display, along with a refreshing and quite strong selection of beverages and cocktails.
The day starts out with an organic Japanese mocha tea latte with milk and a bit of honey. The preparation is as spot-on as you would find at any other reputable Portland coffee house.
For something a little more, shall we say, alcoholic, The Hazel Room offers up the perfect Bloody Mary, with the mix made in-house and just the perfect amount of spice.
With their menu items available all day, whether you’re there for brunch or dinner, there’s no concern you’ll miss out on something special.
First up is a potato patty with house salad. The potato itself is cooked up with onion, celery, carrots, dill, salt and pepper and topped with seasonal greens. A grapefruit with a sugar brulee is offered up as the perfect bit of sweet and tart to accompany your savory satisfaction.
Another hearty offering arrives in the form of a salmon sandwich with a garden salad. The salmon – which is smoked in-house – is combined with a house-made aioli, lemon juice, onion, celery, dill and an egg, cooked how you want it. The salmon is flavorful and the egg adds the perfect touch, the yolk spilling down the sides of the sandwich and adding wonderfully to the overall flavor profile.
Final touch comes in the form of a pork hash with The Hazel Room’s famous biscuits and jam. First, let me just say I love that everything has an egg. The hash itself is full of bold flavors and pork is moist and juicy.
Although the room may be small, The Hazel Room serves up big flavors and bold dishes. With food and beverages like these, it’s no wonder that, as Chris puts it, “We have an hour-long wait on Saturdays.”
But why wait? Stop on in any day of the week to see why The Hazel Room makes small live so large.
The Hazel Room is located at 3279 SE Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland, Oregon. For more information visit their website at thehazelroom.com or give them a call at (503) 756-7125.
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.