If you’re not paying close attention, it’s easy to walk right past one of the best bars in North Portland. The space occupied by Sidecar 11 is no wider than the entrance to a prohibition-era speakeasy. Like their drinks, however, the space is deep, sophisticated, and well thought out.
I met Sidecar 11 owner, John Cooper, and bartender, Erin, a couple of weeks ago for drinks and a set of appetizers. Admittedly, I had been to Sidecar 11 several times before this visit. Not just because their drinks are top notch, but also because their happy hour food menu is delicious and inexpensive. What I hadn’t realized prior to this visit though, was the fact that John doesn’t have a kitchen. He has a refrigerator, a small area for dry goods, and a convection oven down at the far end of the bar. But instead of viewing this as a hindrance, John saw the unconventional setup as an open invitation to get creative. And while he did his thing at one end of the bar, Erin was doing hers at the other.
The first drink that Erin produced was the Mississippi Sidecar. This interpretation of the old standard contains brandy, orange liqueur, and lemon, served up with a sugar rim. I should mention that Erin created the drink menu at Sidecar 11. A fact that might explain why she produced each of my drinks with the care and attention to detail that a mother might lavish upon her children on the first day of school. Think I’m exaggerating? Order any of her original menu drinks and tell me I’m wrong. It was also around this time that John brought out the first appetizer, a Tapenade Plate that features basil pesto, roasted red pepper, garlic and olive tapenade, and crostini. This was delicious as expected, but the next plate John presented was outstanding.
Look at that! That right there is a combination of the Garlic Steak Skewers and the Marinated Chicken Skewers. The steak skewers are baked medium with green bell pepper and served with spicy peanut sauce & green onions. The chicken skewers are baked with red bell pepper and served with sweet chili dressing & black sesame seeds. Incredibly well cooked, flavored, and presented, John nailed it with that skewer plate.
Next up drink-wise was the 20 Fountains. Named for Portland’s famed Benson Bubblers, this concoction has Bulleit Rye, Carpano Antica, Peychaud’s Bitters, and Regan’s #6 Orange Bitters. Classy, right? Simon Benson may have been a teetotaler, but I bet he would have stolen a sip or two of this fine beverage when no one was looking.
John then decided he wanted me to love him forever. He gave me a new potential menu item he had been working on, which was more or less the Sidecar 11 version of a Chile Relleno. A roasted Anaheim chili stuffed with prosciutto, mozzarella, cheddar, provolone, bread crumbs, and caramelized onion. Roasted Anaheim chilies are somewhere in the top 5 of my favorite things on this planet. Needless to say this offering made me giddy as a school girl.
Not to be outdone, Erin whipped up two cold weather drinks that were originally created by some of John’s old bartender friends. The Nana’s Nip, which has ginger juice, lemon juice, Laird’s Apple Jack, and hot water, was sweet and flavorful. And the last drink of the evening, the Oh Fidel, You Cad!, was as delicious and gut-warming as its name is creative and giggle-worthy. Comprised of a healthy dose of rum, Falernum, lemon juice, and hot water, the Oh Fidel was the perfect capper for the evening.
Sidecar 11 was a great way to finish off the “research” I’m doing for the upcoming Happy Hour piece in NorthWest Travel Magazine. I want to thank John and Erin for being fantastic hosts. It was a real pleasure to get a thorough sampling of what was already one of my favorite bars. I win!