Happy Hour: Sidecar 11

27 05 2012

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!

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Happy Hour: Equinox Restaurant and Bar

2 05 2012

Before the construction of Interstate 5, Mississippi Avenue was the heart of Portland’s African-American community. Once the neighborhood’s backyards and porches were replaced with a freeway, however, the area began a multi-decade slide into crime and financial hardship. Thanks to forward-thinking city planning, long-time neighborhood residents, and astute business owners, North Mississippi Avenue began its journey on the road to recovery in the late 1990’s.

Now, after a steady influx of one-of-a-kind shops, eateries, and businesses, the area is one of Portland’s destination neighborhoods. It is diverse, eclectic, and inclusive. A bar patron I met one evening described the transition to me as a refreshing revitalization and not a gentrification; an important distinction for locals.

The Equinox Restaurant and Bar mirrors the soul and the spirit of the Mississippi movement. One of the original businesses to establish roots during the revitalization, Equinox is intent on handling every aspect of the business with the community’s needs in mind. The building was furnished with materials from another community cornerstone, the Rebuilding Center. It is not uncommon for the owners of Equinox, Michele Stultz and Tara George, to borrow supplies from other Avenue businesses when they run out, and vice versa. It’s also not all that rare for folks in need, to work the occasional odd job at Equinox in exchange for food or money.

Being rich with community-minded good intentions does not, however, assure you a thriving business. That’s where good food and drink come in. And on this particular sojourn into the neighborhood, it was all about the drink. My friend (and assistant for the day) Kassidy and I where met by owners Tara and Michele, who were kind enough to answer a quick set of questions before heading behind the bar themselves to assemble a series of drinks. A gorgeous set of drinks I might add.

First out was an Applewood Smoked Vodka Bloody Mary that was so chock full o’ delicious that every Bloody Mary over the next 2 months will be bitterly disappointing.

Next was a perfect warm weather drink, the Garden of Eden. This little number had vodka, muddled basil, cucumber and limes, and simple syrup with a sugar rim and cucumber garnish.

To balance that out, our next beverage was the EQ Café Espanol. What their Bloody Mary did to me, their Spanish Coffee did to Kassidy. 151 rum, Stumptown Coffee liqueur, Cointreau, coriander tincture, coffee, and whipped cream.

To finish everything off, Michele whipped up an off the menu gem that was essentially a Lemon Drop Martini made with lilac simple syrup, and garnished with lilac trimmings from the garden. And just to make sure we didn’t leave on an empty stomach they provided us with a plate of crispy wontons stuffed with mushrooms, Danish bleu cheese, and chives, served with a sweet chile-lemon dip; their Wild Mushroom Bites.

Big thanks to Michele, Tara, and the attentive and patient staff of Equinox. Kassidy and I have plans to attend brunch there this month so we can try out the food (and another Bloody Mary or three).