Thursday, November 19, 2009

An Uncommon Clyde and An Upright Rye

So, is Clyde Common a great bar with a restaurant attached...or is it a great restaurant with a bar attached?


The 'rents-in-law were in town so I needed a place to take them for lunch in the downtown Portland area. Being a selfish sorta guy, I figured Clyde Common, in the hipster Ace Hotel on Stark Street would be the place to go. As usual, I was right.

As soon as you walk into Clyde Common and glance at the bar you realize this is a devoutly spiritual place. These people take their libations seriously. The wall of spirits behind the bar is a sight to behold, and the list of featured cocktails is more in the way of a checklist than list of choices.

Sweet and sticky drinks? Not here. Serious, well-crafted, balanced cocktails rich with flavors are the rule here. And the mixologists---hell, let's call them bartenders---are knowledgeable, well trained, and apparently love their vocation. And since every bar has its own style, this one shines in the whiskies, the gin selection, and the choices of bitters.

Hey, when the house vermouth tends to be Carpano Antico Formula, that pretty much says it all about the quality orientation.

But today I was on good behavior so I let them steer me past the bar and toward the communal table looking out over Stark (good for people watching and rain gazing), and perused the menu. For Clyde Common is not simply a bar: it is also a great little restaurant. The food choices on the menu echo the cocktail choices on the bar, thoughtful, well-constructed, use of superb ingredients, careful attention paid to detail, and intriguing flavors.

My wife had a house flatbread plate that turned what could have been a humdrum veggie dish into an exciting adventure in flavors and textures. My MIL had a sorta-kinda po'boy sandwich of deep fried mussels with a piquant salsa verde that I briefly wished I had ordered...until my freshly boiled and grilled house-made bratwurst with sauerkraut on a mustard slathered roll came to the table! The brat was perfect---and mind you, I'm speaking from the point of view of a guy who learned his brats from spending his teen years in Germany then honing his tastes through several years in Wisconsin (ya betcha). And whoever made these brats knew what they were doing. (Okay, the kraut could've used just a touch of juniper berries, but hey, it wasn't bad.)

And here's a lusty Irish potato-lovin' shout out for the Clyde Common fries: folks, this is what fries are supposed to be! Thin, long cut fries cooked to absolute crispy outside/creamy inside perfection and then dusted with salt and served at burn-the-fingers heat. That's what I'm talking about! (And a tip for the boulevardiers amongst you: go during happy hour in the afternoon and you can languish with cocktails and beers and large plates of these fries for only $3 a plate!)

I also had the prescience to order a beer off their specials list, from a local brewery called Upright Brewing. Previously unknown to me, this place will be supplying some interesting drinking in the future. They apparently fashion themselves along the lines of a Belgian or French-style farmhouse artisanal beer maker, and the Upright Rye was unmistakably in that style. Rich, dark, spicy, but balanced, with a thin, light head, its arrival occasioned some queries from nearby diners, and subsequent orders by them. My obvious relish at the brew might have helped that. I love a good hearty, caramel/chocolate/spice beer with a velvety feel and just enough of a bitter tang to keep it interesting...and that's exactly what the Upright Rye delivered. I will most definitely be on the lookout for more brews from this local producer. Might even be growler time.

So I can recco Clyde Common. For food and drink. And if you go during the lunch hour, you'll probably find Jonny behind the stick. Say Hi to him: he's enthusiastic as hell about what he does, and he knows whereof he speaks on spirits. Makes a wicked good drink too.

And order the fries.

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