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This past May, perennial tourist favorite Screen Door opened a much needed (and much larger) second location in the Pearl District.
The restaurant took over a space kitty corner to Powell’s that I have often referred to as cursed. The space was long occupied by P.F. Chang’s, sat vacant for a long stretch, and was then taken over by an overpriced and underwhelming burger chain out of Las Vegas whose gimmicky food might have been better suited for somewhere like Bridgeport Village. When Holstein’s was put out to pasture in less than a year, the spot again sat empty. Secretly, I had hoped Din Tai Fung would take over the space when they entered the Portland market.
But back to the restaurant at hand. Screen Door actually makes a lot of sense in this spot. The renovated restaurant is gorgeous, and makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a bistro in New Orleans or Paris, even. Diners spill out onto the sidewalk, and everyone seems in a jovial mood.
The popular Southern-food stalwart has, in a way, filled the void left by Montage. It’s reliable, great for groups, and seems to always boast a bustling dining room. Albeit, Screen Door doesn’t open nearly as late nor do they skillfully wrap your leftovers in tin foil likenesses of crabs and flowers. PORTLAND, THIS NIGHT OWL BEGS YOU. MORE SOLID LATE NIGHT/24 HR SPOTS.
In all my years of going to Screen Door, I have actually never gone for dinner service. Almost comfortingly, I found out that I wasn’t really missing anything. There was nothing glaringly bad, it was kind of all just fine. Nothing to write home about, so naturally I’m writing to all of you instead. The entire dining experience affirmed to me that at least at this spot, brunch is still KING.
Nevertheless, brunch is an ordeal that I don’t have the will to deal with anymore. As a Portlander, I’m used to waiting for food. But brunch is another thing altogether. As the first meal of the day on a weekend, it tests you. I need a pre-brunch snack if I’m to keep from being hangry—remind me why I woke up early for this?—while waiting for hours just to score a table.
Thankfully, at dinner service on a summer Wednesday, we were seated with some efficiency. Also fortunate: Screen Door Pearl does serve their sought-after chicken and waffle all day long, but for the purposes of this exercise I thought I’d branch out.
The Screen Door plate ($20) allows you to build your own dinner plate, in an abbreviated meat and three format, which is great for folks who love customization. I selected the crispy fried cornmeal-crusted catfish (+$4), buttered new potatoes (with sweet Italian peppers and Walla Walla onions tossed in thyme & white wine butter sauce), and roasted red beets and Bing cherries (with sweet peas & fennel in pistachio vinaigrette over a pickled green strawberry and fresh sheep cheese puree). The beets were the standout of the two sides, providing a refreshing counterbalance to the “unhealthy” parts of my meal. Portions were generous and could feed two people if they were only mildly hungry.
My fried catfish was satisfyingly crunchy, but the filets were quite thin, and it was difficult to find the fishy flavor I love about catfish. I am one of those people that revels in fishiness (as long as it’s fresh, obvs). The fishier tasting it is, the better, IMO. If I wanted to eat something bland, I’d go the chicken breast route.
We also tried Screen Door’s seafood jambalaya, which despite the menu’s lack of description, was a creole version. This dish was the biggest letdown of the meal. The blackened rockfish that sat atop the dish was the best part about it. Otherwise, the mushy broken rice lacked adequate spice and all in all tasted as if it was cooked by a college student from a box before being thrown haphazardly on a plate.
My favorite part of the meal was hands down the house made cream soda. Aside: this is one of the only acceptable usages of the word soda; fellow Pacific Northwesterners know it’s POP. Don’t @ me. Flavors rotate, but the one I had was blackberry, and its effervescence was nicely tempered by the addition of crushed ice. (If you read my previous column, Cocktail To-Go Club, you know how I feel about crushed ice.)
We ended with the Cliff Cake Layer Cake (the redundancy of the name irks this writer/editor), which was a blueberry lemon pound cake layered with lemon cream cheese frosting and served with lemon curd ice cream and blueberry compote. As a dessert, it was on the lighter side and a good cap to the meal. The lemon and blueberries understood the assignment and worked well together, and the cake was less dense than you’d expect a pound cake to be. Getting into some minutiae here, but the crumbs provided a great textural element and I thought it smart to perch the ice cream on top—it seems the pastry chef knows the pain of chasing a scoop ice cream as it slides all ’round your plate.
Screen Door, 1131 NW Couch, (503) 542-0882, screendoorrestaurant.com