Like most restaurants, Northwest Portland’s St. Jack has spent the past 10 months pivoting from one business model to the next, creating a new takeout menu from scratch, building a new patio out front, installing coronavirus-zapping ionization filters and Plexiglass barricades indoors, adjusting when the state shuts or reopens indoor and outdoor dining, and on and on.
This year, Portland’s signature French restaurant has a chance to start from scratch, joining five other ChefStable restaurants — Lardo, Grassa, Fills Donuts, Oven & Shaker and a suburban revival of the Tasty brand — with new locations in Lake Oswego’s upcoming Mercato Grove development just east of Interstate 5. All six businesses get to build this new restaurant complex with the lessons learned from the past 10 months, and simultaneously look to the future.
“(ChefStable owner) Kurt (Huffman) and I have been talking about doing something like this for a number of years, because St. Jack is pretty popular with people from Lake Oswego,” St. Jack chef-owner Aaron Barnett said. “We’ve been hunting for spots out there loosely, looking everywhere, including downtown. Then this opportunity popped up. Now we’re building out a restaurant where we can design for this, where partitions can be a part of our business model, to make it as COVID-proof as possible.”
Collectively, the new restaurant complex counts as a big-time score for Lake Oswego, with St. Jack — arguably Portland’s best straightforwardly French restaurant — joined by the city’s signature sandwich shop in Lardo, the casual scratch pastas at Grassa, a great wood-fired pizzeria in Oven & Shaker, a new Berliner-style doughnut shop Fills and the first new Tasty location since former Portland chef John Gorham sold the brand to ChefStable in July.
One of the most appealing parts of the project for Huffman was the chance to bring together chefs he already knew worked well together in one place. An early stipulation: ChefStable partners would get the run of as much as 15,000-square-feet of restaurant space at the sprawling new development. The project, found at the former Providence Mercantile Village medical offices, was purchased by High Street Residential, CenterCal Properties and its investment partner CBRE Global Investors in 2019. Later this year, it will open with more than 206 apartments, nearly 50,000 square feet of retail space and one 12-foot-tall duck sculpture designed by Danish company Monstrom.
“By being the only restaurants in this whole development, we have a chance to not only manage the restaurant, but manage the whole ecosystem,” said ChefStable owner Kurt Huffman. “We’re going to be able to take over the whole parking lot to do events like Aaron’s Beaujolais Nouveau menu, or Nick (Schuurman) at Lardo’s beer festivals.”
According to Huffman, an onsite community manager will help organize potential activities including seasonal festivals, farmer’s market stalls or outdoor chef dinners in an elevated space above Boones Ferry Road.
Here’s what Lake Oswegans can expect from their six new restaurants come spring:
“We’re currently trying to figure out how intense we want to get,” Barnett says of the second location of his Lyon-inspired restaurant, tentatively titled Lac St. Jack. “I don’t know that I want to do so many heads and feet, like we do down here, but I don’t want to be shy, either.” The interior will be more plush than the original — “we’re looking at prettier chandeliers,” Barnett says — and lunch could join the opening dinner service later this year.
Oven & Shaker
Opened as a collaboration between award-winning Nostrana chef Cathy Whims and noted bartender Ryan Magarian, this wood-fired pizzeria and cocktail bar was a Pearl District destination before the pandemic. Best of all, with a shared liquor license, customers can grab a cocktail from Oven & Shaker, carry it outside and meet friends grabbing food from St. Jack in the 5,000-square-foot shared outdoor dining area. (A previously announced Oven & Shaker in Beaverton is no longer in the works.)
Rick Gencarelli, a heavy-hitting former New England chef turned avid Portland bike rider, opened his pork-loving sandwich shop as a food cart more than a decade ago. Since then, it has emerged as Portland’s most celebrated sandwich shop, with signature items including the pork meatball banh mi, herb and Parmesan French fries, a good burger and arguably the best craft beer list of any Portland restaurant.
Lardo’s casual sister restaurant specializes in scratch-made pastas, simple cocktails and good wine. Lake Oswego will mark the growing chain’s fourth location, with three already in the Rose City. “I don’t think there’s a lot of fast-casual in Lake Oswego with delicious hand-crafted pasta that doesn’t compromise for adults or children,” says Gencarelli, who can’t wait for it to be safe to open his doors to customers for the first time since last March. “Sandwiches can stand on their own, but Grassa is about seeing the pasta being made, listening to the music, watching us change over records.”
What started a spin-off of the short-lived, sorely missed Bakery at Bar King three months ago is already expanding, a testament to the work of former California baker Katherine Benvenuti and “Cooked with Cannabis” host Leather Storrs. Keep an eye out for Benvenuti’s Boston cream pie doughnut with vanilla pastry cream and Valrhona chocolate glaze, the maple bacon bar improved with a single malt Scotch custard and smoked bacon, and the tasty breakfast sandwiches built on sliced doughnuts by Storrs.
Once ranked among Portland’s most in-demand brunch destinations, the Tasty brand will return under new management this spring. Two longtime employees, Faye Crosswhite and Mike Kessler, plan to revive the restaurant with an assist from Fills co-owner Benvenuti, who hopes to roll out house breads, flaky biscuits, coffee cakes and more at the restaurant’s first suburban location.
Mercato Grove and its six ChefStable restaurants are expected to open this June at 4055 Mercantile Drive, at the corner of Kruse Way and Boones Ferry Road