Every once in a while, I take a bite of something and remember to feel extraordinarily lucky that I was born when I was and I live where I live.

For four decades and counting, from coffee to cocktails, local farms to global ingredients, Mexican to Middle Eastern food, hand-rolled pasta to hummus – and these barely scratch the surface – food in the United States has gotten better and better. Moreover, I live and eat in Portland, a small city that punches far above its weight when it comes to food and drink.

I had a gee-whiz moment like this recently when I stopped in at Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. at Thompson’s Point for dinner. Sure, we’ve all grown to expect pretty good food at breweries and brewpubs; usually, though, that’s classic beer-friendly items (often sold by parked food trucks) like burgers, brats, tacos, poutine and pizza. Burgers, tacos and beer were, in fact, what my partner and I ordered that rainy Wednesday evening (also salad and dessert), and the menu at Bissell Brothers offers plenty of choices along those lines. But it was the quality and, frankly, ambition of our food, that impressed me.

The Beef Birrea Tacos at Bissell Brothers. Peggy Grodinsky photo

As snowboarders dazzled us on the big screen overhead, I ate a succulent, deep-fried beef birrea taco ($13 for two), the suggestion of the friendly counterman when I complained that my partner’s BBK Burger order (also $13) meant that no matter what I got, I’d have burger envy. Burgers do that to me. But the tacos, made from short ribs and brisket and sprinkled with two types of Mexican cheese, more than held their own. The dish was salty in that pleasant way that demands more beer; fortunately, I was in the right place to meet the demand. Forewarning: The tacos are casual-wear, four-napkin eats.

The BBK Burger at Bissell Brothers. Peggy Grodinsky photo

The burger, of the “smash” burger school, was served with house-made pickles on a shiny Japanese-style milk bun. After my partner reluctantly let me try a bite of his in exchange for a bite of taco, I made a mental note to add it to my short list of Burgers I Must Return To.

We shared a sophisticated Chicory Lettuce Salad ($12) with pears, high-crunch almonds, pickled onions and crumbles of Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese (a few more crumbles next time, please). The salad hit all the right notes — at once sweet, bitter, pickled, pungent, creamy and crunchy. And the lettuce was beautiful to boot, as chicories always are.

The Bissell Brothers Candy Bar was listed as a special one late December evening.

Our dessert, Dark Chocolate Candy Bar ($6), a special that evening, may have been the most surprising item we ate. A very rich composed dessert – part mousse-filled chocolate-coated rectangle roughly the size of a power bank, part mousse quenelle – it sat on a bed of delicate, crispy feuilletine and tasted like something out of a Montreal pâtisserie. It was the exceptionally chic cousin to the brownie Sundae I’d have expected to find at a brewery.

I wouldn’t expect to encounter this at a brewery, either, but Bissell Brothers had it on the specials menu when we were there: goat sausage farfalle with gigante beans, charred broccolini, lemon and parmesan ($14). Or this, another special that evening: crispy fried sunchokes with pesto aioli, almond, parmesan and Calabrian chili honey. (Chef Benjamin Martinkovic, I later learned, came from Central Provisions. His other credits include the Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn in San Francisco and the too-much-awarded-to-list-here Alinea Restaurant in Chicago.)

These sorts of adventurous, creative, virtuoso dishes aren’t typical for this Eat & Run column, either, which tends toward the quick and the casual. And such dishes persuaded me that next time I go to Bissell Brothers to eat, I’ll first change my mindset to Eat & Linger.


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