Wine & Cheese
Romeo and Juliet, ham and cheese, wheels and brakes, me and champagne…some things just belong together. Wine and cheese are the yin and yang of the food world, and Portland just so happens to have some of the best and flightest wine bars around, so you should have no trouble uniting these two.
With two industry experts at the helm (co-owner Randy Goodman was the wine director at Wildwood once upon a time), it’s no surprise that stylish yet pleasingly rustic neighborhood hangout Bar Avignon’s wine and cocktail list is superb. And since next to every good wine there should stand a good cheese, Bar Avignon has a sterling selection of artisan cheeses paired with complementary condiments, like the firm, richly flavored sheep’s milk cheese Pecorino Sardo with cherry conserva, Caña de Cabra goat’s milk cheese with marinated olives, and raw cow’s milk Great Hill Blue with local honey. Go during happy hour, and you can enjoy the cheese of the day for just $4, along with $5 glasses of wine.
Strolling NW 21st Avenue on a warm summer evening, it’s easy to spot Bar Mingo. Bright orange chairs surround the sidewalk tables, and every single one of them is full of people chatting, toasting, gossiping, playing footsie, lamenting their mother’s nosiness (that would be me), and of course, sipping wine and eating cheese, among other things. Bar Mingo has an excellent wine list, tasty antipasti like lamb meatballs and oysters on the half shell, a half dozen or so housemade pastas, and hearty mains that include grilled flat iron steak and cioppino. From 4-6pm daily, there are $6 bellini, martini and wine specials, which will fill you so full of happy hour spirit, you’ll soon be calling your Mom right from the restaurant to tell her how much you love her, nosiness and all.
If you’re stranded in Beaumont without so much as a morsel of Manchego, pop into this stylishly cozy wine shop and head for the “Atomic” cheese counter. You can order a glass or flight of wine and pair it with anything from traditional charcuterie and cheese plates and the “floating picandou”–fresh goat cheese on lemon with olive oil, cracked pepper & smoked sea salt, to taleggio crostini and panini layered with smoked cheddar and apricot jam. If you’re en route to a glamorous party or perhaps just a Ploughman’s Lunch in your own backyard, don’t hesitate to ask owner Andy Diaz for pairing advice, he’s an expert wine-’n-cheese matchmaker.
Cheese & Crack
Even the most finicky of eaters will find something to love at this cute Restaurant Row snack shop. The creatively-assembled cheese trays are dotted with a duet of cheeses flanked by a few slices of fresh baguette, a stack of homemade butter crackers and savory oatmeal cookies, and measuring spoons repurposed as Castelvetrano olive, cornichon, Dijon, honey, marionberry jam, apple butter and chocolate ganache holders. The kitchen also rustles up a handful of fun snacks like the potato chip and pickled lentil nachos, mac ‘n mornay, and Cheese & Crack sundae with cinnamon butter cracker crumble, plus coffee, breakfast bites, and some seriously good soft serve.
The wedge and wheel crowd flock up into the sleepy Mt. Tabor neighborhood, to the corner of SE Belmont and 61st Avenue, seeking out legendary cheesemonger Steve Jones’ straightforwardly-dubbed Cheese Bar. They come in search of the most exceptionally creamy Bries, boldest blues, and odoriferous Langres, as well as Steve’s full selection of expertly-curated charcuterie, specialty groceries and chocolate, and perhaps, while they’re here, a fortifying snack from the seasonally-influenced menu of beer and wine-friendly sandwiches, salads, soups, and small plates. Six rotating taps and a superb selection of wine ensures there’s always a stout for that cheddar and a rosé for the Mahón.
Now Steve Jones’ fans can experience his cheese aptitude on the West side once again, thanks to chic little Chizu, which looks and acts like a sushi bar, except with cheese. Check the boxes next to the cheeses you want, add a smoked fish board and a bottle of bubbly, and settle in. As an added bonus, it’s right next door to Multnomah Whiskey Library, so instead of spending your two-hour wait lurking in the library’s doorway giving the stink eye to the lucky folks sashaying past with reservations, go eat some cheese and fold a paper crane or two.
This swanky, gallery-esque Piedmontese-influenced Pearl District restaurant has a very calming effect on the soul, particularly once the soul has absorbed a bottle of very good wine and a cheese and salami plate.
Ah the Portland winter—frosty harbringer of cold sores, elbow eczema, and legs so white they glow in the dark…through your flannel long johns. Bring your sexy back at this glammy inner SE wine and cheese bar, where Clay Pigeon Winery winemaker Michael Claypool and author/former affineur Sasha Davies preside deliciously over their respective passions, uniting them on a well-rounded menu that includes simple, comforting foods like blue cheese gougeres and the Monger’s mac ‘n cheese, outstanding seasonal salads like butternut farro and cabbage kumquat in apple lime vinaigrette, and rich desserts like apricot almond tarts and a deep, dark, mascarpone-iced chocolate cake that doesn’t care a whit if you haven’t shaved your legs since October.
When Evoe executive chef Kevin Gibson raids the pantry, he does it right. And since he has carte blanche to pull whatever catches his eye and palate from the adjoining Pastaworks Market, and Pastaworks has one of Portland’s most blissful cheese selections, you can rest assured that the three cheeses he puts on your cheese board on any given day will be superlative. Each cheese is paired with its soul mate condiment, be it marcona almonds, housemade plum compote, or freshly cut figs, plus slices of Pearl Bakery baguette cut fresh to order. Choose a glass of wine from the chalkboard menu, or buy any bottle from Pastaworks’ wine shop and bring it along, the corkage is just $5.
Foster & Dobbs
If you’ve had a hard day at work, I highly suggest unwinding at Irvington specialty market Foster & Dobbs, where you can chase all your troubles and cares away with one of their fantastic DIY cheese plates and a bottle of wine or something from the by-the-glass menu. To create your plate, simply choose your favorite cheese(s) from the well-stocked cheese case, and select the proper accompaniments. Then sit at one of the little indoor or outdoor bistro tables, watch patrons trickle in and out with their various treasures, listen to the soft jazz music, and eye the table of chocolate, and one by one, the irksome memories of your boss’s inane requests and unfavorite coworker’s outbursts will vanish, and you’ll be refreshed and renewed, or at least a little buzzed and happy. That’s the power of wine and cheese.
No need to brush up on your Shakespeare to decipher an evening here, because the star of chef Cathy Whims’ and bartender Ryan Magarian’s comely Ann Sacks tile-lined Pearl District cocktail lounge is not Michael Redgrave or Benedict Cumberbatch, but rather ham—ham by the ounce, ham by the plate, hammity ham ham ham. If you love ham, you’ll be enthralled, if you forbear or are afeard of ham, get the cheese plate, salad, or pickles. Either way, order the glorious cream biscuits. Then toast your date with a sherry cocktail, and pretend to understand what they’re going on and on about, kind of like when you’re at the real Hamlet.
Hop & Vine
Mismatched thrift store furniture and a relaxed demeanor make this North Portland hipster bar an excellent spot to savor a belly-warming red in the winter, and in the summer, the charmingly tousled garden is just the place to take down the house bacon burger and an absinthe-rinsed Remember The Maine cocktail (you may not, in fact, remember much of anything if you decide to have another and then another). If you need a bottle of beer or wine to go, duck into the adjoining bottle shop—the savvy staff will steer you towards exactly what you need, even if you didn’t even know you needed it.
Little Bird Bistro
Late hours, a central location, and trés delicious dishes make this younger sibling of renowned Le Pigeon an inviting downtown destination regardless of the hour (they’re open until midnight) or your craving—stop in for a glass of wine and a charcuterie board or reserve a dark red leather banquette for a leisurely supper. The kitchen is helmed by longtime Le Pigeon sous chef Erik Van Kley, who orchestrates a simple French menu that zeroes in on beloved, expertly-executed bistro classics like steak frites, coq au vin, and marrow bones (and the iconic Le Pigeon burger), while pastry chef Lauren Fortgang spins sweet fantasies like strawberry elderflower floats, apricot givré with a corn financier, and her housemade chocolate plate. Depending on your mood, sit at the gleaming copper bar, see and be seen in the main dining room, or, provided you don’t suffer from acrophobia, opt for my favorite perch—the tiny upstairs table hugging the balcony corner.
Mediterranean Exploration Company
Every neighborhood needs a stylish supperish social hub, and MEC has the Pearl District covered—you’ll hear the buzz of conversation emanating off the open air window bar from blocks away. Inside is a lively hive of hip, well-dressed sorts sipping cocktails and sharing eclectic small plates like lamb tartare, Tunisian couscous with rose petal harissa, Oregon albacore with beet olive salsa, and cardamom ice cream affogato. Like its sister restaurant Toro Bravo, MEC will lead you by the fork through the long list of mezza via a chef’s choice tasting menu that’s well worth the $40, especially if you’ve already burnt out your decision-making abilities agonizing between the Spanish Diplomat and Retsina Spritz.
At Noble Rot, your wine and cheese comes with a free view, and what a view it is—a panoramic eastside perspective of downtown Portland, the sparkly Willamette, and the front door of Union Jack’s, so you can see if your honey is really going to “watch the game” and that’s why they flaked on getting after-work drinks, or if that’s just a big fat lie and they are actually going to look at boobies. The cheese plate is a rotating assortment of fine specimens—perhaps Cowgirl Creamery’s mellow St. Pat, a tangy Caña de Cabra goat’s cheese, creamy Cashel blue, or a Pleasant Ridge Reserve cow’s milk cheese. The wine flights are also very popular, and the four house pours are a steal at $5.50; plus, during Noble Rot’s happy hour, the house wine is a mere $3.50, the cheese plate is $9, and the view is still free.
Olympic Provisions NW
Portland is full of interesting secrets—secret catacombs, secret kebabs, secret gardens, secret creperie-speakeasies, and Secret Society, to name a few. Then there’s Olympic Provisions Northwest, which isn’t technically a secret, but unless you’re a particularly thorough wanderer, prone to getting lost, or have business in the industrial wilds of Northwest Portland, you’d be hard-pressed to stumble upon it. Walking through the deli’s front doors, you’re immediately confronted by one of the finest meat counters around—brimming with fresh sausages, frankfurters, patés, rillettes, Sweetheart hams, bacon, and a full range of Olympic Provisions’ acclaimed salami–all housemade on site. Orbiting the deli case is an intimate kitchen-facing marble bar, a few tables for two, and two boisterous communal tables—so you’re covered, whether you’re having salami sandwiches and cold microbrews for lunch with friends, or sharing one of the peerless rotisserie chickens with Schmaltz potatoes and a bottle of rosé with a hot date. Read full write-up>>
Olympic Provisions SE
With its pioneering spirit and sleek, reclaimed wood and white subway tile-lined little restaurant tucked into a renovated historic cereal mill, Olympic Provisions pretty much embodies the edgy essence of Portland’s still-gritty Southeast industrial district. Joining longtime culinary residents like Clarklewis and Produce Row and newer ones like Boke Bowl and Bunk Bar in deliciously populating this stretch of warehouse jungle framed by the concrete forks of the Morrison Bridge and the Willamette’s east waterfront, OP’s unmatched cheese and charcuterie boards, meaty eats like the ethereal pork rillettes hand pie and hearty choucroute garni, superb desserts (don’t miss the chocolate salami) and excellent wine list all make for the perfect reason to explore a part of town you might otherwise overlook. Plus, they offer complimentary canisters of pepper spray to help you make it back to your car intact. Just kidding! You’re on your own!
Chef and husband/wife team Greg and Gabrielle Denton’s widely worshipped Argentine-inspired Northeast Portland hotspot is many things to many people—a highly evolved steakhouse, a surprising source of superb plant-based dishes and allergy-friendly desserts, a purveyor of exceptional cocktails, aaand, originator of some of the best, richest, most memorable chowder you will ever eat. (And I eat a LOT of chowder.) Despite the restaurant’s beefy image, vegans and vegetarians needn’t steer clear—”from the garden” options are as compelling as the fleshy ones, and as for dessert, Gabi’s prowess with sugar and spice are legendary, and her cheese pairings and hazelnut brown butter torte with honey-chamomile ice cream have a near-fanatical following.
P’s & Q’s Market
It’s no secret that I like a good picnic, that’s why I founded the Portland Picnic Society, after all. Nothing’s more convivial than gathering a group of friends, picking a park, spreading a blanket, and commencing a fuss-free deviled egg and baguette sandwich-fueled al fresco fiesta. And speaking of fuss-free, this darling Woodlawn community cafe and market makes the picnic process as streamlined as possible–just borrow one of their beautiful wood and wicker picnic baskets, fill it with market goodies like housemade roast beef, BLT, and ham and gouda sandwiches, Castelvetrano olives, fresh stone fruit, just-baked fleur de sel-sprinkled chocolate chip cookies, and a chilled bottle of something sparkly from the cooler, head a half block down the street to lovely Woodlawn park, picnic your afternoon away, then return the basket and go home…no mess, just memories. Genius!
It should come as no surprise that this revered Northwest Portland den of deliciousness grills a mean steak. Set the tone with chilled oysters on the half shell and a bottle of Bollinger, move on to the legendary steak tartare–American Kobe Beef finely chopped and served with all the traditional accompaniments, then dig into the star of the show–a tender Highland Oak strip steak with schmaltz potatoes, which can be ordered as a half portion for smaller appetites and budgets. End with the chef’s selection cheese plate and a 10-year Tawny port or snifter of Clear Creek’s Williams pear brandy, and you are officially living the good life.
Bringing a touch of gloss and glamour to the Central Eastside, this pizza and pasta-centric eatery anchors a block of deliciousness, with adjoining sister enterprises including Mi Piace specialty market, Ancient Heritage Dairy’s creamery, and beloved Alma Chocolate’s production space. Kickstart your meal with one of the excellent cocktails, dabble in the bites and antipasti, then dive into the pasta and pizza sections of the menu, which hold such delicacies as mint pappardelle with braised beef shank and leek ash corzetti with clams, pork sausage and black garlic, and a handful of nicely blistered pies, from a classic margherita to the robust beef tongue, bone marrow and peppers. Early bird eaters, flit in for the bar-bound weekday Punch Hour.
Southeast Wine Collective
The only thing better than a one-winery tasting room is a four-winery tasting room—or so thought local labels Vincent Wine Company, Bow & Arrow Wines, Helioterra Wines and Division Winemaking Company, who combined their fermented forces to open the Southeast Wine Collective on increasingly gastronomically gifted SE Division Street. Sip their wines, sip their friends’ wines and brews (the menu features diverse guest pours), and nibble cheese and charcuterie while reminiscing about the old days when four-winery urban tasting rooms were just fodder for the city girl/boy’s “in your wildest dreams” file.