Brix & Mortar

A modern take on a classic neighborhood hangout

With a warm, handsome interior that strikes a pleasing balance between intimacy and expansiveness, Brix Tavern (1338 NW Hoyt St, 503-943-5995, brixtavern.com) sets a welcoming mood for just about any social occasion that revolves around food and drink: happy hour with a few friends, brunch on a lazy weekend, solo dining during a leisurely lunch break, a romantic-yet-informal dinner with a new or old flame. It’s the quintessential milieu for a satisfying meal and genial conversation.

“We’re all about American comfort food, home cooking, and fresh, local ingredients,” says Annette Atkinson, sales and events manager of the tavern’s parent company, Urban Restaurant Group. “And our employees, including the owners and chef, all live in town—we’re local, too,” she says, about why Brix so successfully appeals to just about every segment of Portland’s dining public, including families. Kids are encouraged to doodle with crayons on the butcher paper that covers each table.

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This easygoing neighborhood restaurant opened in April 2011 in a former warehouse just a few doors west of the historic NW 13th Avenue corridor. Its sibling operations within Urban Restaurant Group include Urban Fondue and Bartini in Nob Hill, Swank and Swine in downtown’s natty Paramount Hotel, and Urban Studio event space and Pearl Catering, which are both at 10th and Davis. The company has convincingly perfected the art of hospitality, as all of its venues convey a sense of urbane sophistication absent any stuffiness or pretentions.

Upon stepping into the dining room, you’ll discover a central space framed on one side by a long, curving leather banquette. Enormous street-facing windows let in plenty of light, and there’s comfy seating for singles or pairs at the bar, over which several TV monitors show collegiate and pro sports events. Exposed ducts and timber ceilings recall the building’s industrial past. In back, you’ll find another large seating area with one of the Pearl’s few pool tables, as well as two dart boards—and above that a romantic loft-level dining area that’s popular for private parties. Soaring clerestory windows ensure that even these deep-interior spaces receive plenty of natural light during the day. In warm weather, patrons relax outside at one of the half-dozen sidewalk tables.

“We’re all about American comfort food; home cooking; and fresh, local ingredients.”

Brix opens at 11 a.m. on weekdays and 9:30 on weekends for brunch, and the place buzzes with positive energy throughout the afternoon—especially during the convivial happy hour—and right into the late evening. Local workers flock here early in the day to take advantage of the generous lunch special: the half-sandwich of the day with soup or salad for just $6.95.

Budget-friendly deals and fun events play a key role in the Brix approach. A large blackboard in the dining room is festooned with colored-chalk announcements: “Bottomless Mimosa Brunch” on weekends, Thursday evening’s “three-course dinner + cocktail” with live music for $30, delicious daily pizza specials (a recent one featured butternut squash, blue cheese, bacon, and arugula). Atkinson says brunch here has become a neighborhood institution. “It’s a boozy affair—bubbles with every bite,” she says with a smile, referring to the endless supply of mimosas. Also: “As soon as you walk in, you’re treated to complimentary raspberry-jelly doughnuts topped with lemon curd.” Top picks from the brunch menu include “chicken-fried chicken” and eggs with country gravy, and an omelet with rock shrimp and Dungeness crab.

The terrific happy hours (3–6:30 p.m. and 9:30–close most days, but from 3 p.m. until closing on Sunday and Monday) feature an extensive food menu. They’re a fine time to sample the much-raved-about “Brix chips,” a nachos-style dish consisting of verde-roasted pork shoulder, baked cheddar, grilled-tomato salsa, cilantro cream, and tortilla chips. Also tempting: the barbecue-bacon chopped salad with Oregon blue cheese, and the West Burger topped with barbecue-pulled pork on a pretzel bun, with house sauce, fried egg, shredded lettuce, and vine-ripe tomato. Truffled mac and cheese, wood-fired artisan pizzas baked in an oven overlooking the dining room, and a few more substantial entrées, like steak and grilled salmon, round out the full dinner menu.

A great deal of care has been invested into the drinks menu at Brix, which features a nice selection of Oregon beers and mostly Northwest wines, as well as some tempting craft cocktails, perhaps the amusingly named, deliciously conceived “Drunk at the Orchard” (vodka, St. Germain, fresh lemon, house-made chai syrup, Angostura bitters, cider, and a dried-apple garnish). You can also sample one of the house infusions, such as vanilla bourbon, served up, over ice, or as a shot.

The biggest crowd pleaser taps into the tavern’s sense of fun and hospitality: “Everybody loves our ‘bag beer,’” says Atkinson, referring to the restaurant’s $3 special for ale-loving adventurers. “You don’t find out what kind of beer it is until it arrives at your table, wrapped discreetly in a brown paper bag.” – Andrew Collins / Photos by Ashley Anderson

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