Three lauded breweries—Von Ebert (formerly Fat Head’s), Rogue, and BridgePort—have recently upped their games.
“We only shut down for eight days,” says Tom Cook, referring to the time span between the closing of Fat Head’s Brewing and the opening of its already much-acclaimed successor, Von Ebert Brewing (131 NW 13th Ave, 503-820-7721, vonebertbrewing.com). “They were some of the most stressful and yet rewarding eight days of my life, and we all worked hard for two-and-a-half months to prepare,” he adds, noting that he retained the entire staff throughout the busy process. Cook, the new brewery and pub’s owner, sounds at once astonished and gratified—and justly proud of this new venture that opened March 26.
He explains that his parting ways with Fat Head’s, which is focused primarily on its operations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, was amicable. At Von Ebert, which is named for his beloved great-grandmother and family matriarch, Cook has embraced an ambitious new brewing program.
“We’re trying to become a world-class, all-around brewery. We don’t want to be good at just one or two or even three styles.”
Von Ebert retains an airy, industrial vibe and doesn’t appear particularly different upon first glance. It’s when you pick up a fork and knife that you’ll immediately notice a key improvement. “I’m proud of the whole place but especially the new menu,” says Cook, who held an informal food competition among members of his management team in order to come up with the best culinary offerings.
Star food items include a superb charcuterie and cheese board highlighted by Spanish chorizo and Purple Haze goat cheese, and a pork belly Cubano sandwich, which Cook describes as “pretty awesome. We slice it lengthways, with the meat and cheese sticking out of the ciabatta bread.” He’s also a big fan of the mac and cheese bowl, which is prepared fresh to order and contains a house-made cheese sauce and a Parmesan-panko crust.
But what really has fans talking is that Cook has doubled down on Von Ebert’s brewing mission. He hired Sean Burke and Sam Pecoraro—both alumni of the former Commons Brewery—to oversee the beer making both in the Pearl and at the new East Side location at Glendoveer Golf Course. And he’s unveiled a plan for Von Ebert to release 100 different beers annually. “It’s really not as ambitious as it sounds,” says Cook, with genuine modesty. “We’re trying to become a world-class, all-around brewery. We don’t want to be good at just one or two or even three styles.”
In an effort to avoid being pigeon-holed, Cook plans a constantly changing tap rotation but will likely always offer a few fan favorites, such as hazy and New England–style IPAs, both increasingly en vogue. “Another trend is demand for German-style pilsner, and German lagers in general,” he adds. “That’s a style I think we’ll always have available.”
A couple blocks away, after 18 years as a brewing powerhouse in the neighborhood, Rogue Pearl Public House (1339 NW Flanders St, 503-222-5910, rogue.com) completed a dramatic remodel in early April. “One big thing we incorporated into the design is more taps,” says Lisa Johnson, pub marketing manager. “We added 7, for a total of 42, so that we could still feature our legends but also all of our new styles, including the really super-small-batch stuff that our brewmaster is always messing around with.”
The dining space now has a sleeker, less-cluttered look with blond-wood tables and Edison-bulb lighting. Rogue has also hired a new executive chef to overhaul the menus at all of its pubs. “We kept a lot of our favorites—the pizza and hazelnut-cranberry salad,” she says. “But we’ve added some great new dishes, from dirty sweet potato fries to honey kolsch–braised pork belly lettuce wraps with Korean barbecue sauce.”
Venerable BridgePort Brewing (1313 NW Marshall St, 503-241-3612, bridgeportbrew.com) has also made impressive new changes, building a gorgeous new downstairs bar with reclaimed wood and brushed-zinc accents, and unveiling a new pilot brewery responsible for developing new beer recipes. “The goal is for guests to see our new bar when they first walk through the door and belly up to it for a couple beers,” says Dave Pendleton, BridgePort’s general manager. “And we want our beer list to fluctuate more quickly, so there’s something new to try on subsequent visits.”
To this end, BridgePort has already released a Mexican-style lager, hefeweizen, and Belgian blond—all styles they’d not been able to create prior to building their new pilot brewery.
By Andrew Collins | Photos from top: by Paul Wagtouicz; by Paolo Ferraris