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screendoor.jpgNormally I would be a generous hostess, and post the guest review first. But as I’ve tried to create a somewhat cohesive review (I only said TRIED), I’ve posted Marnie’s and Leo’s review after mine. You have my permission to skip directly there if you like.

The gang

Everyone’s palate is geared differently, and consequently everyone has their favorite styles of cooking. The two I most frequently hear people going on about are Indian and Thai. As far as Asian foods, Japanese and Thai are my two favorites “from the East,” but as my tastes for both of them go in streaks, I wouldn’t put them amongst my absolute favorite types of cuisine to eat as frequently as possible. What are my favorites? (hey, at least I’m interested in this topic.) They would have to be Mexican, Caribbean, Italian, and Southern (in no particular order.) Is it any wonder I’ve gained a clothing size over the last two years? (yes, we’ll leave it as a single digit clothing increase.) These aren’t exactly light and healthy fares.
Getting good quality Mexican and Italian meals around Portland is pretty easy, we have it all from cheap to expensive, from knock-off to authentic. Caribbean and Southern are always more difficult around here, they have their connection to each other through Cajun and Creole, mingling on multiple fronts, but for some reason the Pacific Northwest is just a little too North, and a little too West to make it a mecca for these two delicious cuisines. BBQ is one thing, Portland has some good barbecue joints, but other southern specialties, they just aren’t that wide ranging here, except perhaps in some of those humble little places in No Po I just never make it to.
Portland does have a couple of more flashy southern places, both centered on New Orleans cuisine, Roux and Acadia, both great restaurants that have been on RR’s roster. As far as more modest sort of eateries for down home southern cuisine, Portland has four major ones at this point, The Delta Cafe, Bistro Montage, Bernie’s Southern Bistro, and since late last summer, Screen Door. The Delta is a great deal, with a large menu, good food, and even inexpensive drinks. I have always considered it a “fringe scary place” though, the servers are pretty rough and tough looking, and although I’ve never heard anything about health issues, whenever I eat there I always feel disease is soon to follow. (But it never has.) A step above this is Bistro Montage, it definitely has a more interesting space, but I generally don’t like my eating experience this edgy and inconsistent, and while I’ve enjoyed meals there, the floor alone gives me the willies. It’s a fun kind of place to go, just don’t expect excellence, except from your foil wrapped leftover artwork. People flock to Bernie’s, often because of the pleasant patio, but when a restaurant turns groves of people away in the summer because it doesn’t believe in utilizing its inside seating when the weather is nice, it strikes me as just plain rude.
Which brings me to Sofa, Table, and Screen Door. Oh, sorry, Screen Door, but previous to that for several years it was a small, off the beaten path little place that sold specialty furniture (Sofa, Table + Chair.) I’m always amazed when someone takes something like a furniture store, or a warehouse, or a draperies factory (Roux,) and makes it into a restaurant. I guess in my mind, restaurants need to be built as restaurants, or restaurants need to begat other restaurants. Which is silly, because some of the weirdest spaces are transitioned into beautiful restaurants (see Oba!, Fratelli and Olea, etc.) But sometimes I still find the concept baffling, the whole idea of how much effort and money it must take to transition a furniture store, or a brothel (Echo,) or whatever, into a full service restaurant with a big fancy kitchen and everything else involved.
I think they did a nice job with Screen Door. I was expecting a very simple place, as the building facade is totally non-descript, but it seems to me that someone put a great deal of thought into how to make such a simple space into a warm and inviting dining area. To me the lighting and colors and furnishings were pleasant, atmospheric and enjoyable. Although the menu is a simple one, you are still impressed that you are dining in a pretty nice place.
As it was “a big holiday weekend,” our party consisted of a mere seven eager diners (after all, the reservation wasn’t untilDebutant Martini 8:30, and I was pretty food eager by then.) Having earlier partaken of the abundantly adequate and wonderfully priced happy hour at the newly opened “The Chesterfield” down the street, libations were not a major concern for me, but my happy hour cohort Pam and I (by the way, if you can be a cohort, can you be a hort?) arrived to find four members of our party spilling out the side door onto the sidewalk, cocktails in hand. As I don’t remember any sort of partitioned off seating area, I don’t think this is actually legal in Oregon, to be standing on the sidewalk with a drink, but with all the impromptu outside seating areas in Portland, especially in the Pearl and NW Portland, who could really say anymore?
toast and cheese Once we were all assembled, we were immediately taken to our table. This being a Southern restaurant, the usual displays of hot sauces were at each table. Sucker for specialty drinks that I am, I did weaken and have a Debutant Martini, an awful concoction of Raspberry Vodka, Bailey’s, Kahlua, and Chocolate Sauce. Not exactly a light and refreshing summer drink. Everyone else seemed to be having Dog Hefeweizens, G & Ts, rum and cokes, and wine. Several people, probably living in fear of abject testiness over dining so late, had cheated and had very substantial snacks earlier, so starters were ordered (and kindly shared,) in moderation. The taste I had of the butter lettuce salad was extremely good. Bev kindly made everyone a snack by slathering all the pieces of her toasted bread with the accompanying pimento cheese spread and passing them up and down the table. I had two, because while pimento cheese spread may sound like a Kraft nightmare, it was actuallyFried Oysters delicious, the cheese was creamy and had a spicy bite from cayenne pepper, and given the chance, I probably could have made an entire meal of this particular bread and spread. Also completely good were my fried oysters, these having the lightest and crunchiest coating I can ever remember having, and non-greasy to the extreme.
As far as the entrees, I didn’t really hear anyone take a bite and yell out, “Yechh, this is total crap.” A couple of people did seem lukewarm in their enthusiasm over the choices they had made. Although Leo’s Carlton Farms Pork Shank struck me as perfectly decent, he was definitely taken back by its lack of zing and absence of succulence. I think it would have been yummy in a pot of white beans though. Although they were on the point of evening extinction, Screen Door PlateMarnie selected the pan fried trout. From what I saw, Leo seemed to eat most of it. Three people decided on the Screen Door plate, which was basically a choice of any three side items. I was told the pork chop was pretty Shake and Bakey, but the bite I had seemed okay, not totally dried out, and with quite a few spices going. The two people who had the fried catfish said it was exceptional, and based on the taste I had I would agree, the flesh was of the highest quality and extremely mild, and the coating light and crispy. Two out of three people gave a gigantic thumbs down to the mashed sweet potatoes (and I was one of them,) which to me smelled like tea, of all things, and weren’t prepared in the way I appreciate them, so sweet and spicy they taste like pumpkin pie. Two out of three also gave the molasses looking cornbread the thumbs down, it being proclaimed weird, dry, and bland.
The other two people at our table had the fried chicken. One of the reasons I blathered on so fully at the beginning ofScreen Door Plate (catfish) this without reason eating exodus about the other Southern restaurants in Portland was so that my review could reach this exciting and dramatic crescendo (zzz) where I compared the fried chicken at all the leading southern restaurants to decide which one was superior! I’m so creative and crafty (zzz.)
Well, to start off with Bistro Montage, I don’t think they even have fried chicken as a regular menu item, although their cornmeal coated oysters are serviceable and generous. The one time I actually was fortunate enough to be given a table at Bernie’s Southern Bistro, I made sure I had their “famous fried chicken.” I found it Fried Chickenno more than okay. Although the Delta Cafe has pretty good catfish, I also found their fried chicken pretty so-so. Which leads me to Screen Door. I actually found their fried chicken highly superior to the other two places, the two who are always flaunting their supposedly wonderful fried birds, and of the three aforementioned places, Screen Door is the only place I would order it again. The preparation and coating was the same, or extremely similar to, how the oysters were prepared earlier, crackly, flavorful, and non-greasy. The chicken itself was also moist, even my non-favored breast portion wasn’t dried out. For all chicken lovers, I would recommend it highly, and the accompanying gravy (and I’m not a pan gravy fan,) was a delicious, probably heart-attack inducing little cupful of what tasted like liquefied bacon (and what could be yummier than that?)
As for the desserts, I originally learned about Screen Door from Tori and Dave (missing due to popularity,) and once again was warned before the event, “we must all try the banana pudding.” I always get scared by people who do gynecological exams (and that was Dave,) so several people followed doctor’s orders and took the prescription for a happy and healthy palate, the banana pudding. Infidel that I must be, I had the chocolate cream pie, with the understanding that Pam and I would do swapsies with part of our desserts (Pam had the banana pudding.) So that made three orders of banana pudding, two orders of chocolate cream pie, and two party poopers who were going to be good sports and taste ours. (They are so generous.) Normally I would have probably had the banana pudding, but you just don’t see chocolate cream pie on menus around here very often. It was fine, if perhaps a bit intense for my tastes (chocolate cream pie can actually be somewhat light.) The banana pudding got rave reviews though, and I found it quite creamy and rich. I did hear one of the crazies at the end of the table complaining that the vanilla wafers that came with it were too high quality, buttery and sweet [marnie’s note: I’d never say anything was too buttery or high quality, but I did think it was too sweet.*] What Tallyingdo you expect from THOSE PEOPLE, they seem to live off of coffee, and often eat like birds. I can see being aghast when Meriwethers NW didn’t have espresso, but espresso and down home southern cuisine, it just doesn’t seem right.
Ghastly though the thought may be, I must have a down home southern girl hiding deep, deep, deep inside of me, as I liked Screen Door a lot. Ditto for Pam. Sure it’s not elegant, and some of the food lacks a certain lightness and complexity, but it’s still good hearty food. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the service, but it certainly wasn’t bad. And the bill was in the mid $236 range for a change, which is nice. People have mentioned to me in the past that they would like to see a few more economic places on the roster, and this place wasn’t cost prohibitive. And as a person whose life hasn’t actually gone that smoothly through certain stretches, I enjoy a bit of comfort food now and then.
And now, a slightly different look at Friday’s dining event from Marnie and Leo …….

Leo and I arrived at Screen Door, early, as is often the case. We were wise, though, noting our late reservation, we planned to have a light meal earlier in the evening. When we arrived, we told the host that we were with Jackie Morrow’s group and he blanched. We then clarified that we were early, at which point, he ceased his mild epileptic fit and directed us to the bar for a drink. We both ordered Safire and Tonic with extra lime. If the mark of a good gin and tonic were a decided deficiency of tonic, we’d have a winner. Personally, I prefer a slightly milder concoction, but I’m probably in the minority here.
We stepped outside, to enjoy the lovely evening and sip our drinks. At one point, Leo felt a few drops on his head and wondered if I had spit on him. He looked down, and his new shirt showed some discolored splotches. While I’m only 99.9% sure I didn’t spit on him, I’m 100% sure my spit does not bleach color. As the evening wore on, those dots became lighter and lighter. Is this some new form of acid (or base) rain? Is Al Gore aware? Won’t someone think of the CHILDREN?
Bleachy stain Acid washed effects aside, it was a nice change of pace to be able to wait to be seated where we weren’t crammed or in a stuffy entrance. The entire crew showed up, 15 minutes later, as though they were all attending a party we weren’t invited to. I’m not pointing any fingers or making any allegations but I’ve got my eye on you guys.
We were seated quickly and handed our menus. Most people received the dinner menu but I got the breakfast one. Alas, I was not permitted to order any of the Eggs Benedict. To be frank, any option after that tease would be a let down for me. Looking over the dinner menu, I wasn’t terribly excited about the selection. I’m all for keeping menus small and specialized but I’m not really that fond of southern food, as a whole, and nothing was jumping out at me. After a bad experience as a waitress in a restaurant that served fried chicken as a specialty, I am forever soured to the dish. I don’t generally like pork and I was hoping for something lighter than the fried dishes. At this point, I was leaning towards the mix and match Screen Door Platter, until the waitress told us the night’s specials. When she mentioned the pan fried trout and said there were three servings of it left, I knew I had to score one while there was still time. I asked her to hold one for me.
After ordering appetizers and drinks (of which Leo and I only had the latter) it seemed like an eternity before our actual dinner orders were taken. Those who did order appetizers gladly shared and we picked at a few of them.
When our orders were finally taken, Leo, who had been wringing his hands trying to decide between the various hunks of meat came to a decision. After much deliberation, he decided on the Pork Shank, with the assurance from Jackie that she would share her Fried Chicken. Our meals arrived and I heard certain keyTrout words flutter around the table; delicate and mild, being top on the list. Leo cut right to the chase, these dishes were bland. I’m sort of on the line about this. On the one hand, starting a little more bland allows people to spice up and season their dish as they please. On the other hand, I can make my own crappy food, I want someone to wow me with their flavor Pork Shankcombining prowess. My trout was very nicely prepared. It was pan fried and de-boned (well, minimally boned, there were a few booby-trap remaining) with a lovely crisp skin. There was a mild sauce with sweet corn and cherry tomatoes that nicely complimented the dish. However, it was, indeed, pretty bland. The flavors were nice, but the whole thing could have used some lemon or white wine to brighten it.
Leo’s pork was rather dry and, once again, quite bland. Near the end of the meal, he resorted to covering it with hot sauce and salt, but this only served to underscore how inadequate the seasoning was. At some point, one is simply using the meat as a delivery system for the hot sauce. As the meal progressed, Leo realized he wasn’t enjoying his meal that much and we switched plates. He polished off my fish, including the eyeballEyeballs, then took his plate back to finish off his pork.
Having picked at some of Pam’s dish, I noticed that the potato salad was quite good. This isn’t anything to write home to mom about, but for a standard potato salad, it was nice.
To finish the meal, Leo and I asked for some espresso, and on Tori and Dave’s recommendation, he got the banana pudding. Screen Door does not offer espresso. What is that about? This is the Pacific Northwest. You should be able to get any sort of espresso drink, served to you by someone in a plaid flannel, who is friends with someone who saw Bigfoot. We settled for coffee. The pudding was excellent (if you like banana pudding,) making it the most well received dish of the evening, for our bleach speckled hero.
So Screen Door didn’t wow us, though it wasn’t bad. It was fairly affordable, with good drinks and nice, albeit a little slow, service. The company, as always, was great, but I don’t think we’ll be making our Valentine’s reservations there.

*Being the webmaster has its perks

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