Soluna Grill, Branch, Free House Bar Come to PDX

Interesting new places on the horizon:

Soluna Grill will open in the old Fife location. According to the website, it is being opened by Dan Straub, a chef with a wide-ranging experience. The food looks like it will be a mixture of small plates and grilled items, though the menu shows a bit of incongruity, with selections ranging from the expected salmon and strip steak, to Asian beef short ribs, chicken Thai stir fry, penne pasta, and enchiladas. Straub is new to Oregon, and the menu is just a sample at this point, but I worry that he doesn’t quite get the food here. On the other hand, it might be just the thing to appeal to the neighborhood, so who knows. They open September 1st.

Branch Whiskey Bar opened in the space recently vacated by Alberta Oyster Bar. They are focused on Bourbon drinks, though of course have a full bar. Food is not the primary item, but they have a varied selection of small plates like a duck confit hash, house charcuterie, and a burger. So far, only one item is above $10.00. It sounds like they will expand both the cocktail and the food menu over the next few months.

Finally, Free House Bar (or at least that is what it is called on the alcohol permit) is coming to the old Bodega Wine Shop space on NE 13th and Fremont.  I haven’t found out a darn thing about it, but the space is nice, and they have a great little patio in back.

According to Kathleen at Good Stuff NW, MIX Magazine, the Oregonian’s food spinoff, is going to ten issues a year. Glad to hear. Martha Holmberg is doing a great job, and the issues I’ve seen have gotten better and better.


Elias Cairo is leaving Castagna to do meat curing for Olympic Provisions. It’s going to be tough to fill those shoes which were tough enough to fill after Kevin’s departure. I worry about what is going to happen there.


Something tells me 2010 in Portland will be the year of the charcuterie. There has been lots of talk in the food community about the new trend towards retail charcuterie. At this point Federal inspectors are few and far between, but there is worry that by having a retail charcuterie, inspectors will follow. Most local charcuterie doesn’t meet fed standards, as those standards can result in inedible food. I can’t help but wonder if it can thrive in an environment where the feds may make their presence known.

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. says

    had the housemade sausage and pork rillette at Branch on Friday and both were tasty. pretty great value for the quality and quantity of food. the sausage was intense with flavor of fennel pollen, which i personally enjoyed but might be too much for others. still – nice to see the lights on again in this space and to have Andrew back in the ‘hood slinging drinks is great for everyone. go check them out. open thurs-mon for now until 2am!

    • Andrew says

      thanks for the nice review Darryl! I’m very happy to be back on Alberta at Branch and think our concept will be a good fit with all the other great places to hang out on the street. We are keeping Branch casual with a fantastic selection of Bourbons, Scotches and Whiskeys. Our chef, Larry Tavernetti is starting off with a some what smaller menu with nothing priced over $15.00. Some of our specialties include housemade sausages, duck confit hash, pork rillets, and a skirt steak topped with chimichurri. We expect to expand our menu very soon. I’m also proud to say that Lance Mayhew will be tending bar with me on Friday and Saturday nights, this man is walking encyclopedia of knowledge about almost any spirit you can think of, and makes the best Mint Julep and Sazerac hands down. Our hours being open will also increase as we ramp up, right now it’s 2:00 am Friday and Saturday and 12:00 am the Sunday, Monday and Thursday. Please come by and check us out!

  2. herbert says

    I am very disappointed by the menu of the Soluna Grill. Fremont is full of restaurants trying to be all things to all people and serving mediocre food in the process. What is needed is a restaurant with a clear and concise concept. I am hoping that Dan Straub will patronize some successful neighborhood restaurants in the portland area and figure out what makes them great and rethink Soluna’s menu.

    • JDG says

      Fremont is full of restaurants that most people who read this site regularly probably scoff at (Perry’s, Amalfi, to name a couple) that have collectively been in business an order of magnitude longer than anything “not mediocre” that had a “clear and concise concept” (Fife, The Dining Room come to mind). Something tells me people “who don’t quite get the food here” constitute a sizable market.

  3. CO says

    “I am hoping that Dan Straub will patronize some successful neighborhood restaurants in the portland area and figure out what makes them great and rethink Soluna’s menu.”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds as if you would like them to “fall in line” with the neighborhood(read: be like everyone else). What if Soluna Grill does a really great rendition of all those seemingly incongruous dishes? then what? I just really do not see the purpose of throwing a restaurant(that is at least a month from opening) under the bus based on a few sample menu ideas.

    And, hey, at least you know there is something good to drink at at least 1 starbucks(assuming they dont start brewing beer or making wine….)!?

    • herbert says

      CO what I am worried about is that they seem to be falling in line with all of the restaurants in the neighborhood, i.e. have broad range of menus items for everyones palate instead of focusing on something and doing it great. They might do the large range of menu items okay, but as with anything, you can either do a large spectrum of things on good, but if you were to focus on you genre of good you might do it great.

      • says

        Tut-tut people! So judgemental of the neighborhood restaurants! Pullleeze! I just came from trying the new Soluna Grill and personally I have to say it was far better than the Fife I knew and loved. We were in as a party of 4 and can tell you all 4 of us were very happy with the menu and the food.

  4. extramsg says

    I believe federal inspectors are only required when you’re selling for resale (ie, wholesaling). However, there are places around much bigger than I suspect Olympic Provisions (or Tails and Trotters) will ever be currently being inspected, such as Zenner’s and Carlton Farms.

    The reason that places like Nostrana, Higgins, Kenny & Zuke’s, Ten-01, Simpatica/Laurelhurst, etc, etc, etc, haven’t been federally inspected is because they fall under the health department’s purview, not the USDA’s, from what I understand.

    • Aaron says

      Federal Inspection (ie USDA) is indeed only required when reselling products off-site. Products made & sold on the same premises fall under ODA oversight, and the ODA has been making noises over the past several years of trying to get a “better handle” on its oversight of this production as well.

      Federal Inspection requires the processor to use an established scientific model (HACCP) to demonstrate to the USDA that the products being produced are safe for consumption. Does this inherently “result in inedible food?” NO. Does it represent a significant barrier for those wanting to get into the industry? YES, but there are significant barriers involved in just about every endeavor worth pursuing (from an entrepeneur’s standpoint).

      Most likely, the Inspector that currently inspects our pork at Tails & Trotters, as well as all other production at Nicky USA’s space, will also be the inspector responsible for Olympic Provisions, and our own curing facility when it is online next year. Unlike slaughter facilities, processing does not require the Inspector to be present at all times during operations, and processors are required to submit ongoing samples for hazard analysis (ie salmonella, etc.).

  5. Nino says

    I live in the Beaumont area. I hold hope for Soluna but wonder if he can walk in Marco’s footsteps and have the relations Shaw did with local farmers. Another Northwest restaurant is fine, but Fife was way above fine…will have to see I guess.

    • Dave J. says

      Definitely agree with you–restaurants are inevitably compared with the previous tenants. When you are moving in right after Marco/Fife (and remember, Marco left because he wanted to go to North Carolina, not because business was bad), you set the bar pretty high. I worry that the menu as shown is just too scattershot. Whatever you thought of Fife, there’s no question that they had a real vision for the place, and a sense of what they were selling, and why. This menu…I just don’t get it.

      • Francis says

        Nevermind relations with farmers. These guys need to pay attention to people in their own neighborhood. They carry an air of pompous superiority. Unless somebody tells me the food is truly outstanding, I plan to keep my distance.

  6. says

    I guess my take on Soluna is A) Is the food destination worthy and/or B) does it serve the needs, tastes and dining desires of the neighborhood.
    There is a reason a place like Lauro Kitchen does well in the Division area, or that Italian Place (forget the name) on 21st and Fremont. Time will tell on Soluna. Plus, is it me, or what the heck is up with upper (above 33rd) Fremont anyway? That neighborhood should have a hopping number of quality restaurants since the demographic in Alameda could certainly support them, it’s a cute and walkable street, and there certainly are a number of restaurant spaces. Outside of one nice coffee shop (Ristretto), and what was Fife…I really can’t think of any other “good” restaurant on the street.

  7. garden girl says

    One thing that bothered me was your comment about Castagna. I happen to love both the cafe (it is the only hamburger I eat) and the restaurant (agnolotti, trio salad, spot prawns, any pasta or fish). Any transition is a challenge, but probably more so in this economic climate. Monique was one of the 3 partners (and the pastry chef) at Zefiro, she opened Castagna with Kevin and promoted Elias when Kevin left. It’s no accident that the wait staff is some of the best in Portland (I think Paley’s is also up there). I am looking forward to this next version of Castagna, although I hope they don’t take all my favorites off the menu.

  8. Duane Weaver says

    I live near Soluna and have been there twice already. I’ve had the tuna and the halibut. Both were marvelous. The mushroom dumplings that accompanied the tuna were worthy of being an entree in and of themselves. Going back tonight to try the chicken. Prices are extremely reasonable for the fare and presentations offered. Wine list is reasonably priced.
    I have not tried many restaurants in Portland yey, having only moved here in May from Chicago but this is now one of my favorites along with Higgins and Typhoon.
    Thank you Soluna for coming to my neighborhood.

  9. Food Dude says

    Let’s keep the Soluna comments over in the forums, so they are all in one place instead of spread over the site.

  10. Robert says

    hey…just wanted to let you know that the free house is open (1325 ne fremont). Cozy, warm, declicious.. Classic cocktails, and fun list of beer and wine. Board games, books, and a cool dutch shuffleboard game.