Lazin’ On a Sunny Afternoon – Marshall Manning reviews the bar at Higgins Restaurant [Note: this review is only of the bar area. There is a full review of the entire restaurant here.]
Friday was one of those days I don’t have often enough. It was the kind of day I’d have frequently if I ever got lucky enough to win the lottery. It was a clear, nicely warm fall day, still feeling like the end of summer. I had taken the day off work, with nothing particular to do, only to have a relaxing Friday. After washing my car I decided to treat myself to lunch and decided to head to Higgins.
My wife and I have eaten at Higgins a few times, and have had a couple of mediocre meals and also one experience that was probably our worst meal in Portland. Despite that, I keep hearing that I should eat in the bar and try the burger, which seems to be considered one of the best in town. With the top down I headed downtown and I appeared to have luck on my side as I found a spot right in front of the restaurant. Getting a spot in the bar a little after 1:00 wasn’t an issue with most of the lunchtime rush leaving in order to provide me with prime parking spots.
While there were other items on the menu that looked tasty, including the house-cured pastrami sandwich, my mission on this trip was to try the hamburger. After ordering the burger on the rare side of medium rare, I ordered what appeared to be the best by the glass pour for my taste, a 2001 Coriancon Cotes du Rhone. While Higgins has a reputation for having a good wine list, the small selection of by-the-glass wines weren’t inspiring, and like the main list, were mainly focused on wines from California, Oregon, and Washington, with a few European selections thrown in. There aren’t too many bargains on the bottle list, and I think it could show a bit more imagination with the selection, as well as a slightly lower markup.
The Coriancon was a solid wine, a bit plumy and with a light prune when sipped alone, but it matched very well with the burger. The wine was served a little on the warm side (I’ll deal with this in a future column, but most restaurants serve their red wines too warm and their whites too cold), which probably brought these characteristics out more than if the wine had been served at the proper temperature. The patty was about ¾” thick, and was cooked perfectly, nicely browned on the outside, but beautifully pink and almost rare on the inside, just like I had ordered. The burger was dressed simply, with a lightly garlic aioli, cheddar cheese, and onion, tomato and lettuce on the side. I like to really taste the meat on my burgers, so I just added one onion slice. This might be the beefiest tasting burger in town (it’s made from freshly ground Painted Hills sirloin), and the rosemary bun was a nice addition, although it could have been grilled to soften it up a bit. With the nearly rare beef the Cotes du Rhone lost some of its plumy character and the smoky accent in the wine was accented by the burger. This was a pretty nice Cotes du Rhone for $6.50 per glass, and I can recommend it with the tasty burger or other beef selections.
After cruising around enjoying the weather and running a couple of errands, I decided to visit Southpark and check out the bar and wine list. At 3:00 in the afternoon the bar was fairly empty, so there was plenty of room for me to spread the three wine lists out while sipping a glass of the delicious 2004 Chidaine Touraine. There’s a small list that mainly features the 21 by-the-glass selections and the themed wine flights, a large list that includes these items plus the bottle selections, and a third small list available by request for those looking for something really rare and geeky, called the “Vins du Garage” list. While there are some interesting selections on the Garage list, the regular list is enough to satisfy even the hardcore wine geek, and there are lots of interesting wines on the list, as well as some good bargains. Almost all of the 21 by-the-glass selections are available by the half glass, glass, or carafe (the sparkling wines are only available by the glass), and there’s a wide selection of whites and reds from around the world, including some fairly obscure gems like the Chidaine Touraine (Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley), the Edmunds St. John Pink Froid Rose, and the Camille Saves Carte Blanche Brut Champagne.
Not only does Southpark have a very satisfying by-the-glass list, but the bottle list is also interesting, with over 75 wines listed by style. The list does includes some obvious choices for those who want local Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir, but also features some delicious German Rieslings, refreshing roses (which match very well with the fritto misto, some of the best fried calamari in town), and wines from Spain, South Africa, Italy, Argentina, Australia, and other wine regions. As with many restaurant lists, some wines are priced higher than others relative to their wholesale or retail prices, but the average seems to be around two times retail, which is fairly standard for Portland. While I’d like to see slightly lower markups across the board here, there are some bargains to be had. It’s tough to make specific recommendations since Southpark changes their wine list almost every week, but the wines from Edmunds St. John, one of California’s best wineries, are all fairly priced and the 2002 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese at $46 is less than twice retail and will make any German wine fan happy.
After the delicious Chidaine, as well as a small taste of a J. Christopher Sauvignon Blanc offered by the bartender, it was time to head home. Even though it was nearing 4:00 on a Friday afternoon, there was no traffic on Barbur and I was able to cruise home with the sun shining on my forehead and a big smile on my face. Unfortunately, I can’t do this every day, unless someone out there has some winning lotto numbers for me. If you do, next time I’ll pay someone else to wash my car. And I’ll treat you to the $145 bottle of 1990 Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Millenaires Champagne at Southpark.
- Address: 1239 SW Broadway, Portland, 97205
- Phone: (503) 222-9070
- Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am-12:00am, Sat 4:00pm-12:am