When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Oven+Vine Location: 14 West Vernon Ave Open: About two months Eats: Brick oven fare Price: $15-20 per person
When it comes to comfort food, our go-to is carbs. Nothing that can turn a bad day around like a bowl of pasta or a side of toasted bread dipped in olive oil or butter.
For both of these things, Oven+Vine delivers.
The restaurant comes courtesy of Michelle and Dylan Bethge, who owned Portland's until the restaurant and wine bar closed earlier this year. They told us in February that their new spot would be a "cozy neighborhood place" with brick oven-focused food.
You'll find the restaurant on the back side of the 1940s brick building that also houses Shine Coffee's Living Room. The space, though slightly hidden from the street, is bright, airy, and clean with a few touches from the building's past. There's a brick fireplace in the center of the dining room and tall windows looking out to a small grassy area with games. A small bar at the front of the restaurant offers 14 beers on tap as well as a selection of red and white wines by the glass and bottle.
The menu (which states, "Food critics are welcome but loyal customers are king") includes starters, salads, sandwiches, flatbreads, pastas, and a handful of specialty entrees. Not everything sees in the inside of the restaurant's brick oven, but it's clearly the focus of the restaurant's cuisine.
You have the option to order an appetizer of freshly baked bread with olive oil and balsamic ($2), but on our visit the crusty bread came with nearly everything we ordered. Not that we're complaining. The housemade bread is soft, almost sweet on the inside with a crisp but giving crust. When toasted and drizzled with olive oil and parsley, it's just about impossible to resist. We didn't even try.
About four slices of it came with our order of burrata. The fresh cheese curds are light and clean and for $6, makes an affordable way to start the meal. In fact, we were impressed that all of the restaurant's starters fell at or below the $6 price mark.
To cut the carbs, we also went for a bowl of greens. The Ashland Salad ($6) makes a nice side or starter and comes with a couple more slices of bread (yay!). The bowl of tender baby spinach comes covered in roasted onions and smoked bacon both of which were a nice contrast to the surprisingly sweet Parmesan peppercorn dressing. We would have preferred something with a little more of a peppery kick but either way the value felt right for the quality of ingredients.
Both the flatbreads and the pastas at Oven+Vine are baked and though we don't know who Scotty is we did enjoy his namesake Scotty's Sausage & Mushroom flatbread ($10.50).
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The rectangular pizza features thick slices of Schreiner's sausages and mushrooms as well as a thin layer of melted mozzarella cheese. The housemade tomato sauce is a highlight, with nice, bright balance between sweetness and acidity. The crust is perfectly acceptable, but we left ours in favor of eating yet another slice of bread.
On paper the Baked Vegetable Pesto ($9) sounds pretty flat -- which is a shame because it was our favorite part of the meal. The bowl of rigatoni arrives piping hot and covered in a layer of melted cheese. Break into it and you'll find perfectly al dente pasta mixed with a medley of roasted vegetables. We loved the variety of veggies -- our bowl offered broccoli, zucchini, bell peppers, and more -- and the subtle but fresh basil pesto.
For the surrounding neighborhood, Oven+Vine make a comfortable and affordable place for lunch, dinner, and drinks. The price point lends itself to becoming regular haunt for locals and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m during the week the restaurant also offers happy hour deals including $2 off glasses of wine and $1 off appetizers and draft beer.