What would you call a warm blanket of heavenly pretzel bread from a master German baker snuggled around a slim, mile-long, rigorously crafted Old World frank whose blistered skin yields quickly to juicy snaps of pure pork meat? A reimagined pig-in-the-blanket with artisan street creds? A new contender for Portland’s best sandwich? A fair deal at $7 aided by Olympic Provisions meat craft, boldly seeded homemade mustard and, for good measure, fat little blocks of perfect pickled beets for noshing?
"The Frank” is easily all of these – and one of many surprises at the just-opened Fressen Artisan Bakery at 523 NE 19 Ave. The esteemed Portland Farmers Market vendor opened its first brick-and-mortar way off the radar a few weeks ago on a bleak stretch of Nowheresville. Here, baker Edgar Loesch showcases selections from his stellar repertoire of exuberant German breads, ruggedly good Danishes, and buttery crumb cakes that make him a farmer's market favorite. The option to eat Fressen’s iconic croissants six days a week alone is reason to rejoice. The Bavarian Pretzel Croissant is even better than that mash-up suggests: equal measures of butter, chew, flake, salt, and deep oven goodness. Trust me: you’ll want another one the next day.
But Loesch’s longtime storefront dream lets us see him stretch in new ways. A large blackboard menu holds his early thoughts on a bread-focused menu: rolls with fresh jams; sandwiches starring salamis and hams and pretzel baguettes ($6-$7.50); and specials like panade, a kind of gratin-meets-bread pudding fashioned here from potato bread, pretzel bread, monumental hunks of squash and gruyere cheese ($8). Even the individual frittatas are lovely: thin, delicate flaps of sunny egg omelets carpeted with wild mushrooms, generous herbs, and tangy goat cheese or perhaps smoky bacon and cheddar. Like many things here, they arrive with thick wedges of sunflower seed-crusted Vollkornbrot bread.
Kinks are stills shaking out. The best sandwiches emerge warm and toasty from the oven. Others come straight from the too-cool deli case, rendering ingredients a bit tough and unmarried. For breakfast, Kaiserschmarm pancakes, served in cut-up pieces according to tradition, are more odd than crave-worthy, like a heap of pancake croutons, though the fantastic fresh apple butter and gorgeous, tea-soaked prunes show the attention to quality that clearly matters here.
Unlike the house bread art, the Soviet Bloc atmosphere is far from heaven, what with the empty window box at the door, the random indoor gravel, the forlorn grey curtain, and the dingy acoustic tile. But Loesch, who moved into the former Black Sheep Bakery space on an unexpected two weeks notice, says fresh paint and upgrades are coming. I suspect the quick transition is among the reasons why only Fressen's loyal market customers heard word of the opening.
But even an upgraded Fressen is unlikely to be mistaken for a Bruce Carey restaurant. This is a guy without deep pockets who lives to craft the perfect slab of bread. Still, with a little work, the bones and heart are here for a café of simple, personalized comfort.
Loesch’s long-range plan includes an expansion of Fressen’s pastries, holiday’s specials, and an unfolding wave of East European sandwich adventures that speak to his youth in Germany and Romania. He hopes to have a more set menu by mid-November.
For now, even in its half-baked form, Fressen is an excitement.
523 NE 19 Ave.
7 am to 3 pm Monday-Friday; 8 am to 1 pm Saturday; closed Sunday