Since it opened in 2012, Portland Penny Diner has been the odd duck in Vitaly Paley’s restaurant triad. Is it a soda fountain-deli counter? A reliable lunch spot? Or just a staging ground for Paley’s monthly, Russo-loving DaNet pop-up? Three years later, we still don’t have our answer. Instead, Portland Penny has taken on another identity entirely: a happy hour and dinner destination with frybread, tapped cocktails, and shot pairings.
Paley has been working on his frybread game—what he describes as a cross between Native American, lard-fried dough, and Neapolitan fried pizza—since day one of his Hotel Lucia acquisition. It’s bouffant, barely sweet, and deep-fried, making for a sturdy “taco” base for Paley and Top Chef star, executive chef Doug Adams to play with. Top marks go to the predictable but unabashedly crave-worthy pork belly taco, glazed in sweet soy and jammed with bahn mi pickles and red jalapenos, and the “Hangtown Fry,” a creation busting at the seams with juicy fried oysters, scrambled eggs, bacon, and spicy remoulade. At $6 a pop (during Happy Hour), these gut-busters are a killer deal. The juicy, $8 “Deluxe Burger,” loaded with two patties, bacon, and pickles, isn’t a bad option either.
The newly rebranded bar stakes its claim to “the city’s largest selection of cocktails on tap”—and let’s face it, you’re going to need a drink to wash down what’s essentially a pork belly doughnut on steroids. New(ish) bartender Tony Gurdian batches eight, pre-mixed, slightly tweaked classics, like an Old Fashioned with brandy, or a Between the Sheets with gin instead of white rum, each for $5 at happy hour. But the real fun starts with the new “short orders”: shot pairings, like Pisco with a sweet and spicy skewer of grilled pineapple dusted with smoked paprika, or cachaça with a tart pickled strawberry.
Whether Portland Penny’s latest evolution will help solidify the restaurant’s name remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure: Paley and Adams are serving up one of the best bang-for-buck happy hours in the city. Get drinking.
Portland Penny Diner
410 SW Broadway
Happy Hour: Mon-Sat, 4-6pm
Dinner: Mon-Thurs, 4-11pm; Fri-Sat, 4pm-12am