Chef Ian Watson is thankful for terrible weather—well, kind of. Along with baker/pastry chef Marissa Lorette and Kevin Dorney, he opened Cully’s homey new breakfast and lunch spot Beeswing on January 1—just in time for our near-biblical plague of snow and ice storms. “It was a convenient handicap,” he says, with a chuckle. “It regulated the number of people who would wander in to eat. It gave us breathing room to figure out the menu.”
The slow start paid off for the three owners. Now, as spring starts to limp along, Beeswing’s blond wood tables and booths are crowded with neighborhood families meeting up for brunch, each with a couple of toddlers or a BabyBjörn-ed infant in tow (and a few mimosas and micheladas in hand). Packed to the gills with house-baked, smoked, and roasted comfort, this place is as cozy as your own kitchen table—if you don’t mind happy kid shrieks soundtracking your refills of Stumptown.
A former corner market and smoke shop near Bison Coffeehouse (and Skinn strip club) in the rapid-fire ascending Cully neighborhood, Beeswing is huge—you could fit three normal-sized Portland brunch joints inside it; four if you count the sprawling patio that the staff is itching to deploy come the first sign of sunshine.
Co-owner Dorney, who also co-owns Hollywood pub staple Moon & Sixpence, worked for two years rehabbing the space; lovingly papering the airy dining room floor-to-ceiling with old copies of the Oregonian and Seattle Times, as well as sheet music for 1920s-era Irving Berlin hits. Vintage coffee cans stand sentinel above the entryways, while garage pegboards obscure the massive kitchen, which serves as a playpen for its pair of longtime local restaurant insiders. Among other gigs, Watson helped spearhead Old Salt’s brunch program before running the commissary kitchen for Pok Pok for a few years. Lorette is a Bakeshop vet who spent time at San Francisco’s lauded Tartine and debuted Old Salt’s habit-forming anadama bread. So, yeah, they've got this.
The pair’s yen for bright, clean flavors and seasonal ingredients enliven their accessible menu, which was primarily dreamed up by Lorette—as was the signage and website. One crowd pleaser already? The sourdough waffle, a perfectly griddled Belgian liege-style checkerboard of tart, yeasty goodness, slathered with butter and a chunky berry compote (or sometimes caramelized apples). A generous drizzle of maple syrup balances the bright berry notes for bite after bite of morning goodness. And it’s only $8. (Little Dutch babies often show up on the specials board, their toasty, furled edges holding pools of apple and berry juice and islands of mascarpone.)
The Breakfast Sando is a good riff on a Portland classic, with a bronzed house brioche dome, spicy aioli, and a solid ratio of ooze-to-crunch thanks to frizzled prosciutto, vinegary pickled onions, and a lace-edged fried egg. An unexpected twist on eggs Benedict takes a page from Korean cuisine, frying up a big scallion pancake paired with fish saucy braised pork belly and poached eggs—fluffy white clouds filled with molten goo, not a bit of rubber to be found. That great egg is also plopped on top of a mess of julienned veg and house smoked fish bits in the filling trout hash.
Actually, nearly everything is made in house, from the tasty, spice-laced berry jam down to the sourdough bread you ought to slather it on, and the sweet sausage in the house biscuit sandwich. Sadly, so far, those biscuits are leaden and forgettable. A better use of the kitchen’s crack pastry skills? The tall puffed crown atop Beeswing’s beef stilton pie—a triumph of long simmered beef, bright little peas, and carrots swimming in a rich, winey sauce. A molten core of blue cheese oozes through every few bites, adding flavor and funk. And that golden pastry topper flakes at a fork’s touch. It’s so good.
And for dessert, any time, there’s house pie. It must be good; it’s been sold out by 10:30 a.m. every time I’ve visited (Watson says they’ve added staff; expect more pie). Console yourself with a respectable almond croissant or a truly great chocolate chip cookie, packed with splinters of bittersweet chocolate, its sugary top offset by a bunch of flake salt—often still warm from the oven.
“It seemed like there was a void in Cully where families could eat,” says Watson. “And this is what we want to eat.” Me too.
4318 NE Cully Blvd
8 a.m.–3 p.m. Wednesday–Sunday