You can fork into a nice stew of “summer vegetable ratatouille” at Country Cat, in Southeast’s Montavilla neighborhood. But why? This is a meat lover's paradise, the place for a teeming whole hog plate. Co-owner Adam Sappington, the guy in the one-shouldered Flintstonian apron, is one of the country’s last great Americana butchers, not to mention a pioneer of Portland’s head-to-tail movement. His partner and wife, Jackie, is the mastermind behind the kitchen’s butter-powered puddings and made-to-order cookies. The restaurant drew lines in 2013 after the Cat’s skillet-fried chicken swaddled in beef tallow sizzled on the Food Network’s hit show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
So, we need to ask: Have Portland’s meat mavens secretly joined the vegan cabal taking over Portland? The Sappingtons tell Eat Beat they have inked a deal to purchase two plant-based mainstays: five-year-old Harlow, a hippie-chic haunt for the veg-centric and gluten-free crowd, and two locations of Prasad, where yogis and rock climbers gather for healthy bowls and eye-catching smoothies.
During a phone interview, that very question made the pair snort and giggle. “Well, no, we’re not vegans yet. To be honest, an opportunity came our way … and we couldn’t resist.” That, in a nutshell, is the download from the Sappingtons, who tend to finish each other’s sentences. Recently, they say, they’ve noticed a change at their 10-year-old Country Cat: customers are thinking more about what they eat; they want more choices. They want vegan or gluten-free options, driven in part by the culinary lifestyle of their kids. As the Sappingtons put it, “It’s a growing ‘cuisine’—a way of eating with mass appeal.”
With the purchase, they are moving into Portland restaurant mogul territory, with five spots: Country Cat, the Country Cat at PDX Airport, Harlow, Prasad and Prasad East (essentially, a counter on the second floor of the Portland Rock Gym).
Still, the chef-couple insist they are not looking to blow up the menus at Harlow or Prasad, the latter of which opened its first location on Northwest Davis Street in 2010. Their initial impulse is to tap their longtime farmer relationships to shore up the heart of these kitchens: the quality of the fruits and vegetables. What’s missing from these places, they say, is a sense of localness and seasonality. “We want to pull that mentality in,” says Adam. “That’s out first line of attack, not re-conceptualizing the plates.”
After the paperwork is finalized (perhaps later this week), Harlow/Prasad chef and general manager Brittney Galloway will step aside in September, after helping the Sappingtons transition to a new kitchen crew. Galloway and owner Karen Pride say they were simply ready for a change. The restaurants demanded their attention seven days a week. “It’s time to recoup, refill, and explore other interests,” Pride says. Amen to that.
No new chef has been announced. Going forward, the Sappingtons say they will run a kitchen with no titles, and let the coconut cream rise. They also plan to roll up their sleeves and dig in. “Food is our art medium,” says Jackie, who once dabbled in the macrobiotic world. “This is a chance to look at a different way of eating and put our stamp on it.”
Will we see the birth of vegan lard? “We’re gonna find something close,” says Adam with a laugh. We’re counting on it.