Bartender Kevin Ludwig’s résumé reads like a history of contemporary Portland dining. As either bar manager or bartender for seminal Portland establishments such as Wildwood, Paley’s Place, and Park Kitchen, Ludwig was among the first of Portland’s mixologists to demonstrate that spirits and cocktails can be as integral to local gastronomy as hazelnuts and marionberries. At his recently debuted solo project, Beaker & Flask, he further refines the parity between the kitchen and the bar. Sophisticated cocktails celebrate local ingredients and classic techniques (the bartenders here actually measure), while the liquor cabinet resembles an encyclopedia of old-world bitters, rums, and hard-to-find American whiskeys. Original creations include the Tilly Jane ($9), which balances local pear brandy with Cynar (an Italian elixir brewed from artichokes), orange bitters, and a kick of fresh ginger; while the Crush on Laura ($7) has a more mellowing effect thanks to Amaro, bitters, and a dash of Orange Crush soda.
Meanwhile, in the tiny open kitchen, chef Benjamin Bettinger is turning out dishes from a menu that’s become one of this summer’s surprise hits. It stars addictively simple dishes like grilled corn on the cob ($4) blanketed with tangy roasted poblano aioli and grated cheese; a trio of classic deviled eggs ($4) accented with smoked trout; and substantial yet affordable entrées like grilled Oregon albacore tuna with panzanella ($16), an Italian bread salad.
It may be newly minted, but thanks to its owner’s rich experience, Beaker & Flask is confident and comfortable enough to already feel like a Portland classic.