First Impressions

St. Jack Puts the Portland in Paris

A new patisserie blends Clinton Street vibes with chic éclairs and made-to-order madeleines.

By Karen Brooks January 19, 2011


Portland’s bakery scene just got a little sweeter. And that’s saying something in a city where—impressively—just about every district has its own oven-fresh trophies. What distinguishes St. Jack (2039 SE Clinton St) is its intimacy, the way it blends the art of sweet snacking and hanging out in a way that makes Portland the envy of the country.

Walk through the dining room of this new restaurant-patisserie into a tiny space dominated by a cozy zinc bar, baskets of baguettes, and tiny, mirror-framed blackboard menus. Tuck into a tall chair and simply point to whatever looks good on the counter, where small collections of French treats—from handmade croissants to little towers of canelé—beg from vintage cake plates beneath dramatic bell-shaped glass lids. Or, you can repair further into the striped-curtain-enclosed hideout for quiet conversation.

Pastry gal Alissa Rozos, fresh from the trenches of Bluehour and showing skills honed at New York’s famed Restaurant Daniel, looks to be a rising talent. Her warm, buttery, three-bite madeleines—ordered by the half dozen and baked to order—are worth the trip alone, and the dark chocolate glazed éclairs are textbook perfect, with power centers of chilled cream stopped at that perfect intersection between thick whipped cream and light custard.

Rozos’s canelé, the classic Bordeaux pasty made in a copper mold and marked by a thick, caramelized crust, won’t knock over the profoundly honey-toned version at Ken’s Artisan Bakery, but it’s on the playing field, with a lovely crackle outside and a soft, custardy spring within.

Some things still need a little work in the lab—the chocolate-caramel tart is too thick, too sweet, too heavy, and the decent croissants would benefit from a little more time in the oven. A recent butternut squash soup also missed a step, tasting of everything except…butternut squash.

Still, there’s so much to like here, including the prices, with most things between $2 and $4. I’d come back just to hang out, sip a decent latte, and nibble on the excellent baguettes from Little T American Baker, served in long lengths with good butter and chunky homemade orange marmalade ($3). Or even a ham and gruyere tartine (open-faced sandwich) amplified by sharp mustard, pickled onions and good greens ($7).

There’s plenty to explore at St. Jack, a new project from chef Aaron Barnett and restaurateur-about-town Kurt Huffman (Foster Burger, Gruner, Ping). The appeal extends beyond the patisserie to a super casual dining room with Lyonnaise-inspired cooking and a full bar led by classic cocktails and bulk wines from local vineyards—very French indeed.

And yes, le happy hour, with deals on tablier de sapeur (that’s fried tripe to you), mussels, pommes frites, and St. Jack’s entry in the hamburger sweepstakes, is a mighty nice time visit. Tres bon.

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