Burning Details on Duane Sorenson's Roman Candle Bakery

As Stumptown Coffee’s food-loving founder continues to devour SE Division Street, we got an early look at the baking vision and menu set to debut in early May.

By Karen Brooks April 3, 2013

Duane Sorenson at his in-the-works Roman Candle on SE Division Street

The wait is nearly over. In early May, Duane Sorenson will unveil Roman Candle Bakery Co at 3377 SE Division Street. This is Sorenson’s love letter to Italian baking—and to SE Division Street, where the Stumptown Coffee Roasters kingpin and Woodsman Tavern owner works, lives and rarely strays.

Next door is Ava Gene’s, his rocking, bar-raising, marble-clad ode to Italy, crafted for “my Portland neighbors” with shout-outs to Brooklyn and, not least, The Byrds—rare and uncut and beaming from the rafters. Read my review of Ava Gene’s in the April issue.

While the space is still under constructions, we extracted the vision behind Roman Candle, its major players, and exclusive menu details from the notoriously private Mr. Sorenson:

◊ Roman Candle will burn day and night: Sorenson thinks big and he’s willing to invest in concepts with savvy design and custom-crafted material. The white-tiled, marble-polished Roman Candle will rise as an artisan bakery, a neighborhood hangout, and a full-service Stumptown coffee bar dispensing breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 7 am to 10 pm daily. Seating is communal only, at four walnut slab tables.

◊ Meet head baker Dan Griffin: To man his sought-after Matador deck oven, Sorenson tapped a baker whose resume stretches from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California to Lovejoy Bakery in Portland. Griffin’s charge is to unleash a full collection of breads—a dozen to start, from baguettes to spelt to rye. “Lots of whole grains,” says Sorenson, “because they taste better.” Shelves will also showcase fresh croissants, pretzels, Italian cookies, and morning pastries. It’s a tall order, with plenty of competition, not least Little T American Baker, a premium bread stop eleven blocks away.  

◊ Say hello to pizza bianca (and farro for breakfast): Ava Gene’s chef Joshua McFadden will bring his obsession with salads, farm vegetables, and healthy eating to Roman Candle, where he’ll double as lead chef. Mornings will yield farro porridge with fruits, nuts, honey yogurt, and bee pollen to match poached duck eggs and kale on fresh-baked garlic toast.

But the center of attention is pizza Bianca—wood-fired sheets of lightly dimpled, barely chewy, salt-crackling flat bread sold by the square in Rome and New York’s famed Sullivan Street Bakery. At Roman Candle, orders will emerge from the flames of a Stefano Ferrara oven (the famed Neapolitan oven burns at Mario Batali’s Eataly in New York as well as Via Tribunali in Portland and Seattle). Toppings will roam from classic “potato” to a playful mozzarella and pickled chiles. Meanwhile, bianca bread will bracket Roman Candle’s take on crustless Italian tramezzino sandwiches, stuffing the pockets with the likes of meatballs, braised pork, and roasted vegetables.

◊ Why pizza bianca? Sorenson is hell-bent on bringing “whatever blows my mind” to Portland. “This is what I eat in Rome,” says Sorenson. “I can’t stop thinking about it.”

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