Sad news from the cradle of Portland's farm-to-fork ethic. Eat Beat has learned that despite a recent surge of fresh energy and renovations set to give new life to the storied institution, landmark restaurant Wildwood will shutter on Tuesday, February 25 after two decades carrying the banner of our region's dining heritage.
According to General Manager Cana Flug, the Wildwood team has been in lease negotiations for a while: "Unfortunately we were not able to come to an agreement that made sense for us. We are proud of our past, our present and what this restaurant has meant to the Portland restaurant community for the last 20 years. We are especially proud of the strides our team has made in recent years and the awesome amount of blood, sweat, and tears they have dedicated to the restaurant."
Founded in 1994 by James Beard Award winner Cory Schreiber, Wildwood focused on seasonal foods sourced from local farms, with a fine dining vibe that made it a destination for discerning palates. Portland Monthly food critic Karen Brooks shares memories of the early days:
Cory Schreiber was an explorer. He left Portland in 1982 to see the culinary world, then returned twelve years later to conquer what he left behind: Oregon's untamed culinary soul. He opened Wildwood, with odes to James Beard and Douglas fir, and helped take Portland's food scene to the next level. He broke new ground with foods gleaned almost exclusively within a three-hour drive of the city, crossing Big City sophistication with a taste of the land. He chewed over his philosophy and family history (as a young member of the Dan & Louis Oyster Bar clan): if it lived here, hunt it down and celebrate it. Marionberries and morel mushrooms, razor clams and Dungeness crab, riches just waiting to be discovered in the New Food World.
In 2000, he wrote it all down, gloriously, in Wildwood: Cooking From the Source in the Pacific Northwest. Eventually he had to move on—that was as certain as rain on Halloween. Though few diners knew, the Paul Revere of Oregon food had sold his ownership in the restaurant to his business partner after a gamble on his next-door food market rolled the wrong way. Little did he know: he had seen the future.
The restaurant has been in the capable hands of Executive Chef Dustin Clark for years. Clark began collaborating with Schreiber on the menu in 2004 and fully took the reins in 2007 but the long shadow of his mentor kept his creative protégé from stepping fully into the spotlight.
In the fall of 2011, Wildwood took on Flug (owner of NW 23rd Avenue's Besaw’s) as GM, who quickly set about bringing the eatery into the 21st century with a redesign, fresh menus, and one hell of a party room. The results of her efforts have been noted by regulars and newcomers alike—2013 was the restaurant's best year since Schreiber's departure—which makes its unexpected shuttering truly heartbreaking.
Fortunately, the dark cloud of this restaurant closure has a bright silver lining: Dustin Clark and Cana Flug plan to embark on a new venture. When more details emerge, we'll post them right here on Eat Beat.
Feel free to share your memories of Wildwood in the comments below, and stop in to the restaurant before Tuesday, February 25th to raise a glass to twenty years of farm-to-fork soul.