Café Castagna Gets a Middle Eastern Accent

On June 26, one of Portland’s iconic neighborhood cafes adds a new chef, a new menu, and a fresh direction.

By Karen Brooks June 24, 2014

Potatoes and fennel from the new menu

Café Castagna opened in 2002 as a drop-by, dressed-down little sister to its ambitious mothership, Castagna, next door. It turned out to be a destination in its own right, if not the prototype for a new kind of neighborhood restaurant, with curated wines, seasonal know-how, and classics done right, burgers and steak frites to pasta.

Ironically, for years it was Café Castagna that roared while Castagna played wallflower, despite hosting some of the city’s best chefs: Davenport’s Kevin Gibson, Olympic Provisions salumist Elias Cairo, and Matt Lightner (now a two Michelin star wonder boy in New York). These days, Castagna is making noise under modern chef Justin Woodward and the café has fallen off the radar—a comforting Hawthorne standby rather than blog darling.

Now, owner Monique Siu, one of Portland’s premiere kitchen talent scouts, is making a bold move: on June 26, 29-year-old Wesley Johnson will lend Café Castagna’s menu a new, decidedly Middle Eastern accent.

The former Castagna sous chef earned his first stripes as the opening baker at Philly’s famed Zahav, where Israeli iconoclast Michael Solomonov brought a serious Mid-East food conversation to America. Now, Johnson’s menu will sync the house crush on Fertile Crescent fare with the café’s beloved Euro classics. Expect the likes of orange-scented sausages, roasted figs, grilled flatbreads, honeyed haloumi cheese, and roast game hens to take a seat alongside the café’s vaunted baked penne, country pate, and ever-popular burger. 

Local vegetables are also joining the Café Castagna’s Arab spring, with menu sections devoted to salads, grapefruit-mint to kohlrabi-yogurt, and seasonal ingredients simply rendered, roasted favas to grilled beets in tahini.

Woodward, a vegetable obsessive, will consult on the menu, and dishes will draw on the restaurant’s expansive herb garden. “They’ll use all the ingredients we want to get in,” says Siu. “The hearts of Little Gem romaine go to the dining room, the big leaves to the café. Justin makes the most beautiful beet rounds; all those scraps will turn up in a café dip. It will be really inspiring to see both minds applied to same product.”

Café Castagna
1758 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-231-9959
Tuesday-Sunday, 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5-11 pm, Sun 5 pm-9:30 pm
Reservations accepted

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