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The Inside Scoop on Tusk, Portland’s Most Anticipated Restaurant of 2016

Eat Beat has the first look at the vegetable-forward Middle Eastern spot, courtesy of Ava Gene’s owner Joshua McFadden and his A-list crew.

By Karen Brooks August 15, 2016

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Tusk snacks: hummus with fava beans, Turkish chiles, and feta cheese beneath rose petals and hibiscus

Image: Benji Wagner

Joshua McFadden is on fire. The Ava Gene’s executive chef got Bon Appetit’s hottie chef treatment in the mag’s August issue, as well as a shout-out in the New York Times from former New York boss David Chang. Meanwhile, McFadden and his new business partner Luke Dirks just purchased Ava Gene’s (Portland Monthly’s Restaurant of the Year 2013) from coffee lord Duane Sorenson. The move signaled the serious intentions of the duo’s new Submarine Hospitality restaurant group. Up next is Tusk, Portland’s most buzzed-about restaurant opening of 2016. After several delays, Eat Beat has learned that the Middle Eastern-riffing spot is now scheduled to open Monday, August 22 at 2448 E Burnside St., with nightly dinners and a food lover’s late-night menu. Additionally, Tusk’s weekend brunch–sporting unusual porridges, pancakes with date syrup, and playful baking–hopes to launch the week of September 3.

Everything McFadden cares about is on the line at Tusk: vegetables, farms, and fun. With Tusk, he and his new posse plan to remix the chickpea- and olive-laden cuisines of Israel and Morocco with an intense focus on light, healthy eating, personal farm picks, whole-grain baking, and crazy soft serve sundaes—not to mention Fleetwood Mac, kitchen-inspired cocktails, and an “eat with your hands” mantra. McFadden and Dirks are the showrunners, but Tusk’s kitchen will be in the hands of two rising talents: chef (and co-owner) Sam Smith, formerly second in command at Philly’s famed Zahav, and pastry creative Nora Antene, a recent Le Pigeon standout.

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A Tusk spread of (clockwise) grilled eggplant with lemon puree and crunchy seeds; marinated artichokes; cracked green olives with aleppo and preserved lemon; flax and sesame seed cracker; and filbert tehina

Image: Benji Wagner

The joyously haphazard approach may be best captured by incoming bar ace Tyler Stevens, who recently shared his thoughts in an email: “We will be bartending underneath a blow-up photo of Keith Richards wading in a pool for crying out loud. We are going to have fun and want our guest to have fun as well.” Well!

It seems like anything might be possible at McFadden’s and Dirks’s new haunt. Eat Beat recently pored over Tusk’s in-progress menus to glean a few details. Here’s what we’re hungry for.

Tusk Flatbreads Pre-made pita will not be in the house. Smith has spent months developing an original whole grain bread, inspired by Zahav and Israel and Morocco travels, but all his own, baked in a specialty pita oven (if it ever arrives). The bread will be available plain or with toppings. Also of interest: a crispy scallion bread, topped with a stew of braised chicken, carrots, beet juice, almond milk, and curry spices.  

A Collection of Interesting Salads Smith’s relationships to farmers, developed during his chef stint at Ava Gene’s, could pay off big at Tusk. He’s wired into all the best and upcoming farms. The salad section intrigues with interesting juxtapositions of vegetables, grains, nuts, dried fruits, and flowers. Two combinations that caught my eye: sprouted barley/carrots/dates/walnuts and melon/cucumber/mint/pepitas/sumac.

The Small and Skewered What else looks prime to order? One big category is snacky things with Middle Eastern accents, from lamb tartare with turmeric yogurt to a beet and sprouted chickpea fritter. Another section is for skewers—vegetable, chicken, salmon, ground beef and lamb—seasoned with things like dried lime, fermented hot peppers, and black garlic.

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Halibut skewers marinated with turmeric and verjus, pistachios, pickled fennel, lime 

Image: Benji Wagner

Tabletop Madness “A big part of our food will be condiments,” says Smith. To that end: Aleppo chile oil, za’atar, and cumin salt for every table. 

Wild-Sounding Seasonal Soft Serve Sundaes Blackberry, corn, celery, peaches… if it’s seasonal, Tusk plans on freezing it in the kitchen’s soft serve machine. That’s just the beginning. Nora Antene plans to top her soft serve sundaes with fruit salads, herb ices, and vegetable-patch surprises, from tomatoes poached in syrup to parsley-mint granita. Already in the mix: honey soft serve topped with cardamom caramel, halvah, sour cherries and cashews. I can’t wait to try some of Antene’s new baking ideas. Among them: beet cake with parsnip frosting. It might be the best or worst thing we’re ever eaten. 

The Future: Brunch and Weekly Specials Once the kitchen gets it legs, weekend brunch will drop on Saturdays and Sundays. (Tentatively, the week of September 3). This could be a Tusk highlight. Some ideas on the drawing board: brown rice porridge with pickles, herbs, and a soft egg; warm couscous and almond rice milk; sourdough corn pancakes with date syrup; and a chocolate-spelt babka sticky bun glazed in cardamom icing. Also in the works: dinner specials tied to specific nights. Ideas are still in progress, but Smith is thinking Monday nights will be for lamb shoulder roasted in fig leaves; Friday nights for homemade couscous and so on. 

2448 E Burnside St.
Opening hours: Mon–Sat, 5 p.m.–midnight 
(late night menu, 10 p.m.–midnight),
Sun, 5–10 pm

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