Duane Sorenson's Holiday Is the Portland Restaurant Surprise of 2018
Holiday exists in a state of blooming, bohemian rapture. The good vibes flow, raw juices sport crayon colors not yet invented, and the avocado toast has enough height and vegetable décor to qualify as a platform shoe. Plants erupt everywhere, casting a dreamy chlorophyll hue over a room that, not too long ago, was the lifeless Roman Candle Baking Co, a once-promising pizzeria whose will to live expired this spring.
Now, the rebooted space feels alive, engaged: less a restaurant than a giant terrarium curated by Coachella. Vast windows are hand-painted with the botanical outlines of leaves and mushrooms, like the work of a gardener with X-ray vision. Syncopated cries of joyful defiance emanate from a corner turntable, courtesy of Jimmy Cliff. People don’t so much eat as sway. Farther back, a large painting commands the wall—its moody green palette, applied in thick brushstrokes, literally protrudes from the canvas. If Goya and Walt Whitman met on a guided psychedelic journey, it might look like this. You can’t stop staring at it ... or believe that a museum-quality piece by LA artist Allison Schulnik hangs, nonchalantly, over a self-serve water station.
But the real trip? At the counter, behind the futuristic La Marzocco espresso machine, Holiday’s owner Duane Sorenson pulls shots from beans roasted by the company he launched 19 years ago just up the street: Stumptown Coffee Roasters. “I’m on the schedule. I’m the lead barista!” he howls while high-fiving customers. Yeah, the founder of Stumptown is making your latte seven days a week.
Sorenson is a pioneer of America’s indie-roasting movement, the man who trounced Starbucks before selling his last shares in Stumptown for a sweet bundle in 2015. But he’s also a legend on the hard-party circuit. No more. At 47, drinking means organic juices. The only mushrooms Sorenson is high on these days are foraged and artfully piled over Holiday’s gluten-free multiseed toast.
“My mind is B-L-O-W-N. I’ve gone down the wellness rabbit hole,” he blurted out one day about the life changes he embraced before ditching Roman Candle. “I used to hang out at the Horse Brass Pub. Now I’m at the People’s Co-Op, where the true freaks hang out.” His beaming, “man on a mission” charisma infuses every inch of the place.
Yet to categorize this café as simply “vegan/gluten-free”—which it largely is—misses the point. Rather, Holiday, open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, is best defined by what it’s not: obvious. Yogis and tattoo artists eat side by side. Sinners are welcome to drink cow’s milk or indulge in an egg. Gluten-free breads, the only game in the house, are something of a miracle—tasty, well-crusted, seeded to the hilt, without the usual cardboard demeanor. Impressively, no two dishes look the same. Holiday sends out each plate as if it were a contestant on Survivor: Instagram Island. And, mostly, good flavors rumble beneath the bling. (If only this were true at so many tweezer-happy dinner spots.) I never thought I’d rave like a mad woman about a smoothie matcha bowl. But here it is, and here I am. Holiday is the surprise of the year.
Given his stature, Sorenson could have nabbed a notable chef. Instead, he handed the kitchen keys to a talented unknown, Ryan Kennedy ... just five weeks after meeting him. At the time, Kennedy was “executive chef” at a Garden Bar. (OK, he also interned at Chicago’s famed Tru and shucked oysters at a Thomas Keller spot.) For Sorenson, it’s about “feeling the connection.”
So far, Kennedy has saved the “Toast Movement” from irrelevancy. The best of his four options layers umami-roaring caramelized onions and a wealth of mushrooms—some raw, some foraged, some wood-oven singed—over an earthy slice. The “golden” smoothie bowl is also irresistible, its milkshake-thick whirl of coconut cream yogurt, turmeric-cardamom syrup, and mango poured into an eye-catching arrangement of granola, pistachios, and lush fruit.
The menu’s other half (salads and plates) still needs workshopping. The kimchi crêpe tastes like Korean Night at the Hilton, devoid of funk and heat. (Unfortunately, all that missing fermented chile flavor landed over a snap pea salad, destroying its quiet beauty.) Then again, the colorful Buddha Bowl is more enlightened than expected, as nutty pea tempeh and kale find joy alongside a thrall of cashew cream. And even if you’re prone to spit out vegan pastries, nab pastry chef Caitlyn Tuttle’s fruit galette, which had me fooled with a crust as tender as a butter cookie.
Nothing about Holiday is revolutionary. Good coffee, fresh juices, healthy eats, and vegan pastries hide all around Portland. It’s just rare to find them this well done, in one package, delivered with care, refinement, and ambition. But something else draws me here. Sorenson hit it on the nose one day, greeting morning customers, fully amped: “It’s F-R-E-A-K-Y. People come in here grumpy and leave happy.” Yep, that’s it.