Ava Gene’s, the indie-Italian beauty at 3377 SE Division, is closing on March 31st for roughly six weeks, Eat Beat has learned. When it reopens in May, chef Joshua McFadden and his Submarine Hospitality Group will have a bigger kitchen and the outline for the company’s future on Southeast Division.
Among the key changes: weekend brunch, starting in June. Since opening in 2012, Ava Gene's has been a lauded destination for McFadden’s confident, veg-forward, healthy-chic Italian dinners (and a PoMo’s Restaurant of the Year 2013). Now, with more space, the restaurant will finally put its Bon Appetit-esque stamp on the city’s favorite obsession: the morning meal.
Meanwhile, next door, McFadden is jumping into Portland’s pizza game with Cicoria, a Midwest-meets-Rome pizzeria slated for July. The handsome room recently housed Holiday, Duane Sorenson’s short-lived vegan wunderkind, and before that, his Roman Candle Bakery. On the cutting board: Holiday’s mile-long communal table and gleaming marble counter. Cicoria will share kitchen space with Ava Gene’s, so the entire space will be reconfigured with a bar, cozy booths and seating for 75.
Gone, too, will be Holiday/Roman Candle’s fancy wood-burning oven; McFadden is going the deck-oven route. Not to worry. “I used to work at Franny’s. I know my way around pizza,” he says with a laugh, referring to his chef days at New York’s beloved Brooklyn neighborhood pizzeria. Style-wise, he’s toying with his own school of pizza, inspired by his Midwest roots (crispy Wisconsin tavern-style) and his food studies in Rome. “I want to stay away from Neapolitan pizza,” he confides. “I’m excited to make a crispy, lighter, pizza: thin crust, good wheat, natural leavening, and less toppings.”
The menu will focus on rotating pizzas, two sizes of salads, and gelato hot fudge sundaes. “It’s the family-friendly version of Ava Gene’s,” says McFadden, noting that both restaurants will use the evening hours. “We’ll have tons of wine,” he adds. “Not just Italian bottles, but hopefully wine on draft–red, white, and rosé from a local winemaker.”
Cicoria (cheh-core-ee-ah) is Italian for chicory. Of course Joshua McFadden would name a restaurant after a vegetable. His cookbook, Six Seasons, was a breakout vegetable tome in 2017. But the name also pays homage to Oregon’s famed Ayers Creek Farm, a gem in the Ava Gene’s larder. During a visit to the Gaston farm, McFadden noticed a big Italian tractor made by a company called Cicoria. “The font is the coolest thing,” he recalls. “I always thought about it. Plan on seeing a big picture of that tractor and farmer Anthony [Boutard] at Cicoria.”
Vegetables and an Italian sensibility will also help fuel Ava Gene’s brunch, seasonal frittatas to scrambled eggs with burrata. Take note: McFadden loves carbonara for breakfast. He also plans to reprise a few signatures from his Roman Candle chef days, including XVOO Granola (No. 2 in our 2016 Granola Power Ranking) and toast slathered with homemade hazelnut butter, chocolate, and cherries.
Brunch will also be a laboratory for McFadden’s second cookbook, which will center on grains. Expect a collection of waffles, pancakes, and porridges sporting unusual flours and grains. Submarine’s talented pastry chef, Nora Mace, is busy testing out Italian donuts, coffee cakes, and other morning pastries for the menu. My prediction: Ava Gene’s will quickly vie for the modern brunch crown against its East Burnside sister-restaurant, Tusk, also owned by McFadden and partner Luke Dirks’ Submarine Group and featuring pastries by Mace.
Finally, an undeveloped space behind Cicoria (once Sorenson’s dream for a beer garden) will emerge as an event space, with room for 40 guests, as well as Submarine’s HQ. McFadden says he and Dirks are thinking long-term and planning for the next 10 or 20 years.
Most restaurant groups are lucky to have one cool food idea on the board. McFadden and Co. have two. This could be a good summer.