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Southern-Leaning Stalwart Irving Street Kitchen Overhauls Its Restaurant and Kitchen

The longtime Pearl District eatery will reopen with casual eats, more non-alcoholic cocktails, and regular guest chefs.

By Shannon Henderson July 19, 2019

From left: whiskey-cured salmon, smoked beef rib, and fried chicken from the new Irving Street Kitchen menu.

Image: Jannie Huang

When Irving Street Kitchen opened in 2010, Portland was a different place with a different palate: Californian restaurateurs opened the Pearl District spot, adding swank and upscale gravitas befitting the neighborhood. Now, nine years later, the Southern-ish restaurant will roll up the table linens, dish out a more casual menu, and kick-off a slew of food industry community-focused initiatives on Tuesday, July 23.

“When we started Irving Street Kitchen, it was all about the pomp and circumstance, and the Pearl wanted it back then,” says Sarah Schafer, head chef and co-owner. “This change is a response to our diners; they don’t want to eat like that anymore.”

Gone is the “first-through-third” format in favor of a one-page menu of “quick bites,” “small plates,” and “meat dishes.” Also on that page: “really large plates”—a surf-and-turf collection of family-style platters, including Hawaiian-style barbecue jumbo shrimp and a whole fried bird (a large format version of the ISK staple.) The original brunch program, which the new, tablecloth-less restaurant will be modeled on, will remain mostly unchanged. 

Be on the lookout for plantain and pig’s head tater tots. “It’s sweet, savory, fatty, and  finished with a habanero jelly,” says Schafer, who credits her chef de cuisine, Joey Wardenaar, for the addictive invention. 

The wine list will be trimmed to a manageable list of house favorites, while the cocktail expands with a new array of booze-free concoctions, like the Berry Sour, a marionberry jasmine shrub shaken with citrus, salt, and egg white, and the Health Goth, a spicy charcoal-infused mix of pineapple, fennel, and bell pepper. Joining a growing list of restaurants committed to non-toxic kitchen environments, ISK is continuing their “Midnight Yoga” program—a healthy alternative to post-work binging for industry folk.

“We really want to have a space that is stimulating for our next generation,” says general manager and co-owner Anna Caporael. “We want to keep our industry flourishing.”

To do so, the expansive restaurant space will host guest chef pop-ups (some with their own restaurants, some without), dreaming up experimental 3-to-5 item dinners alongside the normal menu a few nights a week. 

Schafer, for one, seems ready for the long-needed changes: “For me, it’s so much more fun to cook this way. It makes me loves my job again.”  

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