Portland’s brunch wars are heating up again. In recent months, some of the city’s biggest names (Bistro Agnes, St. Jack) and notable new restaurants (Bullard, Gado Gado) have joined the ranks of spots hawking Portland’s most competitive meal. Now one more place is ready to vie for the best new brunch crown: Ava Gene’s.
We first broke the news that brunch was coming from the restaurant’s star chef and co-owner Joshua McFadden (co-owner of Tusk, and a Portland Monthly Chef of the Year 2017). Now, Eat Beat has an opening date: Saturday, Aug. 31. The plan is for weekend service only, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. But opening week comes with a bonus meal: Labor Day on Monday, Sept. 2.
The menu reveals a good number of surprises and intrigues, with options ranging from unusual frittatas to breakfast carbonara. It’s less health-focused than first expected, but also pushes beyond Ava Gene’s Italian-esque dinner sensibility, bringing in more playful notes. Bonus: the plan includes a focus on Italian espresso drinks, cold brew-inspired cocktails, and Pét-Nat sparkling wines from Italy.
The addition of Ava Genes’ brunch follows a recent kitchen expansion and growing ambitions for McFadden and business partner Luke Dirks’ Submarine Hospitality group. Eat Beat has also learned that Cicoria, the group’s new Midwest-meets-Rome pizzeria next door, has moved its opening back to later this year. (Stay tuned for details.) No worries, there’s plenty to occupy eaters on the Ava Genes’ brunch menu.
Here’s seven dishes that grabbed our attention immediately:
- Babka Waffles with Maple Butter: A waffle spin on the buttery, chocolate-veined bread inspired by Jewish Polish bakers—perhaps one of the world’s great treats? Say no more. McFadden will deploy not just chocolate but poppyseeds in his version. If all goes well, he confides, “it was be a dark waffle, crispy outside, and more porridge-y inside.” This is will be my first order.
- Sourdough English Muffins: Say hello to Ava Gene’s answer to bagels: made fresh with local flours, flaunting changing flavors like “Olive” or “Everything,” and topped with things like smoked salmon and roe or pickled pepper cream cheese. The idea is a collaboration between McFadden and Daniel Green, new head baker for Ava Gene’s and Cicoria. Like McFadden, Green, 29, is an alum of Alice Waters’ Sustainable Food Project in Rome.
- AG Burger: Nearly every chef has one, but we’ve yet to see a McFadden burger. This is it: 30-day aged beef, cheddar cheese, secret sauce (natch), and iceberg lettuce on…an English muffin. “I thought an English muffin would be the perfect thing for a burger,” says McFadden. “My grandpa made me eat it this way, growing up in Wisconsin. I’m not the type to just put a burger on a menu. This is who I am, how I want to eat.”
- Nutella Custard Buns and Spumoni Coffee Cake: Always interesting to see what’s cooking from Ava Genes’s talented pastry chef Nora Mace, who pulls double duty at Tusk. Right now, she’s toying with hazelnut-chocolate-filled buns and a sour cream coffee crumb cake fashioned from three differently flavored layers, like pistachio, blackberry, and chocolate.
- Granola, with Carrot Yogurt, Dates, Lemon Curd: This could be a granola game-changer, served “ramen-style” with toppings compartmentalized on top, dates warmed in syrup and homemade carrot yogurt spiced like carrot cake.
- Chicken Milanese with 'Nduja Gravy and Poached Egg: Ava Gene’s answer to fried chicken and gravy will sport spicy 'Nduja sausage gravy. Could be interesting.
- Ham and Cheese, Salsa Verde and Maple Sandwich: This spin on a Monte Cristo dates back to McFadden’s days as chef at New York’s Franny’s. Griddled French toast-battered brioche hiding Sweetheart ham, fontina cheese, hot sauce, and pickled peppers, topped with salsa verde and all enveloped in maple flavor. “It’s really cool and really unexpected,” says McFadden.