In our Best Restaurants 2019 issue, we made one point loud and clear: Earl Ninsom, co-owner of last year’s curry-barbecue phenom, Eem, is the guy with the juice right now. Ninsom, who also owns local gems Langbaan and Hat Yai, helps make Portland vital, collaborating with food friends in projects like Eem, and providing pop-up space for upcoming talents.
His next move? Ninsom will be the silent owner behind Lazy Susan, a new Montavilla neighborhood restaurant set to open in March at 7937 SE Stark St, the former home of local Americana icon The Country Cat, which closed abruptly last year. This time around, he’s backing a talented crew of young industry vets: good friend and chef Andrew Mace (Le Pigeon and Han Oak) and his talented pastry-chef wife Nora Mace, who recently left her post at Tusk and Ava Gene’s. This is the first restaurant run by the couple.
The idea is to create the perfect little neighborhood bar and grill—approachable and with good value. Don’t expect crazy twists or a menu that lists the province of every ingredient. “We’re moving away from that,” says the trio. The focus will be simple, classic foods: chilled seafood, house-aged steaks seared over charcoal, whole roasted dover sole, pork chops with mustard sauce, choose-your-own vegetable sides, layer cakes, and seasonal pies.
After a recent trip around London, Ninsom says the most memorable meals were not the fancy high-end ones. “The trend in Europe,” he says, “is simple food, done very well. It may look simple, but it’s really some of the very best food you can eat.”
The plan is to serve dinners Wednesday-Sunday to start, eventually expanding to seven nights a week. Once Lazy Susan gets it legs, expect weekend brunch with classics like buttermilk pancakes, steak and eggs, and “some fun Americana breakfast sweets that Nora has up her sleeve.” We’d expect no less from the woman who bequeathed us the awesome gooey pistachio cake and the dripping-with-icing, oven-fresh babka at Tusk.
The trio are giving the old Cat interior a facelift, bringing in Doug fir finishes and banquettes for the new 64-seat restaurant. Some of the tables will be equipped, of course, with Lazy Susans, meant to connote a style of eating that says casual, sharing, and fun.
Also in the house: former New York chef Julian Calcott, who has pulled stints at Eem and Beast since moving to Portland. Calcott will work with Mace to develop the menu. Michelle Ruocco, known for creative drinks at Han Oak, is toying with savory cocktails and boozy floats. Danny McGeough, an alum of Le Pigeon, Higgins, and Paley’s Place, will handle the wine list, mixing New and Old-World styles, but also emphasizing value, with $7 pours and affordable bottles.
“We’ve all had quite a bit of experience,” says Andrew of the approach. “We’re comfortable with ourselves. We’re not trying to recreate the wheel. We don’t have anything to prove. We just want to create a good neighborhood restaurant, a place we’d eat ourselves.”