Talk about bad timing. Katherine Benvenuti moved to Portland in 2018, impressive LA pastry chef creds in tow. Still, she was taking a break to raise her kids. Then an irresistible opportunity knocked, via Portland's ChefStable restaurant group: the chance to open her own bakery as a full partner.
For 10 months, she forged a blueprint—classics made personal with locally milled grain flours and unexpected flavor twists. Think sticky buns swaddled in miso caramel or dark chocolate buckwheat brownie tarts under torched meringue. Opening date was set for March 18 in the former Trifecta Tavern & Bakery space on SE 6th, next door to her new friends and partners at the week-old Bar King, one of them fresh from a head chef gig at David Chang's Momofuku Las Vegas. But the plan was crushed two days earlier, when Gov. Kate Brown's restaurant mandate dropped like a 60-quart mixer on whipped cream.
The sign never made it up. No one even knew its name, the Bakery at Bar King. Poof.
Weeks later, 30-year-old Benvenuti, decided to return to the kitchen, alone, to test-drive more ideas. From late March to late July, on weekends only, people were soon darting out of the bakery’s unmarked door carrying mysterious “brunch boxes.” Inside: the kind of “brunch” you wish mom had assembled—no efforts at a balanced meal, just pure, carb-rippling happiness. One haul included chocolate-walloped babka, a cornmeal scone clad in roasted strawberries, and an open-faced croque monsieur sporting beautiful homemade brioche and a roof of charred asparagus. As word of mouth circulated, a loyal following emerged. Some customers never missed a weekend. Others came on Saturday, then returned on Sunday. (Confession: I went three times.)
Now, it's official. The Bakery at Bar King will open Aug. 6, with a full-on pastry case where one can gaze, pick, and choose, Thursday to Sunday (pre-orders are also available). Benvenuti will also unveil a new line of breads, from head bread baker Adam Kennedy, whose breads earned him a cult following at the old Coffeehouse NW. “He loves pushing the boundaries of bread; getting people out of their comfort zone, slightly changing things that are familiar,” says Benvenuti. I'm most curious about Kennedy's shokupan (Japanese milk bread), not to mention his ciabatta, which subs fresh-brewed roasted barley tea for water during the hydration process.
While most of us are experiencing a weird brain fog (aka: why did I just go downstairs?), Benvenuti is following up her bakery with a downtown donut shop, taking over the former Blue Star Donuts HQ at 1237 SW Washington St. Right now, she's furiously testing Berliner donuts–a plump, yeasted, hole-free German style, often filled with jams or custards.
Her new Berliner donut shop still has no name. But expect classic, seasonal, and even some wacky savory donuts, conjured with partner Leather Storrs, an original Portland food-scene personality, formerly of Noble Rot. The barely sweet unfilled donuts will also serve as a “bun” for the house fried egg sandwich. Target opening date is late August or early September.
“I love donuts,” says Storrs. “Don't we need that now? I devour the news every day. People are losing hope. This is a little thing to help you trudge through this shit show. It's a nice, positive jolt, a little sunshine to brighten someone's day.”
Want a taste? This weekend, check out their Berliner donut pop-up, 8 am to noon, Aug 1-2 at the Washington St. location. The lineup: fresh apricot jam with buttermilk glaze (Benvenuti), pimento with hot honey (Storrs), and lemon curd via guest pastry chef and Berliner ace Clare Gordon, formerly of Seattle's General Porpoise donuts.
$1 each while they last. Mask up, people.
The Bakery at Bar King (opening Aug 6)
726 SE 6th Ave, Thurs–Sun 8 a.m.–2 p.m., counter service and pre-orders
Berliner Donut Popup
1237 SW Washington St., Aug 1–2 8 a.m.–12 p.m.