Just breathing the name Sweedeedee is sure to elicit fond brunch memories from many Portlanders. “I love their corn cakes,” some will say. “That honey pie!” others will sigh. But at the newly revamped Sweedeedee, neither of those dishes are to be found. (You can still make the corn cakes at home with the recipe on our site.) Instead, there’s a frequently changing menu that might include pistachio honey buns and coconut cream pie—and dinner.
That’s right, one of Portland’s favorite brunch places has been serving dinner since July, and it’s a knockout. While Sweedeedee was closed during the pandemic, owner Eloise Augustyn brought longtime friend and Sweedeedee patron Sam Smith, formerly the executive chef at Tusk and a 2017 PoMo Rising Star Chef known for his vegetable-forward menus, on board as a consultant, and later as a business partner. Pastry chef Mason Suda, who had worked with Smith at Tusk and Ava Gene’s and is also a member of the PDX Bakers Against Racism group, has also joined the team, baking quirky desserts like carrot-peach cake. There’s now a natural wine-focused menu from Gabriella Casabianca, who runs the No Saint pizza and natural wine pop-up at Dame with her partner Anthony (who also works in the kitchen at Sweedeedee). There are pastries, sandwiches, salads, and desserts ready to go for takeout, and there’s even a growing retail area stocked with grains, olive oil, vinegar, and bottles of wine. Eclectic music comes from a record player stocked with vinyl from Mississippi Records. Sweedeedee 2.0, as Smith calls it, is “the culmination of everyone’s efforts.”
“I really wanted to maintain the same kind of vibe and soul that it [had] before,” says Smith. “But we wanted it to feel fresh and new and not locked in to do anything. I think the cafe felt a little bit trapped in its prior iteration ... people were coming in with expectations to get specific things.”
The dinner menu at Sweedeedee, drawing from influences including French and Italian cuisine and the San Francisco Bay Area, where Smith grew up, defies expectations from the beginning. I can’t remember the last time I was surprised by a cheese plate, but Sweedeedee pulled off the task with creamy-sharp Sleeping Beauty cheese ringed by tender honey-soaked walnuts and thick-yet-crisp crackers that boast chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and almonds, and just happen to be gluten-free. A Rosette de Lyon salami plate is paired with crunchy cornichons and a house spicy olive mix that even converted my olive-hating dinner companion. It’s easy to picture spending an afternoon on one of the umbrella-shaded outdoor tables on N Albina, nibbling on cheese and salumi and sipping the house wine—currently The Marigny’s Piquette, a low-ABV, bubbly “wine-like beverage” from the Willamette Valley.
In keeping with Smith’s vegetable-forward philosophy, salads made with ingredients from local farms are the heart and soul of the menu. A whole meal could revolve around this summer’s heirloom tomato, sweet corn, and padrón pepper salad, enhanced with olive oil, basil, and sea salt—scoop up the resulting liquid, which tastes like the essence of summer, with some warm focaccia. Cheery pink beets with hazelnuts and shavings of pecorino offer pops of sweetness and nuttiness, though they weren't as dynamic as the tomato salad; I couldn’t detect the pickled peppers listed on the menu.
The maccheroni alla vodka reminds me of the penne alla vodka my mom made for me growing up—creamy, tangy, velvety on the tongue—but with the brilliant addition of olive oil-drenched bread crumbs on top that add dimension and texture. I haven’t tried the roast chicken yet, but it seems to fit in well with the restaurant’s homey ethos. Smith gets creative and cheffy at times, too—one dish pairs warm Italian sausage with a salad of Ayers Creek pickled sour cherries, purslane, cucumbers, red onion, and herbs. It’s just the kind of stick-to-your ribs yet refreshing fare we need this summer.
And then there are the desserts, all of which sounded so good that trying to pick just two nearly sent me into a panic. The coconut cream pie boasts a thick, crunchy, buttery graham cracker crust with a lightly sweet coconut filling, a cloud-like layer of whipped cream, and a generous amount of toasted coconut on top. The peach-carrot cake stacks up four layers of impossibly moist carrot cake, complete with chunks of peach and just the right amount of buttercream. Both hit just the right balance of quirkiness and grandma’s-kitchen nostalgia.
This is the kind of simple yet soulful food that I could eat every week—and that’s the case for Smith, too.
“It was like, ‘What do we want to eat when we don't feel like cooking for ourselves?’ And so all this stuff just feels really close to our heart in terms of what we crave, and what nourishes us.”