Fermenter Chef Aaron Adams Is Opening a Vegan Cuban Restaurant & Cocktail Bar
What happens when you mix anarchist punk reggae veganism, mad scientist fermentation experiments, and a childhood punctuated by Cuban snacks? Meet Workshop, the newest project from chef Aaron Adams, best known as the chef-owner of Fermenter (home of a stellar vegan brunch and burger) and the now-closed vegan fine dining restaurant Farm Spirit. Slated to open February 18 at 1407 SE Belmont St in Buckman, Workshop will serve vegan Cuban snacks, sharable small plates, and desserts, plus a menu of nonalcoholic and boozy cocktails.
This is Adams’s first time serving Cuban food in his restaurants, and he shows off his ability to veganize anything with the pasta de bocadito–stuffed vegan brioche. We got to sneak a bite of it during our photoshoot, and it’s just as fluffy and eggy-tasting as the real deal. Literally translated to “snack paste,” pasta de bocadito is typically made by blending ham and cream cheese, but here made with Jimmy Nardello peppers, house cashew cream cheese, and house pickled gherkins. It’s a Cuban snack Adams grew up eating at his grandparents’ home near Miami, where he spent summers as a kid. Also on the menu: lion’s mane empanizado, fried mushrooms reminiscent of the breaded steak Adams ate growing up, and a host of Cuban-inspired desserts, including pineapple–passion fruit sorbet, a flan named after his aunt, and guava and cashew cream cheese pastries.
Not everything on the menu is Cuban-influenced. “Cuba is in my DNA, but that isn’t everything,” Adams says. “I have a lot of experience in my life that I want to express.” There’s Spanish-inspired empanada gallega, a pastry that’s stuffed with house tempeh chorizo and potato, and sourdough noodles in a creamy cremini mushroom sauce. Things get a little science lab-like with the tarts stuffed with house-made caviar—mushroomy, nutty, with a hint of fishiness from kombu and a touch of smokiness from lapsang souchong. The koji charcuterie plate is ideal for sharing, with slices of cured, white-ringed carrots with a firm, sausage-like bite, big slices of juicy beets, and crunchy celery root, sided by kombucha mustard and a dab of puréed, salty, almost buttery Fresno chile kasuzuke that Adams has been fermenting since October 2021. No one said cooking like this would be quick.
“There’s a lot of labor on [each] plate,” Adams says. “It started two months ago when I was making the miso [for the fried mushrooms]. We’re not roasting bones. We’re trying to make a demi-glace with vegetables.”
Though the fermentation at Workshop requires patience and tinkering, Adams is taking a more relaxed approach than he did at Farm Spirit, where he would serve 12-course tasting menus to up to 80 guests per night—that’s 960 plates in a single night. And while local was the name of the game at Farm Spirit, he’s loosening up by substituting hazelnut cheese for cashew cheese (it tastes better, he says, and you can blanch rather than peel each nut) and incorporating tropical fruit into desserts and cocktails. “We’re relaxing,” he says, clad in a beanie and a "Koji Builds Community" T-shirt.
Cocktails make up half the menu, and along with five boozy options, there are also five zero-proof options—both a growing trend in Portland and something that Adams himself is dedicated to, since his wife is sober. The Yes, Whey is perhaps the most unusual, with rum, cashew yogurt whey, winter melon, black lime smoked salt, and mint, while the Smokey Mountain is made with zero-proof house-made whiskey, cherry, and smoky lapsang souchong for a drink that tastes like a grown-up Coke. The house-made zero-proof Fernet-inspired drink is a must-try digestif, bitter and herbal and slightly sweet.
The ambience feels homey—on one wall, there’s a painting of pigeons that Adams’s grandfather brought back from Cuba after dropping off food and supplies there in a small airplane. The opposite wall is covered with small frames. There’s a portrait of one of his favorite reggae artists, Havana-born Laurel Aitken (a call back to his days as a reggae DJ), a painting of Cuban revolutionary Jose Martí, photos of British alt-comics like Rik Mayall, album covers galore, and a painting of his two dogs, Annie and Greta. Plus, there's a giant poster that reads "yes, anarchy is order" in French.
Workshop will be open 5–10 p.m. Thu & Sun and 5–11 p.m. Fri–Sat. Reservations not accepted. @workshop_foodanddrink