Jewish deli cuisine has been experiencing a modern renaissance for at least a decade, from New York’s Mile End to San Francisco’s Wise Sons. But Portland? We’re kind of oblivious. Sure, our bagel scene is improving. And yes, you can occasionally find a loaf of babka hiding somewhere in the city. But really, we don’t even qualify.
Sonya Sanford, 36, hopes to change that with Beetroot, a counter service Jewish market and deli set to open at 1639 NW Glisan St later this summer.
The Seattle-born food TV producer spent years in the entertainment industry, working on shows like CBS’s Recipe Rehab, catering for Hollywood celebs, and holding pop-ups with the Ashkenazi food revolutionaries at Gefilteria. Sanford returned to her native Pacific Northwest, and dove deep not only into Jewish deli culture, but the traditional cooking of her Ukrainian immigrant parents.
“I love the deli as the everyman’s access to Jewish food,” she says. “But Jewish food has evolved beyond that.”
To that end, Beetroot will serve bagels with house-cured beet gravlax, pastrami on rye, matzo ball soup, and potato kugel—all staples you might find at a place like New York’s legendary Katz’s Deli. But it will also serve food of the greater Jewish diaspora, Eastern Europe to Israel. That includes tefteli, Russian chicken meatballs in tomato sauce, vegetarian borscht, and local veggies roasted with Middle Eastern flavors like za’atar, sumac, and pomegranate molasses.
Beetroot will open just a few blocks from Portland’s pioneering Wildwood, where Sanford got her start after attending Reed College. (“Wildwood was where I really fell in love with Oregon,” she says.) The aesthetic will be “modern Jewish deli in the Pacific Northwest.” Basically, Doug fir trims and white oak floors, with clean, white walls. Expect 26 seats in total, with banquettes, tables, and counter seating. There will be classic black and white subway tile in the bathroom, but “this is not Katz’s,” she pledges. (Opening hours: 8 a.m.–4 p.m., Sun–Fri.)
Sanford will make almost everything from scratch, from smoked fish to challah (Fridays only, to start). She’ll tap two, still-secret Portland makers for specially-made bagels and pastrami. The market, meanwhile, will carry ingredients Sanford is passionate about, including products from Philadelphia-based tahini star, Soom, local Humble Bee Honey, and smaller farmers market artisans that might not make the cut on shelves at New Seasons.
And babka? That super-trendy chocolate-filled wonder bread? “It’s a contender,” she says, reluctantly. In the meantime, sweet, rolled rugelach pastries and chocolate tahini brownies will have to suffice.