Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Bistro at Higgins

Have you ever been in the right place at the right time? Not often enough? I can help you out. Sit yourself down at the bar at Higgins some lunchtime, or after work, and you'll know without a doubt that you're at the right place, at one of the many possible right times.

Now, Higgins Restaurant is a great place for one of those splurge dinners -- an anniversary divisible by five, a new job -- but the bistro side is reasonably-priced enough for less momentous occasions, such as lunch on a Thursday. The sandwich/salad lunch special is $8.50, and usually consists of some hormone-free meat on homemade bread with homemade pickles, with locally-grown vegetables on the side. If the special doesn't ring your bell, how about a burger from fresh-chopped sirloin, or a homemade pastrami sandwich? The appetizer mussels are a meal unto themselves. Vegetarian? There's a vegan soup every day.

Wait a minute, I thought this was a beer blog.

Let's talk about the beer at Higgins. The bottled beer list rivals their wine list, with an excellent selection of Belgians, and Belgian-y ales like Unibroue and Hair of the Dog.

The draft beer selection is not huge, but is carefully chosen. You know, Quality vs. Quantity. As seen in the picture above, there is always a cask-conditioned selection on the beer engine. Today it was Full Sail's delicious winter warmer Wreck the Halls; for the last few months Full Sail has tended to dominate the beer engine, but it was Deschutes for a few months before that.

There is always a Hair of the Dog selection on tap also. Usually -- like today -- it's a beer which is only available at Higgins: Hair of the Dog's Greg, named for chef/owner Greg Higgins. What was I saying about being in the right place at the right time? That's a pint of Greg in the picture above. The color is amber, but the style is like a strong Belgian Golden Ale: sweet, flowery, long and strong. Secret ingredient: winter squash prepared in the kitchen at Higgins, like the one pictured on top of the Greg tap-handle above. [Update: 2008/01/18: Whoa! Just had a Greg that was nothing like the one described here. Light in color, very flat, not sweet, not flowery, not long... A couple of weeks ago the Greg was from an older keg -- they had gone with Blue Dot instead of Greg for awhile -- but I also wonder if the current batch is not quite right. Not spoiled, but not right. New entry here.] [Update: 2008/03/27: Zowie! Had an awesome Greg today. When it's good, it's very, very good....]

Rotating selections favor local and/or seasonal brews. There's often a Roots or Laurelwood beer on tap, and this winter I've seen Terminal Gravity Fest, Hopworks Abominabale, and Deschutes Jubel; today it was Lucky Lab's Scottish Holiday, Elysian's Bifrost, and Sierra Nevada Celebration. The rest of the taps provide reasonable defaults to those customers who don't spend every waking moment considering their next Oregon beer: Guinness, Chimay, Lindeman's Framboise.

To top it all off, the service is friendly and efficient (both on the bistro side and the restaurant side). No snobbery at all, just the real deal, from food to beer to wine. So, whether you're after the uniqueness of Greg, or the heartiness of a cask Full Sail, or the outlandishness of some obscure De Dolle, pop into the bistro at Higgins and get the most from your Portland lifestyle.

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