Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tomato Brothers

200 Bridge Street
Clarkston, Washington
Happy Hour: 4 - 6 PM, daily

It's official. I've lived in Portland for as long as I lived in Idaho. Eighteen years here, eighteen years there. I guess you can call me an Idagonian. Or maybe an Orehoan. No, not that. Either way, it's time to review one of my favorite restaurants from home. (It's technically in Washington, but only a few hundred yards from the border. Lewiston and Clarkston are side by side--if you didn't already know--and are separated only by the Snake River.) And this place is THE place I force my family to go to whenever I come to visit. (Well, one of two places...but the other one doesn't offer happy hour.)

Tomato Bros. has been around for a very long time. I must have been in junior high (maybe high school) when they first opened. They are one of many super successful and very well-known restaurants owned by the Happy Day Restaurant Corporation. Starting with one little fast food franchise in the late sixties, this corporation now owns five family-style sit-down restaurants and a few fast food spots--including what many consider to be the absolute BEST Taco Times in existence.


Outside of Portland, Happy Hour can sometimes be a bit of a disappointment. For some, Happy Hour is just one hour (which is NEVER long enough). There are places that don't even offer a discounted food menu. I've even learned that there are cities (states, I suppose) in which happy hour--or discounts on drinks, rather--is against the law. But Tomato Brothers has Happy Hour dialed in. It's got everything you need to call a Happy Hour top notch (except maybe discounted desserts...).



Happy Hour at Tomato Bros. is available daily from four to six. It's offered in the Tomato Lounge, but that doesn't mean you can't bring the whole family. They've sectioned the bar into an over 21 area and a family-friendly zone. (The tables in back are super tall, though...which for some people might cause an issue.) They've got discounts on food and drinks--including a $5 carafe of their house-made Sangria (yum!). We ordered a number of items, but I couldn't leave without having at least a few bites of my favorite dish--their baked spaghetti.


The hummus plate came with an abundance of toasted parmesan flatbread and a few veggie slices, plus some Kalamata olives. It's a HUGE platter--something you'll definitely want to share--and if there's any flatbread left over, we suggest saving it to accompany any leftover marinara you might come across.



I was more than impressed with the presentation of the Caprese Stack. Sure, it's a simple salad (and one that we have at home when it's too hot to cook and the garden overflows with tomatoes) but it's always fun to see how different restaurants put it together. The stack is great...but kabobs are fun, too.



With its mandarin jalapeno chutney and perfect grill marks (read: not too greasy), I was drawn to the quesadilla. Good thing I pulled the menu open to read its description before taking the first bite. It's a chicken quesadilla. Oops! I wasn't in charge of ordering this one. My parents sure enjoyed it, though...even my mom, who tends to avoid spicy stuff.



The favorite of the evening (besides the Sangria, of course) was the fried ravioli. The menu calls them toasted, but we all know that they were fried. That's what makes them so good. They've got just enough crunch and still ooze with cheese at first bite. It's a perfect little plate for a table of two (or three) but for the six of us, we could have used another order.



Service at Tomato Bros. is always pretty stellar, even in the lounge. They take good care of their employees there, who in turn take really good care of the customers. It's a Happy Day thing. They are pretty strict about some things--they limit the number of earrings you can wear and your nail polish has to be an approved color--but they offer quarterly bonuses for good grades (if you're still in high school), tuition reimbursement (for college students), and there's serious potential to move-up (if restaurant management is something you're interested in). They expect you to have a good attitude--which makes sense--and that makes dining in a Happy Day Restaurant a great experience.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Exceeds
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Meets

-b


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Thursday, July 16, 2015

New American

2103 N Killingsworth Street
Happy Hour: TBA
newamericanpdx.com

In between happy hours? What's that all about? Happy Hour at New American used to be a thing. I know. I took a picture of the menu just a few months ago. It was on my "to do" list for such a short period of time and already--ALREADY--they've switched things up. Thankfully, they have plenty of small bites on the menu, they still offer a discounted cocktail of the day (or at least they did that day), and they're planning to revamp the menu and get happy hour back in the mix...eventually.

New American opened in the last year with big plans to change the way take out is done. The owners have kids of their own and wanted more than anything to create a family-friendly establishment that would make getting dinner on the table that much easier. Their online ordering makes that possible. As does the build-your-meal menu, allowing customers to pick and choose from a list of main courses and sides--buying just the amount that is needed. And if you are planning to dine in, the tables are perfect for a party of two or a party of twelve.

We stopped in earlier this week not knowing that happy hour had been put on hold. Sure, we could have hit up another happy hour in the neighborhood (Old Gold is right next door!) but we decided to make the most of it. They've got plenty of good food AND they've added a full bar--with a super fun list of specialty cocktails.




I started with the Killingsworth Kooler. It's a mix of bourbon and fruit juices and is a perfect option on a hot HOT summer day. I also snapped a picture of the Italian Greyhound--with grapefruit juice, Cocchi Americano, vodka, and tarragon--and the Bee's Knees, which is a mix of gin and cava, lemon and honey. They have a number of cocktails mostly premixed and available on tap, too. I'm not sure how much faster it makes getting a drink, but cocktails on tap have become quite the thing lately.

To accompany our chosen cocktails, we ordered a plate of nachos, an essential burger (with bacon, cheddar, and a side of slaw), the kale salad, and a small order of the cheesy polenta.



The burger was a huge hit (and not just because it was HUGE). It really is a mystery how some burgers make it down the hatch without being completely destroyed in the process. Perhaps it was the bacon and cheddar add-ons that made it tower like it did. Either way, it turned out to be a pretty good food choice (despite the mess it made and the fact that the bottom bun soaked through before it had been completely consumed).



Piled high on top of what looked to be house-made tortilla chips, the nachos were smothered with vegan black beans, roasted tomato salsa, sour cream, a sprinkling of queso fresco, and sliced avocado. Next time I'm in, I will definitely consider ordering an extra plate of these "for the table."



Like with every visit, I ordered the kale salad. It's a great mix of kale, raisins (something I usually avoid), and crispy fried onions. The dressing isn't too heavy and the combination of textures (and crunch) make it hard to put down the fork before the plate's empty. The salad was a bit heavy on fried onions this time...but I know that's not usually the case. I will continue to order this salad every time I am there (whether it's to pick up something to go or to dine in) because it's just that good.

And I couldn't not order the cheesy polenta to go with my salad. Creamy polenta is one of my favorites lately (like, for the past five years) and this one is made with melted white cheddar cheese (yum!). I did, however, get to the plate before snapping a picture. Argh! It happens.

There's no way I won't be back to New American in the near future. I've got to track down their official happy hour at some point. And when I do, I'll be sure to tell you just how it rates.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Exceeds
Service: Meets (but you've got to order at the bar)
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Meets

-b

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Beaches Restaurant and Bar

1919 SE Columbia River Drive
Vancouver, WA
Happy Hour: 3 - 6 and 9 - 11, Tuesday through Saturday; 3 - 6 and 9 - 10, Sunday
ALL NIGHT Happy Hour on Mondays from 3 - 10 PM
beachesrestaurantandbar.com

It's not very often that I cross the river into Vancouver. It had probably been years since the last time I was there. I recognize that there are good happy hour establishments on that side, too. But the traffic! Happy Hour typically starts in the early afternoon and so does the traffic headed in that direction. But Beaches offers a family-friendly happy hour and I knew that I needed to check it out...because when you are meeting five mommas and their five babies it's SUPER important to make sure that whatever restaurant you walk into is really really family-friendly.

Happy Hour at Beaches Restaurant & Bar is available twice daily (and ALL day on Mondays). They have a section open to families (because everyone deserves discounts) but they also have a much larger space set aside for adults only (because you don't always want to sip sangria next to a table full of infants). If you're like me and haven't been to Beaches since the late nineties, you also need to know that happy hour is no longer available on the patio overlooking the river (because that would be too good to be true). They've got a full-page food menu with discounts that will make you want to plan dinner out at least twice a week and there's always a super cheap cocktail of the day.


The menu includes some snackables--like the calamari pictured above--but most of the offerings are big enough to make into a meal. And the menu is lengthy enough that you will find something to please everyone at the table (vegetarian and paleo, alike). At our table, we had burgers & fries, the chicken sandwich, steak bites, pizza, salad, and an assortment of margaritas.





Following the advice of a seasoned employee, I opted for the mini Rustic Tuscan Pizza and the Rogue Blue Balsamic Salad. The salad was a mix of kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, and julienned apples tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette and covered in Rogue blue cheese crumbles and candied hazelnuts. Any salad covered in blue cheese and candied hazelnuts is going to be good, but this one had both the flavor and the texture going for it. The combination--for both--was spot on. I will definitely order this again and again (and maybe try to recreate it at home, too).




The Tuscan Pizza had great toppings as well--it was covered in roasted garlic cloves, a sprinkling of goat cheese, spinach, sliced tomatoes, pesto, and a cheese blend--but the crust was a little dry and masked the bold flavors of the pizza's toppings. It's most likely a ratio issue and might not be as noticeable when ordering the regular-sized version of the same.


Better than any of the food--and maybe even the Mondo Margarita--was the service at Beaches. Everyone there was so friendly--not bubbly-friendly, but super sincere and genuinely friendly--and it was obvious that they were all really dedicated to making you feel welcome (even when you walk in with mob of mommas and all of their teeny tinies). That, alone, will have me coming back for more.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Exceeds
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Meets

-b

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Old Town Brewery

5201 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard
Happy Hour: 3 - 6 PM and 9 PM - close, daily
www.otbrewing.com

Old Town Pizza has been around forever. (Forever in this case means longer than I can remember. Research shows it opened in the mid-seventies...which is far from forever, but still.) The brewery is much newer. Much, much newer. It opened just a few years back on the corner of MLK and Sumner, just a block north of Alberta. It's a beautiful building with plenty of seating--including a space large enough for private events upstairs and lots of spots out in the sun, too. They've got the same great menu that's available at the original location and service that will keep you coming back for more (because you don't just order at the window like before). And for the past month or so, they've been distributing their award-winning beers all over town. Look for their 22 oz bottles at New Seasons and Belmont Station or call in an order and have a growler delivered--by bike--directly to your front door.

Happy Hour at Old Town Brewery is available twice daily, but only in the bar. They've got plenty of seating in addition to the bar itself, but minors are not allowed. Discounts are available on both food and drinks--well drinks are just $3.50 and all pints are a buck off. We took advantage of the low prices on pizza, balanced things out with some salad, and opted for the fancy cocktails despite their regular price tag.



I ordered and enjoyed every ounce of the Hey, Tina!--grated ginger root served over muddled orange, tequila, and lemonade--but totally loved the few sips I had of the Go-Go Juice. Potentially the most ideal summertime cocktail, the Go-Go Juice starts with muddled cucumber and lime and is mixed with vodka that's been infused with passion-tea. It's then topped with just enough club soda and garnished with a slice of cucumber.



There are four salads available on the happy hour menu--that's nearly half of the food menu--and they are all between four and five dollars. (Plus, you can add chicken to a couple of the options for just a buck more.) I decided on the green salad but probably should have ordered the spinach salad (minus the crispy prosciutto, of course). It looked delicious with its candied pecans, dried cranberries, and generous amount of crumbled feta. The green salad did have plenty of veggie accents and was of a decent size, but looked pretty plain compared to the texture-rich spinach salad.



As for the pizza, you can choose between the original crust or the thin and crispy version. Both come with one topping and you can add one more for just 75 cents. The pizza is definitely meant for an individual (although they look huge in these photos), but with a salad to start it could easily be shared. You can also choose from the meatball sliders, a small order of their spaghetti & meatball (just one, I guess), or the garlic knots. It's a pretty substantial list, overall. And if you don't mind the early start--and you're traveling without kids--it makes for a decently priced dinner.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Exceeds
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Meets

-b

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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Laurelwood Public House & Brewery

5115 NE Sandy Boulevard
Happy Hour: 3 - 6 and 9 - close, daily
www.laurelwoodbrewpub.com

Portland is full of breweries. There are non-profit breweries, gluten-free breweries, and more breweries that cater to dogs than I can count on one hand. But Portland is also full of families. Families with kids. Little kids. And that's why Laurelwood fits in perfectly. There are many locations around town. They offer all sorts of good pub food. And they have play spaces for kids. LOTS of play spaces with LOTS of toys. It keeps the kids happy and the parents even happier.


To increase the happiness level even more, they offer discounts on food and drinks during what they like to call hoppy hour (because every other hour at Laurelwood is already happy, I suppose). Hoppy Hour is available daily from 3 - 6 PM and again from 9 PM until closing. The menu includes pub favorites--chicken strips, nachos, burgers, and hummus--all priced around five or six bucks and the beer is marked down to just $3.50 per pint. The only way to beat that price would be to get your beer to go. They offer both growlers and growlettes of what's on tap (and you can see what's available before you head out on their website).


To ensure that they really are as family-friendly as they claim, I showed up with a bunch of other brand new moms and their teeny-tiny babies. These babies were all too small for the play space but still made a lot of noise, brought a lot of toys, and spilled an occasional water glass. And each time the server stopped by, these mommas (me included) were a bit distracted. We required patience, food that could be eaten with one hand, and the bill to arrive at a moment's notice.


I ordered the nachos (which were covered with black beans, cheese, tomatoes, guacamole, and their chipotle-lime sour cream) and one of the day's specials, plus an order of the fish tacos to go. (The special and all to-go items aren't included in the discounts but were worth the higher price tag.) Other items ordered by the mommas (and pictured below) included a cheeseburger with fries and the spinach salad.


The cheeseburger (or veggie burger, on request) comes topped with Tillamook cheddar, their famous Laurelwood sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and thin slices of red onion. Even with the fries, this plate is only $6.25 during hoppy hour. It's not the cheapest I've seen, but still a fairly decent price.


One of the healthier options on the hoppy hour menu, the spinach salad is a mix of spinach (obviously!), golden beets, blue cheese crumbles, red onion, and hazelnuts. (I love when restaurants opt for hazelnuts over walnuts. It's so very Oregon of them. That, and I can't eat walnuts.) The salad isn't gigantic but comes with a lot of flavor as it's tossed with their house-made Workhorse IPA mustard vinaigrette.


The nachos were delicious, of course, but proved to be a bit of a challenge to eat with one hand. I did what I could, however, but had the hardest time getting any of that salsa to cooperate. Good thing that both the sour cream and the beans came with a little heat. I might have to wait until my teeny-tiny is ready for a high chair before attempting that again.

Although we weren't quite ready to take advantage of the play spaces (we will be back to do that eventually, I am sure), the staff at Laurelwood definitely knows what they're doing when it comes to all of the littles. And it's a big enough place (at this location, anyway) that you are likely to find a place away from the smallest humans, if that's what you need.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Meets

-b

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Friday, June 26, 2015

RingSide Grill

14021 NE Glisan Street
Happy Hour: 3 - 6 and 9 - close, daily
www.ringsidegrill.com

After a few short months of renovation, the RingSide Grill at Glendoveer Golf & Tennis Club is open and ready to impress the neighborhood. Like the golf course and remodeled clubhouse, everything is shiny and new. And like the greens, it seems as though they are woking hard to keep that pristine appearance going strong. The menu has changed quite a bit--as has the dining room, itself--but they've still got those trademark onion rings and a stellar happy hour spread.


Happy Hour is offered twice daily at the RingSide Grill. It includes discounts on food and drinks and is available in the bar and their garden patio (which is shaded and overlooks the golf course). The only thing missing is a bit more vegetarian fare. Luckily, the bar bites menu is available and if you're there late enough you can get something from the dinner menu, too. It's not as cheap, but maybe--just maybe--they'll consider adding something more than french fries to the list of happy hour discounts.


The food menu has tiered pricing starting at $2.95 and most drinks are just five bucks. I would definitely recommend checking out the regular cocktail menu, though, as the prices really aren't that outlandish and they've got a number of creative cocktails available on tap. (Speaking of things on tap: they now offer growler fills--both beer and wine, plus you can pick up one of their rotisserie chickens to go. It seems ideal for anyone who's spent their day on the golf course and is headed home to a hungry family.)




Sitting at a table with three meat eaters, we ordered pretty much everything. The steak bites were the big winner that night (and have been mentioned more than once since then) but the cheeseburger continues to be the best value. It's only $2.95 and comes with all the fixings.



I ordered the smoked portobello burger from the regular dinner menu (it was too hot for the grilled cheese & tomato soup combo available on the bar bites menu) and loved everything but the bun. Seriously, so many sandwiches are ruined with the too thick and too chewy qualities of even the best ciabatta roll. It's just too much bread for a burger. Any burger, it seems. The bread overpowers the other flavors and textures. Even as an open faced option (I ditched the top after the first few bites) the flavors of the mushroom and onions and everything else were masked by the big bread-y bun.


My disappointment in the portobello burger was saved by the onion rings (and the Thai Basil Collins--get one, they're good). I always eat too many...but really, who doesn't. They aren't on the happy hour menu--sad, I know--but are worth the full price every time.

Three things to watch out for on your next trip to the RingSide Grill: 1) Keep your eyes open pulling into that lot. That two-mile jogging path is heavily used by the people of East County and no one needs to get hurt. 2) The remodel included one REALLY big change. The men's and women's restrooms have switched spots. It's hard to break the routine. If you're a regular, you're likely to make a mistake. 3) Service is really good. Almost too good. You're likely to stay longer than anticipated, because everyone is so very nice.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Exceeds
Ambiance: Exceeds (that garden patio is key!)
Value: Meets

-b

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