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Cat Class, Cat Style

Raising the Bar at the Country Cat Dinner House

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Insofar as 82nd Avenue is regarded as a dining destination, it's because of the many Asian restaurants and markets found up and down the strip. The area is not exactly known for high-end cuisine, and it certainly feels removed from the trend toward local, sustainable, and organic that has swamped Portland's larger restaurant scene.

Where many people see a culinary wasteland, though, Adam Sappington saw an opportunity. After 11 years in the kitchen at Wildwood, Sappington recently opened a place of his own just off 82nd, in the Montavilla neighborhood. And though the prices at the Country Cat Dinner House are higher than you might expect given the 'hood (entrees range from a $10 burger to $23 Strawberry Mountain beef), Sappington thinks the area deserves easy access to the kind of food found in other parts of the city.

"I wanted to provide a quality restaurant in a neighborhood setting with an environment that [people living in the area] would feel very welcome to come to," Sappington told me. "As a family man and a dad, I'm always looking for a restaurant that I can walk into with my kids and get the same hospitality and treatment that I would in any 'white tablecloth' restaurant. When I saw the Montavilla neighborhood, I just kind of fell in love with it. There's somewhat of a void here, and we wanted to be able to fill it, to raise the bar a little bit. We wanted to be able to bring this quality to an area that I think really deserves it. "

Sappington's food mirrors this sentiment perfectly. The menu focuses on what Sappington dubs "regional American cuisine": basic, unpretentious fare made with high-quality ingredients. Sappington estimates that 90 percent of his produce is local—he spent 11 years at Wildwood cultivating relationships with local purveyors—but also notes that he wants to be able to bring in "South Carolina grits without feeling like [he's] stepping on anyone's toes." The result is a menu full of items that are familiar enough to be accessible, yet innovative enough to be interesting. The molasses and hickory smoked duck leg comes draped with two baby onions on a bed of pea greens; it's a sizeable portion of sweet, tender duck, and the protein onslaught is rounded out nicely with the accompanying, beautifully fresh vegetables. The baked goat cheese and spring onion hand pie was less successful—the dense, chewy crust distracted unpleasantly from the savory filling, though the accompanying chicory snap pea salad was a bright counterpoint. A side of pork belly braised kale was my favorite part of the meal—highbrow and low meet in salty, fatty harmony. Other menu items include fried chicken and braised lettuce, bacon-wrapped trout, and manila clams with ham and sugar snap peas.

The restaurant itself is gorgeous. Loosely modeled on a Southern roadhouse, the space is all blues and browns with lots of booths and hanging lights creating a warm, intimate environment. A bar along one wall provides extra seating, as well as a bar menu that includes house-made pretzels and jerky. There's also a kids' menu (free on Sunday for kids under 10) and a happy hour from 5-7 pm. Sappington has taken every measure to make sure that the Country Cat is as welcoming as can be, while still committing to lovingly crafted food made with top-quality ingredients.

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