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Checking in on Mr. Tasty

Gorham's NoPo Landmark Turns Two

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JOHN GORHAM is a long-established and dynamic godfather of Portland cuisine; many readers will already know the menu at his restaurant Tasty n Sons more intimately than I do. That said, this place is an important local food phenomenon, and we occasionally like to do health checks on worthy institutions. Was the chef's imagination and attention to detail still as strong as I remembered, or had he begun to rest on his well-earned laurels? I doubted it, but, figuring there was exciting food in it either way, I popped in a few times recently.

It's the second anniversary of this restaurant—a North Williams hot spot that instantly became a household name upon opening—and many of their original dishes have stood the test of time. Their legendary potatoes bravas ($7), dressed in a maddeningly delicious red pepper sauce and creamy aioli—and always served with perfect sunny-side-up eggs in thick, reassuring cast iron—are still there. So is their award-winning salad of radicchio with parmesan reggiano vinaigrette ($8), bitter and creamy and chilled. Shakshuka ($10)—an unusual stew of red peppers and tomatoes baked with eggs—still flies out of the kitchen. The removal of any of these items would be unsettling; it would be like Portland without the neon stag.

This restaurant, which set brunch on its ear in this town by turning to North Africa, Spain, and Italy (to name but a few) for inspiration, turns exotic ingredients into a wish list of guilty pleasures. Forget the tired brunch format of eggs, goofed-up home fries, and cheap greasy meats, occasionally enlivened with the big imagination of Hollandaise or smoked salmon: This food is a unique fusion designed by a capable chef. Fearless assemblies of worldwide flavors become unquestionably American on Gorham's plates. A dizzying variety of Moroccan chicken hashes, Burmese pork stews, and Boudin blanc omelets make conventional brunch destinations look as ambitious as rehydrated airport food.

The dinner menu has grown to over 30 big boned, expertly tweaked creations. Smoked BBQ ribs are served with an unapologetically thick, sweet, slightly spicy house-made sauce that will have barbecue purists gnashing their teeth as their inner child grins with delight. A cold, creamy potato salad, suitable for any red, white, and blue summer cookout, cuts the heat and makes the dish, at $11, a solid value. Polenta with Italian sausage and peppers ($15) could be fairly described as creamy, cheesy grits. The dish is the texture of pudding and extremely rich, but surprisingly easy to keep eating. A hearty portion of meat and peppers perfectly balance out to the last spoonful.

Other cherry-picked international comfort foods have appeared over time. The pork shank adobo—a dark, lacquered, braised hunk for two ($13)—is a formidable joint served with kimchee, pickled cucumbers, and white rice. A quick cassoulet for two ($17) omits the confit and crumb crust of the classic, but is rich with deeply smoky pork belly, fresh spiced sausage, charred chicken thigh, and sweet beans. In its hot cast iron pan, it's like a campfire breakfast made by a great chef (though, sadly, not on the brunch menu). Gorham has, of course, perfected his versions of the American classics, and the Tasty Burger ($11) is one of the best, adorned with cheddar, bacon, and house-made pickles. It is alarmingly juicy, intimidatingly large, and nestled in a generous bed of crisp shoestring fries. It's easy to overdo a burger when trying to stand out, but here the beef is allowed to be the unpretentious feature it is.

Happy hour is hardly the truncated afterthought it is at lesser establishments, and is a great way to enjoy a good deal of the high-quality food for around $5 a plate. The Pretty Damn Good Chicken Strips are as billed, and a familiar pleasure with a one-buck Old German or $7 cocktail. The Low Country Hush Puppies are the best I've found, with the sweet, airy, cornmeal fried to a perfect county-fair crisp that readily absorbs the fruity, ample jalapeño butter. I've never had much of a place in my heart for the mushy, unctuous $1 bacon-wrapped date, but they must have their fans, because they've been on the menu since day one.

If anything, Tasty n Sons has grown more adventurous in their expanding menu, while displaying admirably high standards of variety and quality. Here at the end of their sophomore year, it is firmly established as an enduring high temple of all-day pleasures.

Brunch daily 9 am-2:30 pm, happy hour 2:30-5 pm, dinner 5:30-11 pm Fri-Sat, until 10 pm all other days. Reservations accepted for six or more. Expect waits at peak mealtimes.

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