The much anticipated Portland location of Ohio based Fat Head’s Brewery opens next week but I got an early look, bite and a sip from their upcoming menu courtesy of executive Brewmaster Matt Cole. Though it’s more than a week before opening, the brewpub is already bustling inside.
As I walked up to the big glass doors of Fat Heads on NW 13th a stream of people are coming and going through its doors, others taking cigarette breaks or calling their significant others. 30 or so people are busily working inside the pub and a manager is setting up menus and paperwork at the front desk and you would very much mistake Fat Heads for already being open to the public. In the kitchen a full staff of cooks is busy doing their thing and briskly putting finished dishes to the service window as if there were already a line outside. The brewery staff that includes veterans of Sun King Brewing, Head Brewer Mike Hunsaker and executive Brewmaster Matt Cole are checking gravities, cleaning tanks and managing 5+ yeast strains while filling up all of their 20bbl fermenters in a dash to have as many of their own beers on tap when they officially open. With a substantial management staff flown in from Ohio and an experienced local staff of brewpub veterans the Fat Heads team is going to make the soft opening anything but soft when they open their doors next Monday November 3rd, 2014.
The Portland Fat Head’s Brewery is substantial in size and has the air of being larger than it already is with the extremely high ceilings, rafters and glass building front. It’s not just for show, with 278 seats and a food menu featuring over 100 items and a brewery that needs to keep up with demand. Early on Fat Head’s caught flack for stating the new Pearl District brewery is in the hippest neighborhood in Portland and though that may not be true it’s easy to see why they chose this space.
Outside of the public seating area and bar a brand new 10bbl brewhouse with 20bbl fermenters and brite tanks sits behind big glass windows visible from the restaurant. In this brewery Portland Head Brewer Mike Hunsacker is working on a variety of beer styles both ales: Chocolate Stout, Belgian-style Dark Strong, India Session Ale and their award winning Head Hunter IPA, as well as Lagers: Pilsner, Dortmunder and 2014 GABF gold medal winning “Alpenglow Weizenbock”. The was also a freshly brewed fruit beer “Bumble Berry Honey Blueberry Ale” on the way. With 5 or so of their housemade beers on draft by the time they open they plan to keep around 16 of their own on tap regularly with another 26 guest taps of mostly Oregon beer.
Across a hallway is another glass window open room full of brite tanks for conditioning, kegging as well as serving directly from. Up a couple flights of stairs above the brewery is grain storage and mill as well as a barrel-room that peers out above and behind the downstairs bar. They have plans to fill it with all sorts of oak barrels for aging and hosting private tastings.
I have never been to a Fat Head’s Brewing pub in Ohio and I had only tried a couple of their beers before at the GABF but I was impressed by the beers I tasted last week from their brite tanks. Since I have precious little experience with their brand before I did not know what to expect from the ambiance or the food and I found a colorful fun, slightly midwestern style. I don’t want to say the Fat Head’s is out of place in the Pearl District because places like Blitz Tavern are doing quite well but this will certainly be a less lounge-y, pretentious and less expensive and more down to earth setting than most of the restaurants and beers in the neighborhood. The food menu is decadent pub grub amped up with as much housemade and locally sourced ingredients as possible.
The selection of food at Fat Head’s is American comfort food and there is no quarter given for healthier options and while they have salads your more likely to find MEAT. Meat broiled, meat fried, meat smoked and meat smothered in gravy or cheese. Their sandwiches are proudly proclaimed “roughly the size of your head” and their “The South Side Slopes” featuring a pile of kielbasa, pierogies, cheese and grilled onions was voted the #5 sandwich in the country by Maxim Magazine. Of course Fat Heads is not oblivious to where they are, they have allotted room on the menu for vegetarian and even gluten-free dining and even went out of their way to make the beer 100% vegan for the first time.
A sample plate of their “Pulled Pork Chili Fries” was conveniently out of the test kitchen right as I was finishing up my tour and good god these these things might be the death of me. A huge plate of thick cut and crunchy fries filled the plate with another heaping of chili and big pieces of meat on top, shredded jack and cheddar cheese melted perfectly, adding some color and zesty and spiciness a generous sprucing of scallions, fresh cilantro and fresh jalapenos. Finally the part that left me drooling was a perfectly cooked sunny side egg on top and a good drizzling of chipotle mayonaise dressing. Another huge bonus that will set Fat Head’s Brewery Portland apart from their Pearl District neighbors is with pricing aimed at the $8-$10 range for sandwiches and many main menu items putting it more in competition with nearby “Tilt” rather than Deschutes or Rogue.
Beer Geeks will enjoy their beers I can say pretty much without a doubt, they have a nice variety and are using the oh so hot hop varieties like Citra, making tasty but slightly hoppy pilsners, India Session Ales and Double IPA’s. It remains to be seen if the brewpub will be a big beer geek destination but I can see a huge following of locals packing this place on any given day. Like a Hopworks Urban Brewery location it’s colorful, family friendly (kids menu but no play area) has a wide selection of beers using cutting edge ingredients and techniques and offers a diverse American food menu and though it’s in the high rent district it somehow comes in less expensive. Check out Fat Head’s for yourself:
Open seven days a week, Fat Head’s Brewery is located in the heart of the Pearl District at 131 NW 13th Ave (at Davis St), Portland, OR 97209. The restaurant opens daily at 11 am. Children’s menu upon request. Gluten Free and Vegetarian friendly options. Takeout is also available. Major credit cards are accepted. Call (503) 820-7721 or visit fatheads.com. Like Fat Head’s Portland on Facebook @fatheadsportland and Twitter @FatHeadsPDX.