Review: Trifecta Tavern, Where Bakery, Bar, & Restuarant Meet


Trifecta Tavern, just opened in inner southeast Portland, is neither a brewpub nor a tap house, but something much rarer--a pub that highlights beer, wine, spirits, AND food with equal reverence. Opened last week by local restaurateur and James Beard Award-winner Ken Forkish of Ken's Artisan Bakery & Pizza, the Trifecta is already all the buzz in foodie circles after being open only a few days.

Trifecta's aforementioned threesome is restaurant, bakery, and bar. The spot is located in a surprisingly large space down a quiet and dark 6th Avenue in SE Portland, illuminated with a bright orange sign. There are two different entrances and hours, you can shimmy up to the bakery entrance that's a narrow space carved out of the much larger rectangular bar space. The bakery--open at 8am Wednesday-Sunday--has a variety of breads from Country Loafs, muffins, four different kinds of croissants, buns, lemon tarts, and much more to-go, while also producing specialties for the Trifecta dine-in menu.

The bar/restaurant is apparently modeled after big city bars in places like NYC that force the patron into either a bar seat or booth, with no regularly seated tables. Really comfy and warm red leather booths line the wall, separating tavern from bakery all the way to the back of the room and around the corner. Each booth has its own romantic lamp and sparse decoration, usually built upon large mirrors and deep red colored walls that give an incredible warmth to the space. This is the type of place you want to cozy up in on a chilly or snowy day. Ken has put together an impressive open kitchen where you can see a small army of cooks working behind racks of wood and a seafood bar. Decor touches like rusty antique food cans and a giant heirloom squash sitting on the bar alert you with nod and wink that you're in a "gastropub," not some run-of-the-mill Pearl District rip-off.

We often think of bread as a secondary ingredient, something to hold the meat and cheese together or sop up a hearty soup. Baking is, of course, very similar to brewing, and its similarities are often overlooked, but not so with Trifecta Tavern. Ken Forkish has worked bread into almost every amazing dish, from appetizers like radish butter on rye toast to an oyster-infused brioche bun and pimento cheese toast. The real full-time in-house chef, though, has proven beer geek chops. Rich Meyer has came from downtown's famous Higgins Restaurant to hold down the kitchen at Trifecta.

The name "Tavern" sometimes suggests that a place is more of a drinking establishment and that the food is just an afterthought. Oftentimes most "taverns" don't even put much consideration into their drinks, so long as there is alcohol. Trifecta Tavern could not be more the opposite; while the space may center around a bar, one could just as easily approach it as a fine restaurant like NE Portland's Grain & Gristle or The Woodsman Tavern. If I compare Trifecta too much to the G & G, it's because they both take to food and booze with equal excitement, yet structure the eats around good drinking food. Drinking foods are usually simple, often salty, sometimes hearty, and always best with a cold drink to wash them down. In this category, the Trifecta kills it. A large wood-fired oven in the kitchen cranks out everything from baked oysters (also available pan fried or on the half shell) to wood-fired oven flatbread pizza. Prices range from cheap ($10 oyster stew or crispy pork rillions, $12 steamed clams) to moderate ($16 grilled marrow bones, $21 shrimp 'n grits, $16 pimiento double cheeseburger & fries) to only one truly spendy item that may well be worth it--a $75 34oz bone-in ribeye steak with marrow sauce.

Veggie lovers are not forgotten, either. Trifecta has an enviable list of salads, from the fashionable kale salad to Ken's Salad of lettuce, pickled asparagus, crispy salami, smoked & grilled rye bread, and fromage blanc that has me drooling. How about some chilled ember-roasted carrots with maple hazelnuts and a sherry gastrique? Or wood-roasted Brussels sprouts, or fried cauliflower?

Only having been to Trifecta once so far (that will change soon), I only tried a few of the small plates. A pickle plate and a healthy heaping of pimiento cheese toast both for just a super cheap $4 each.

Then I had the Tartine-BLT--essentially BLT sliders, except actually served on a bacon bread and with pickled green tomatoes. See, that's just ingenious drinking food. BLTs already are great for the salty and savory combo with tomato acidity, but the switch to pickled anything just makes the craving for a beer all that much stronger and makes for such a better pairing.

As a beer geek you might be disappointed by only 8 draft beer taps at Trifecta, but like other grastropubs in the same vein like Grain & Gristle, those 8 taps when well selected are all that's needed.  Logsdon Seizoen, Crux Off Leash, Base Camp Rip Stop Rye Pils, Good Life Pale Ale, Ninkasi IPA, Hopworks Abominable, The Commons Alt, and Worthy Brewing Stout are currently featured on the rotating taplist. The bar also supplements the tap selection with a really nice bottle and can selection: Logsdon Kili Wit, Commons Urban Farmhouse, Chimay Reserve, HOTD Adam, Green's Gluten-Free Lager, Hop Valley Alphadelic IPA, Fearless Scottish, Worthy Kolsch, Good Life IPA, Cascadia Dry Cider...and an 8oz Coors Light "Little Buddy" (beer back?).

The bar is very well stocked, from classic and obscure imported liquors to small batch local distillers. A row of extracts, syrups, and tonics lines the bar, and the cocktail list focuses on expertly realized either classic renditions or new-age twists on the vintage cocktails your grandparents created. They even have a section of "Eggs & Cream" drinks that help to bring back one of the most forgotten cocktail styles of the "Flip".

I didn't spy the wine list--I wouldn't know what to make of it, anyway, I must admit--but supposedly Ken Forkish has been working on it for four years and is focused on wines from the northwest, Italy, and France, with pricetags running anywhere between $28 and $260.

With Trifecta Tavern and such other newer bars/restaurants that don't shortchange craft beer like The Woodsman, Sunshine Tavern, and The Bent Brick, we can comfortably say Portland has caught up with the culinary beer scene so well developed in San Francisco and New York.

Trifecta Tavern
726 SE 6th Ave
Portland, OR 97214