Restaurant of the Week: Meriwethers

Merry weather or not, eatery's the place to be
by: KATIE HARTLEY, Venison Wellington is one of the most popular main dishes at Meriwether’s, but lighter eaters can choose from among a nice selection of salads and intriguing starters.

Meriwether's has something in common with a circus clown car.

The exterior of the simple-looking, low brick building gives little indication of the multitude of experiences available within.

From the welcoming entryway, head left and find a cozy bar with generous booths, counter seating and a crackling fireplace (and a great happy hour menu between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays).

To the right and going down, stair-stepping dining rooms allow the pleasant servers to appropriately seat any sort of party, from white-haired couples seeking quiet to young, animated families to elegant Pearl escapees.

And that's just the inside. Over the past four years, the enclosed outdoor space has blossomed into a secret gardem.

With its wild variety of plants and flora, Meriwether's offers outdoor seating under a roof with heaters, making it comfortable in all but the worst weather.

It's an especially nice space for a leisurely weekend brunch (the spicy chilaquiles, a scramble of eggs, chips and salsa will lift any lingering chill).

Even more unusual, Meriwether's gazebo has become one of the most interesting places to dine in Portland. Warmed by a fire pit, the semicircular space seats 15 on normal evenings, up to 19 for special events.

It's typically open for drop-in seating May through December, but they will set it up for large groups with prior arrangements. They'll also offer private alfresco space for individual parties for an added service surcharge.

But all that wouldn't amount to a hill of beans if the food wasn't any good. Luckily, chef Tommy Habetz has created an ambitious menu that, like the space, offers plenty of options.

In fact, the restaurant publishes six different menus including a weekend afternoon offering and 'Small Explorer' kids' menus at brunch and dinner.

For brunch, choose classics like a Hangtown Fry and eggs Benedict or more current dishes like fried chicken and waffles or wonderful smoked salmon hash.

Looking for a big salad nearly any time of day? There are plenty on the seasonally changing menus, reliably jam-packed with the freshest local produce.

Rosy smoked salmon is the highlight of a butter lettuce salad that gets crunch from radishes and an earthy tang from tarragon vinaigrette.

A hearty steak salad has lots of bold flavors to complement the meat: sweet beets, peppery arugula, hot horseradish vinaigrette. And the chopped salad is a fun, protein-packed variation on the standard Cobb with deviled eggs and blue cheese mixed with the chicken, ham and bacon.

The dinner menu lists some serious, special occasion main dishes such as venison Wellington or roasted duck breast with duck confit with prices to match ($20 to $35).

You also can mix and match among the starters such as wild mushroom strudel or grilled flatbread with pork confit and Gorgonzola to create a full, yet less expensive and elaborate meal.

Whatever sort of mood you're in, you'll find something to like.

- Audrey Van Buskirk

2601 N.W. Vaughn St., 503-228-1250. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, $20 to $35 for dinner entrees.