- Portland Tribune - News
Every Friday in Stumptown Stumper, the Portland Tribune offers a trivia question and answer to help you boost your Rose City IQ.
Q: What's the reason Huber's restaurant downtown started serving roast turkey in 1895 and continues the tradition today?
A: Huber's, 411 S.W. Third Ave., bills itself as Portland's oldest restaurant, having been established in 1879. It has occupied four locations, moving into the current one with its arched stained-glass skylights, mahogany paneling and terrazzo flooring shortly after the Pioneer Building was built in 1910.
In those days, it was a saloon, with not much more than a bar and spittoons, where the downtown professionals spat their chewing tobacco.
Today, the spittoons and other original fixtures - the overhead lights, a pewter wine stand, brass cash register, brass fans and still-operating brass clock - remain in the space, reminders of its rich history.
So where does the turkey come in? The original owner, Frank Huber, in the early days employed a cook named Jim Louie, a Chinese immigrant who was said to have stowed away on a clipper ship to reach Portland.
Huber asked Louie to make free turkey and ham sandwiches for the customers, which he served with a side dish of coleslaw.
When Huber died in 1912, Louie took over the management and kept serving sandwiches and drinks, keeping with the turkey because customers loved it, and it was cheaper than ham.
Rather than close during Prohibition in 1920, they converted the saloon into a restaurant and speakeasy.
In 1952, several years after Louie's death, his nephew, Andrew, became the sole proprietor, buying it out from the Huber family. In 1960, he introduced his 11-year-old son, Jim, to the business as a busboy. Jim Louie now is 62 and the owner of the place.
'I enjoy entertaining,' says Jim Louie, who takes time to chat with all of his regulars. 'This is the perfect business for me.'
Today, the restaurant has stuck to its roots, cooking about 100 pounds of whole turkey each day to make at least a dozen different dishes including the classic turkey dinner, hot and cold sandwiches, turkey marsala, cordon bleu, piccata, gumbo, drumsticks and wings, and Chinese barbecue turkey.
There are a few turkey-related items they've tried to introduce over the years that haven't caught on so well, Louie notes. One was a concoction of Wild Turkey liqueur, coffee and whipped cream on top. It might've been the name that turned people off, he said: turkey coffee.
Another dish that didn't last long was his parents' Americanized version of 'turkey giblet chop suey,' as well as his mother's roast duck, which he hasn't been able to replicate since his parents' retirement from the business in 1986.
While his great-uncle carved the way for his famous turkey, Jim Louie's own stamp on the business has been his introduction of the Spanish coffee as the restaurant's signature drink.
It happened 33 years ago, as he was courting his wife, he remembers. They were at a bar in Milwaukie (now closed), called the Fernwood Inn. He saw a bartender making Spanish coffees at a table and recalls thinking, 'Geez, it's a piece of cake, and customers are loving it.'
'I stole the idea,' he says, later adding triple sec and a dusting of nutmeg on top, at customers' suggestions. He then became an expert at lighting a match with one hand and holding the flame above the glass to ignite the alcohol in a dramatic tableside display.
Word about Huber's new drink spread, and after the Fern-wood Inn closed, he had the chance to ask that owner where he got the Spanish coffee idea from. To which the reply was: 'My brother stole the idea from a bar in Mexico.'
Louie laughs. 'Maybe that's how creativity works,' he says.
Next week's Stumper: Where in Portland can you buy an original copy of Life magazine from the week of your birth?