Youll swear grandma is cooking at Sunshine Tavern

Bread and Brew
by: Christopher Onstott The Monte Cristo sandwich at the Sunshine Tavern on Southeast Division Street is so decadent, we suggest eating it with a knife and fork.

The other day at Goodwill I saw a plate that said, 'If Mom says no, ask Grandma.'

It reminded me of the Sunshine Tavern, where the food appears to be made by someone who dotes on you, and thinks you're looking slightly underweight. What I'm saying is, the salad has french fries in it.

The sandwiches are big and messy, and sometimes have to be eaten with a knife and fork.

The duck egg sandwich, with a giant, beaming, runny, orange-yellow yolk, is piled with grilled asparagus and dressed greens. As if that weren't enough, slices of ricotta salata add a unifying layer of creaminess.

Cheese plays the opposite role in the chicken sandwich. It's a pungent blue that keeps you awake as you bite through swoony layers of juicy chicken, crunchy skin, soft fresh roll and peppery coleslaw. (You can also get the chicken on a waffle.)

The fries that come with sandwiches are quite good on their own, but you also have the option of adding cheese - a well-thought-out Swedish fontina - and gravy made with Italian sausage.

The kitchen has Italian tendencies, but it also understands the American tribute to excess that is the Monte Cristo sandwich - and makes the most excessive one that I have ever seen. Between two imposing slabs of brioche are layers of ham, turkey galantine, and Swiss cheese. This is dipped in an egg batter and fried, then topped with a fried egg and powdered sugar. The crowning touch is local marionberry preserves, whose flavor shines like a coruscating purple beam from this fortress of a sandwich.

For lesser appetites, the chopped salad is surprisingly light and fresh considering its base of fries, with salami, greens, pepperoncini and sheep's milk cheese.

The creamy dressing on the romaine salad is bravely garlicky, improving but not overwhelming a simple mix of lettuce, croutons and salty, wizened little fried capers.

You can start your meal with cracklings (fried pork skins) that are bubbly and weightlessly crunchy, sprinkled with salt and Spanish paprika.

The chicken liver mousse could use more kick. On its own it's as mild and creamy as the frosting on a birthday cake. But you can add it to your hamburger for $2 - other add-ons include pimento cheese and fried egg.

Murky whiskey sour

A short list of entrees includes skirt steak, fancy mac 'n'cheese, crispy oysters, and small pizzas, about the right size for two, with toppings like an egg, roasted pork, or seasonal produce. Recently, asparagus was sliced into small segments, which covered the pizza generously with their grassy, spring flavor, contrasting nicely a slightly buttery crust, fontina and garlic.

With most of these dishes, you'll want beer.

The cheap beer option is a can of Old German for $2. The taps pour Murphy's Irish Stout, Double Mountains' Hop Lava and a mesmerizing pilsner from Upright Brewing.

Cocktails are just OK. A whiskey sour shaken with egg white was murky, and Campari completely dominated the jasmine cocktail's other ingredients: gin, Grand Marnier and lemon juice.

This lapse makes sense, in a way. Back in Old Portland, the word tavern specifically denoted an establishment that only sold beer, not the hard stuff. Of course, it also meant a place without children. Here they are common, drinking root beer floats and wondering why their parents think it's so cute when they play a clunky old video game called Donkey Kong.

Nostalgia has wrought an excellent dessert, here: house-made, real dairy soft serve ice cream with a chocolate 'magic shell' that crackles but doesn't make your mouth feel waxy like ones from the ice cream truck do.

Another nostalgic touch is the shuffleboard table that fills the center of the dining room. It's cool, but it's awkward, splitting up a noisy, angular space that is redeemed by huge windows.

In fact, Sunshine looks a lot like the owner's other restaurant - it's a project of Jenn Louis, the owner and chef of the more high-end Lincoln, and her husband, David Welch. They've created a place where they themselves would like to hang out. And so, like Grandma, as they indulge you, they're really indulging themselves.

5 to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3111 S.E. Division St., 503-688-1750,, entrees $10-$15

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