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Trigger comes close, but misses the mark

Bread & Brew


I used be a bartender in a Mexican restaurant. I stood all night between the beer taps and the slushy margarita machine, but it never occurred to me to make an Iceberg — which is what the bar menu at Trigger calls a mug of beer with a float of frozen margarita.

It’s the kind of simple but clever idea that distinguishes this new spot in the basement of the Wonder Ballroom from a million other Tex-Mex restaurants.

Where another place might use grilled chicken or ground beef, Trigger uses brisket. It’s amazing in the queso deluxe, with chunks of meat almost as melty as the melty orange cheese dip, with a scoop of guacamole in the center. Convey it to your mouth with crackling white tortilla chips that seem to have been made just seconds before.

Another good idea is the fried chicken taco — why have I never had one before? The crisp chicken is just right for a soft tortilla and a bit of onion salsa. A deep fried avocado taco, which sounded great, was bland in execution. Black bean salsa, lettuce and cotija cheese were too mild to do anything for the creamy avocado. The rockfish in another taco was overwhelmed by breading and overcooked to the texture of a roofing shingle.

The chili relleno wasn’t very good, either. It was pitch black on the outside, and slimy — not battered as they usually are. The chili was stuffed with a mixture of spoonbread (a cousin of grits) and goat cheese, with scattered black beans and a mild crema. Many tortilla chips were required to make it interesting.

And although the chips are perfect, the salsa is boring.

Slow-cooked meat is the way to go here. The smoked pork shoulder in a quesadilla is rich and tender. Mole is hinted at with a faint cinnamon flavor, and it’s a big, hearty dish.

A chimichangita (a little, deep-fried burrito) is a crisp packet of beans and chorizo. It’s comfortingly savory, sitting on top of a vivid salad of pickled carrots, cabbage and onions. Those vegetables bring a kick to the dish that makes it one of the best things on the menu.

Mind-blowing sundae

Trigger is run by the same team that runs the three Bunk sandwich outlets. They’re branching out, taking chances, and the result is a restaurant that doesn’t have Bunk’s rock-solid reliability.

There are good things about that, including an unexpected, mind-blowing cream sundae. It’s giant — a clunky glass goblet full of house made chili chocolate ice cream that has been churned to a velvety finish. There’s a flood of hot fudge, billows of marshmallow fluff, a hailstorm of toasted hazelnuts. It’s a perfect storm of a dessert, with the spiciness of the ice cream to keep you from drowning in sweetness. Still, two of us couldn’t finish it.

Drinks can be outsized, too. The signature drink, a Side Pipe, is a chalice of frosty blended margarita with a miniature beer upended in it. As you drink, the beer gradually drains from the bottle. It’s a pretty good way to get primed for a rock show.

The crowd changes depending on who is booked for the venue upstairs, and a bit of club energy filters down. Funky good taste has taken the dark, low-ceilinged, multi-chambered space from awkward to cozy. Red and yellow lights glow warmly against wood grain.

It’s fun and friendly, a good place to be, and when the food is good, it’s really good. That makes the flops all the more frustrating — it reminds me of one those bright students whose report card always reads “does not live up to potential.”

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday, 128 N.E. Russell St., 503-327-8234, www.triggerpdx.com

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