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Despite tony digs, Tilt covers blue-collar basics

Bread & Brew


by: TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - To honor its blue-collar roots, Tilt holds a Working Class Series every First Thursday. This months guest is Portlands 7 Sirens Rum, their well rum. Tilts classic cocktail program is a big draw. You’d be forgiven if you thought Tilt was named for the towering burgers.

Or if you were expecting a video-game place.

Or thought Tilt was a cute way to describe the way you’ll be standing after one too many whiskey drinks at the bar.

The garage-like Pearl District restaurant and bar at Northwest 13th Avenue and Everett Street is dark and the music loud, the aroma of bacon and cinnamon buns wafting onto the patio outside.

First-timers have to figure out that you have to order at the counter, take a buzzer and come up to retrieve your order when it’s ready. But the gut-busting burgers, pies, biscuits and drinks are worth it.

It’s all proudly presented with the catchphrase: “Built for the American workforce.”

Tilt is named for the “tilt-up” commercial construction technique owner Octavian

Jurj’s grandfather-in-law brought to Portland as founder of Andersen Construction on Swan Island. Jurj’s dad is a machinist on Swan Island and co-owner Brittany Jurj’s dad runs Andersen today.

“Blue-collar is the most important message,” says Jurj, 36, who came to Portland from

Romania with his parents and siblings at age 5. “We’re using food and drink as a platform. We want to promote American-made products, American-made industries; we feel it’s our duty.”

As cult fans know, Tilt launched two years ago, first on Swan Island in May 2012, then in the Pearl last December. They’re now building out their third location, in the iconic RJ Templeton Building on the east side of the Burnside Bridge — just up the street from the Burnside Skatepark, where Jurj used to tool around.

The Burnside Tilt is slated to open by late August or September.

Since the start, Tilt’s food has been buzz-worthy. Their 10 giant signature burgers are called some of the best in Portland; the scratch-made pies — Brittany’s own recipes as a self-taught baker — are solid, about 40 of them flying out the door each day. The summer cocktail catalog is the proud creation of Tilt’s bartending staff. And, with a Friday night DJ, eight taps of Oregon-only beers and more than 100 whiskeys, it’s a favorite happy hour spot.

Ironically, the biggest hurdle Tilt has faced as a 2-year-old restaurant is skepticism about its roots.

In a food community that values authenticity above almost everything else, critics have sniped that the blue-collar ethos is “hypocritical” or just plain ironic in the shiny, bourgeois Pearl.

But Jurj thinks the Pearl is a perfect spot. He remembers skateboarding around the gritty warehouses and garages in the pre-Pearl days, and loves that Tilt occupies a historic building, an old GE distribution warehouse.

Others have questioned the price point, especially on the working class Swan Island. “People weren’t used to paying $10 for a burger,” Jurj says. “We had to explain we’re not trying to compete with McDonald’s. This isn’t a place you’re going to come to eat every day. ... We just stood our ground on pricing.”

The Woody Royale burger and blueberry-peach pie are two of the signature items at Tilt. The Pearl District and Swan Island restaurant is getting a lot of buzz. An old steel drill used during World War II on Swan Island stands just inside the entry at Pearl Tilt, near the counter and pie case.Still others didn’t get the old-school charm of the counter service and the red cloth reusable shop towels that are available in place of paper napkins.

To Jurj, it’s obvious. During summers at David Douglas High School and college at Portland State, he worked blue-collar jobs, installing gutters and painting Freightliner truck parts, where the shop rag was ubiquitous.

As a new restaurant owner, Jurj — who still runs his own advertising and marketing agency on the side — says it was hard to handle what he felt was unfair public criticism at first. He even complained about Yelp’s review filtering process.

By now it’s all evened out, and he takes reviews with a grain of salt.

Unlike many other restaurant owners, he keeps a low profile and intentionally didn’t hire any famous Portland chefs, in the name of promoting the Tilt team. Collaborations are big. In February, they rolled out their “Working Class Series,” inviting local brewers, distillers and manufacturers to come in and talk about what they do.

As the Tilt empire grows, Jurj likes to escape at the end of the day to his home in Southwest Portland.

As “total foodies,” he says, it’s all they could do to create Tilt as a place to show their two young sons that “you can grow up and actually make stuff.”