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Stone age chow

New ideas about nutrition bring Dick's Kitchen back to basics


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Former Laughing Planet owner Richard Dick Satnick started serving emu at his new diner, DIcks Kitchen, last year. When it was no longer available, he decided buy a farm in Clackamas County and raise them himself. Emu burgers will land on the menu in about a years time.  They look funny, sound funny and act funny. But they taste great, Richard “Dick” Satnick says.

Satnick is an accidental emu farmer, as well as a Portland restaurateur, toy shop owner, trend-setter and meat enthusiast.

He’s especially passionate about the phenomenal health benefits of emu meat: nearly as high in omega-3 fatty acids as salmon.

So when his meat purveyor told him he’d have to take emu off his menu due to the limited supply, Satnick decided he’d have to raise the critters himself.

“Once people try it and we put it on our (burger) rotation, it’s going to be hard to keep up with demand,” says Satnick, the 62-year-old founder of Laughing Planet Cafe who sold the chain last year to start a protein-focused diner called Dick's Kitchen.

Now with two locations, on Southeast Belmont Street and Northwest 21st Avenue, Dick’s is attracting more than just the paleo crowd.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - The dino kale salad is a popular dish at Dicks Kitchen, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. (Paleo, of course, referring to the “caveman” diet of just meat, seafood, fruit, veggies and nuts.)

Vegans — who don’t eat meat or meat products — love eating at Dick’s because of the heaping plates of greens, house-made kimchi, salad dressings and signature “not fries,” air-baked rather than fried.

Vegans just avert their eyes from the meaty part of the menu, which includes a lineup of 100-percent grass-fed Carman Ranch beef burgers from Eastern Oregon and a rotating menu of “guest” burgers: elk, venison, wild boar, lamb and the “Dork” burger, made with half duck and half pork. The emu burgers will rejoin them in about a year’s time.

For Thanksgiving, the diner will feature an organic, gluten-free turkey burger, dressed with a sage and caramelized-onion topping and cranberry chutney on the side.

A restaurant serving eclectic, fresh, seasonal and hyper-local food is nothing special in food-obsessed Portland. In fact it’s become a cliché.

But for Satnick, it’s about much more than just food. His quite literal interpretation of the farm-to-table movement is part of a lifelong odyssey, an intersection of his studies and ventures in food, nutrition, health, evolutionary science, epidemiology and paleoanthropology.

“Food has been the source of a great number of health issues, but it can also be the solution,” says Satnick, who jokes that as a native New Yorker he’s supposed to be cynical, rather than hopeful.

“It’s like a giant detective story to me,” he adds. “I’m always pursuing different clues.”

Adopting the flock

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A flock of 11 emu run on on Dick Satnicks farm in Beavercreek, where he put down roots last year. He plans to slowly expand the farm - and his restaurant - in ways that even hes still figuring out. Since founding Laughing Planet 15 years ago, Satnick’s ideas about nutrition and the food system have evolved. The more he’s learned, the more he’s come to reject mainstream beliefs like whole grains being good and meat being bad for you.

“The food bureaucracy in Washington lives in its own bubble, and certainly hasn’t been out to the farms,” he says.

Recent books like “The Inflammation Syndrome” and “Grain Brain” make the case that eating the right kind of meat — and skipping grains and other inflammatory foods — can go a long way toward preventing and reversing heart disease and arthritis, among other conditions.

It’s personal for Satnick, who had a quadruple bypass 18 months ago. Although it was a preventative measure, he took his condition as a “slap in the face” he says, since he’d already begun down his new path. His typical lunch is a burger on a plate with a side of kale salad.

“My doc says I should’ve started Dick’s Kitchen 10 years earlier,” Satnick says. His heart surgery was life-changing in yet another way: His doctors told him to stop putting off things he wanted to accomplish in life.

He’d always been curious about farming. But he’s lived in an apartment above Laughing Planet on Belmont for the past 15 years, an urban dweller to the core.

So it was a dramatic change last year when he purchased 60 acres in Clackamas County, adopting a flock of emu, four donkeys (to protect the emu from coyotes and bobcats), one horse, a bunch of chickens and rabbits.

He put down roots at the farm, moving into a large cabin overlooking a pond where he finds solace in canoeing and taking walks in the woods.

Satnick makes the 45-minute commute to the city several times a week; he also works out of the apartment he rents on by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Dick Satnick chats with customers at his Northwest 21st Avenue restaurant location. The goal is to nourish you, not to sell you food, he often says.  Northwest 21st Avenue so he can get to know the neighbors.

His empire also includes a whimsical toy shop on North Mississippi called Missing Link. He started the venture in 2004 after falling in love with the “Dunny,” a vinyl art toy from Japan.

“When I was a kid, the Godzilla movie was the coolest thing I ever saw, so I began to collect Godzilla figures,” he says. “When the Japanese toy thing was picked up by other artists here in America, it engendered a whole new collectible toy category.”

Satnick could just sit back and enjoy his toys and food, but he’s always been restless. Books like “Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth” have piqued his interest in “silvopasturing” — using forestry and agriculture to restore overgrazed pastures.

As a novice farmer, Satnick will attend a conference in Illinois next month to learn how to integrate trees, livestock and forage crops to his farm.

He wants to work with the cattle rancher next door as he adds his own cattle, pigs, goats, nut and fruit trees, and rotate the animals’ grazing patterns in a practice known as restoration agriculture.

“Anything we can do successfully, we’ll figure out how to get it onto the menu,” he says. “Except for donkey and horse.”

Always a step ahead

For decades, Satnick has been at the front of cultural trends.

He didn’t start out that way. As a kid growing up on Long Island, N.Y., life was typical, especially when it came to food. “To some extent I represent the results of a vast experiment,” the first generation of kids who grew up with convenience foods and sugary cereals, he says.

Satnick studied anthropology at Indiana University and paleoanthropology at the University of Chicago, then did his doctoral work studying chimpanzee communication and the evolution of human language.

He switched gears in the early 1980s and opened what he says was the nation’s first mountain biking specialty shop, in Atlanta. No one knew what the sport was, but “somehow I knew it was going to change the world of cycling,” he says.

Satnick recalls thinking about feeding cyclists after long rides in ways that replenish their energy. In 1995 he moved to Bloomington, Ind., to start his next venture, Laughing Planet, as a way to cater to that crowd — complete with burritos that rolled up in foil and handily fit in water-bottle holders.

The business took off and he brought it to Portland in 2000, after two years of flying back and forth to scout out neighborhoods. He landed on Belmont, which was just beginning to turn, he says.

After starting over from scratch and growing the Laughing Planet chain from one store to 10 in the past 13 years, Satnick sold Laughing Planet to longtime friend Franz Spielvogel last December to focus on Dick’s Kitchen.

He’s constantly playing with new ideas and recipes, creating a new veggie burger and looking for a way to make his “not fries” even healthier by using coconut oil.

As he evolves he wants to expand the diner, with a quicker version of Dick’s to serve the downtown lunch crowd. In time, he says, he might land in other neighborhoods, some that might be considered to be food deserts.

Satnick knows the paleo diet is trendy, but he’s in it for the long haul — hence the emu farm, which will take a year to bear meat.

“People say the paleo thing is the latest thing to come along,” he says. “We’ve just been doing it for the last 2 million years.”