Bread & Brew

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Church bar cofounder Chris Cook laughs with some coworkers. Folks who frequent the irreverently named bar like the religion theme on Northeast Sandy Boulevard (note the sign hanging above the bar).Not every neighborhood in America would welcome a bar called Church. On lower Sandy Boulevard, though, residents are more likely to celebrate the arrival of a laid-back, upscale hangout than they are to launch a protest on its irreverent name.

The bar’s decorations are somewhat churchy, but they’re understated, not kitschy. Votive candles burn everywhere. Reclaimed wood paneling is inlaid with steeple-shaped patterns. There’s a photo booth draped to look like a confessional.

Some of the house cocktails have religious-sounding names: Death From Above, Sunday Morning, Hang Your Cross. The Old World Prayer starts with vodka, and layers on green Chartreuse, pear, lemon, green tea and juniper. Some of the flavors cancel each other out, with the green tea and juniper dominating, for an effect that’s refreshing but a little too medicinal. I ordered the Wolf Am I! (a music reference) because I was intrigued by the addition of Guinness syrup to rum, ginger beer, and lime. But I couldn’t really taste the Guinness; it was overwhelmed by ginger.

The menu includes Southern standards like hush puppies, fried chicken and fried green tomatoes. A fried okra appetizer was over-breaded and a little too chewy, but the devils on horseback were excellent, and a little bit angelic. Normally, devils on horseback is the oyster-free version of angels on horseback (oysters wrapped in bacon). But at Church, cooked oysters in their shells are topped with crisped bacon and sweet crisped dates.

A sign over the bar reads, “Eat. Drink. Repent.” It’s a little unsettling, especially when you’re talking about shellfish — but we remained unrepentant.

Speaking of fire, flames are the draw at The Fireside, which occupies the space on Northwest 23rd Avenue that used to be Music Millennium. In the front bar is a huge lodge-style fire behind glass. In the back dining room is a more mod, circular model with a flickering eternal flame.

As at Church, the cocktails are heavy on esoteric ingredients. It works for the Perennial Gardener, a springlike cocktail that gets its flowery notes from gentian liqueur and lemon verbena. The base is gin, and vermouth adds even more herbs, without being overkill.

But the intriguing possibilities of a mushroom tincture were drowned out by other ingredients in the Forager’s ‘tail. Smokey scotch dominated, with sweetness from Benedictine, and more confusion in the form of vermouth and lemon zest.

The spot is intended for both bar and restaurant, with a full set of entrees including trout, steak and brisket. A meat snack board is a generous mix of house-made charcuterie — chicken liver mousse, rillettes, pâté and head cheese — with Olympic Provisions chorizo and grilled bread.

The elk chili was a letdown. It did have chunks of elk meat in it, but it was runny and rather bland. It also was overpriced — a small dish of chili shouldn’t cost $10. Steer clear, unless you’ve got money to burn.

Giving money away is the unusual business model at the new Oregon Public House on Northeast Dekum Street. With each purchase, you choose a charity from a chalkboard menu that hangs on the wall, right next to the menu listing cheeseburgers and fish and chips. The pub isn’t attached to any particular cause. The charities change, and right now include such unobjectionable organizations as Friends of the Children, Friends of Trees and Habitat for Humanity.

The big, cheerful bar fills the ground floor of the Village Ballroom, which hosts private parties upstairs. The night I was there, the pub was full of overflow from a wedding.

Twelve taps pour local beer from places like pFriem, PINTS and Oakshire. Plans for an in-house brewery are in the works, and the organization is accepting donations to get it up and running. Donate $2,500, and you’ll be entitled to a free beer a day for the rest of your life.

Other than that, Oregon Public House is about as generic as its name. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It reminds me of many other pleasant neighborhood bars, with exposed brick walls, big wooden booths and concrete floors.

I don’t know how many customers are going to show up out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re more likely to be Woodlawn residents looking for a burger and pint or two.

Church, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, 2600 N.E. Sandy Blvd., 503-206-8962, ;>; The Fireside, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday, closed Sunday, 801 N.W. 23rd Ave., 503-477-9505, ;>; Oregon Public House, 3 to 11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Friday-Sunday, closed Monday, 700 N.E. Dekum St., 503-828-0884,

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