Old Salt Marketplace
The team behind Grain & Gristle erects a culinary marketplace for the people in Northeast Portland.
Old Salt Marketplace is the Circus Maximus for food lovers. On the corner of Northeast 42nd Street and Alberta, a restaurant, deli, butcher shop, pastry center, commissary kitchen and cooking school squeeze into 6,000 square feet of stripped, wooden frames (plus a soon-to-come farmers market outside.) It’s an ambitious project in a neighborhood where culinary delights are few and far between.
The dreamers behind this lofty vision? Alex Ganum, Ben Meyer, and Marcus Hoover, co-owners of the casual American Grain & Gristle. On paper, Old Salt looks like the next micro-restaurant complex (see The Ocean)—a collection of food-focused storefronts sharing rent and resources. The pastry shop, run by Anja Spence of Miss Zumstein Cakes & Desserts, the Good Keuken culinary school under the watch of Chef Studio’s Blake Van Roekel, and the upcoming Thursday night farmers market are all independently operated. “We are trying to make an old school American marketplace with one identity,” explains Meyer, “those other micro-restaurants are just food malls where they share a mop bucket.”
In Meyer’s living, breathing market ecosystem, whole animals are butchered, dry aged, and dispersed to his butcher shop and two restaurants. Nearby, students at the cooking school learn to extricate and prepare a culotte cut sold at the meat counter. Soon, Miss Zumstein’s bread will sandwich fresh creations at the deli.
Food collaborations, whole animal butchery, and a culinary education are great, but how is the food? The “Supperhouse” cheffed by Timothy Wastell (an alum of Firehouse and DOC) serves American fare in the broadest sense, with excellent farm sourcing and unrivaled meat from Hawley Ranch near Eugene. But early tastes are mixed as the kitchen fumbles to showcase fresh produce with strange executions and inconsistent seasoning. Dense, grainy whitefish can sit on stale bread like cement, piled incongruously with fresh strawberries and fennel. Recently, a creamed kale and mushroom lasagna came atop a stiff, unseasoned sheet closer to piecrust than pasta dough. Desserts need work, from an icebox cake in a bowl of cereal milk with tooth-cracking popcorn kernels to the rock-hard strawberry ice cream sandwich that tasted like freezer burn. The best bites were unadulterated: plates of raw vegetables, fresh salads, and slick steak tartar ground at the fine meat department.
Despite early shortcomings, Old Salt has fantastic potential. The butcher counter may be the star of the show, holding everything a steer has to offer from top-notch farms and dry-aging them for intense, flavored steaks. It’s cheap, too—$15/lb for Ribeye?!
Old Salt Marketplace
5027 NE 42nd Ave
Supperhouse and Bar, 5pm - midnight
Meat Shop and Deli, 11am - 7pm