Milwaukie Kitchen dish
Image: Dina Avila

When French bistro maestro Pascal Sauton fled Portland’s downtown to build a specialty market in the quiet climes of Milwaukie, his new life lacked even a stove. In 2011, Milwaukie Kitchen & Wine opened as a low-key place where locals could buy good salt and wine, pick up a quinoa salad, or dig into an excellent lamb sausage sandwich. Still, regulars clamored for his city-caliber supper eats. So the former Carafe chef-owner relented and bought induction burners—an old-school cook taking a page from Portland’s DIY manual. By November 2012, he was churning out the most perfectly prepared bistro fare south of Sellwood.

Now Sauton’s place is packed nightly, as a patchwork of older couples and young parents gab over flatiron steaks seared in garlic butter, glasses of affordable French wine, and big, juicy burgers slathered with a spicy sauce. The short, homey menu never challenges expectations; it delivers the optimal version of what you already wanted to eat, sided by really good potatoes. The silky shepherd’s pie is an everyday luxury—a hot cast-iron pan full of root veggies and braised meat, pork shoulder to short ribs, hiding beneath an herby purée of potato and parsnips. Every cold day is an excuse to order this belly-warmer.

The juicy roasted chicken, seasoned simply with a generous rub of salt, pepper, and pimentón, pops out of the oven in a perfect state of crispness. By the time you remember to sniff at its lack of innovation, nothing is left on your plate but bones.

Milwaukie Kitchen & Wine 
10610 SE Main St
Milwaukie, OR 97222
503-653-3228

But expected can also mean boring. “Spicy” wings are anything but, and salads are fresh but forgettable. The small, utilitarian faux-wood tables would look at home in an upscale senior center. Still, on a drizzly night, Sauton’s new perch is the perfect compromise for comfort-seeking foodies. Servers are sweet-tempered, prices are reasonable, and the mood is relaxed to the point of familial.

“I keep saying to people, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Sauton says. “We just have to make it turn.”