The food has a ways to go before it can live up to Sorenson’s dream tavern. The Woodsman is still splitting its first logs, and with customers arriving in droves, splinters are expected. So far, the food lacks ax-sharp focus and execution. Barwikowski’s comfort zone is Spain, mastery of the humble root vegetable, and offal. Here, he seems a bit off his game in an American menu heavily influenced by Chicago’s Publican and New York’s Marlow & Sons—new age, rustic eateries popping up across the country. Beyond the shellfish and the ham, the menu dissolves into a hodgepodge of monotone tavern staples. The list roams through “drinking snacks” of bland, cheese-dusted pork rinds, expensive appetizers, and a collection of entrées from simple salads to a meek shellfish stew, finishing with solid but unremarkable desserts.
That’s not to say there aren’t gems. A starter of brussels sprouts comes two ways: deep-fried with crispy, crunchy layers and fresh with bright green leaves, all tossed together. A bowl of octopus is charred to perfection in Barwikowski’s prized indoor charcoal Josper oven, allowing pure smoke to mingle with spicy chorizo and earthy squid ink. From there, you’d best order the trout—one of the few dishes that really screams Woodsman! The understated fish arrives whole, basking in a broth of Calabrian chile–and–herb “crazy water.” It’s the hard-earned reward after a fishing trip, and nothing more.
Right now, brunch provides the most satisfaction; a griddle burger smashed with Tillamook cheese curds, grilled onions, and a little too much mustard feels just right for a Sunday hangover. The trout makes a second appearance on weekends, panfried and slathered with a bright tarragon béarnaise sauce. French toast also lands on the mark, its grilled bits of custard-soaked bread pudding topped with a generous mound of melting maple butter.
The Woodsman’s most reliable performer so far is Zimmerman, who whips up a contender for the city’s best Bloody Mary, aged for a week in a supersecret spice mix and boosted with a hit of sherry. Zimmerman knows how to balance understated flavors, like with the Gold Rush (bourbon, lemon juice, honey), and when to expound on complex liquors, as in the Hunting Vest, made with Campari steeped in ashen cedar, then aged for a week before being blended with rye and vermouth. Whether for brunch or dinner, Zimmerman is reason alone to try the Woodsman.
Perhaps Sorenson’s smartest move is the Woodsman Market, where a bounty of epicurean pleasures awaits. It’s a mix of high- and lowbrow, local and imported, house-made and homegrown. Provincial wagons outside overflow with seasonal flowers and a cornucopia of bright red, purple, and yellow carrots from local farms. Step inside and you’ll find a small meat counter filled with local salumi, Mexican Coca-Cola, fire-engine-red Sriracha, and imported sardines.
With the Pok Pok empire expanding eastward and new restaurants seeming to pop up every day on SE Division Street, Sorenson’s neighborhood hot spot may be the linchpin for Portland’s hottest new food destination. “I’m bonkers about food, and I’m bonkers about hospitality,” Sorenson says, high-fiving another passing server. In the next year, Sorenson hopes to complete his colonization of this block with a lofty, industrial sausage and beer hall (an ode to his father’s roots as a sausage maker) for the denizens of Portland’s new eat street. In Duane’s world—one of powerful culinary brands—the Woodsman is just the next step.