It all began with a salad dressing. Martin’s Swiss Dressing is a rich, tangy, peppery, creamy (but non-dairy), smooth, downright-addictive elixir with a surprising depth of flavor for something as humble as a salad dressing. It can be used as a marinade, a sauce for pasta or rice, a dip for crudités or pizza crusts, or, in my experience, simply as a means of transforming a boring pile of romaine, purple cabbage, and shredded carrots into something special. You can check out the ingredients online, but I swear there’s a spice I’m still missing. It reminded me of a seasoning from my childhood—Spike.
Anyhow, I was introduced to this dressing during a recent foray to a newish den of non sequiturs, tucked away at 4950 NE 14th, just off NE Alberta. Housed in a metal and wood building straight out of Dwell, the establishment is called Café Hibiscus and features a smattering of Hawaii-inspired décor. The menu, however, hails from Switzerland. Here’s a cheat sheet as to why:
Martin’s Swiss Dressing was first made in Switzerland by Martin’s mother and then marketed by Martin in Hawaii. It was brought to the mainland by Martin’s daughter, Jennie Wyss, and is now produced in Portland with the aid of her friend Dani Thiel.
The new café only has five tables, but every seat was taken when I arrived for lunch, and I can see why. The menu of traditional Swiss cuisine—a collection of appetizers, "salats," sandwiches, and a handful of entrées—is cheap, hearty, and simple in the most complimentary and tasty sense of the word. Think bratwurst, chicken schnitzel, gravlax, knockwurst and cheese salad, tuna salad sandwiches flecked with capers and dill, a veggie-heavy lentil stew, thinly sliced pork cooked in mushroom cream sauce, spätzle, and rösti, a buttery Swiss-style hash brown sautéed with bacon and onions, all for $12 or much less.
On my agenda for my next visit to this strange but appealing place: the Swiss fondue for two ($24) and the ice cream sandwich ($4) made with Hibiscus’ own crunchy chocolate chip cookies, and, most likely, paired with a side of their house-made chocolate sauce ($2). Cheese and chocolate always deserve a major Mahalo, in my book.
Hours: Wed-Sat, 12-3pm & 6-9pm; Sunday, noon-3pm.