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New restaurant review: Oven & Shaker

The impossibly long bar at Oven & Shaker. Photo from Eater PDX.

The Pearl’s version of a pizza joint, Oven & Shaker, just opened its doors last week. Though the new wood fired and Italian inspired pizza place features the restauranteurs behind Nostrana, Cathy Whims, ChefStable’s Kurt Huffman, and Aviation Gin’s Ryan Magarian, the rising star is Head Chef (and friend to qPDX) Devon Chase, whose oven prowess will surely be Oven & Shaker’s biggest draw.

On the night before its opening, O&S was already packed with press that lingered well past their intended review window and you had to act fast to snag a slice of the signature wood fired concoctions. But bartenders at the restaurant’s endlessly long bar (rumored to be the longest in Portland) were happy to accommodate anxious taste buds with a sampling of introductory cocktails. The Pineapple Trainwreck was front and center with it’s tall green garnish and perfect ice cubes, and though it was tasty I found the ginger a little overwhelming. But the rest of the offerings were just as delicious while being a bit subtler, such as a perfectly blended vintage style Manhattan.

The finger food is modeled after Italian style street vendors Whims has encountered while researching for Nostrana and beyond. I applaud both the adventuresome spirit of some of these nibbles as well as their 3 separate fryers which will incorporate different oils for different snacks. However the fried mashed potato were a little blander than one would expect from the burst of flavor found elsewhere and other finger foods, such as the fried mozzarella, were more bites in anticipation of the main course than stars themselves. I look forward to more experimentation here, which it seems is in the works.

But what Oven & Shaker really does it does extremely well. The wood fired pies are both delicate and bold, with a crust that just barely crunches before it melts in your mouth. I might have been worried that a crust could have too much flavor and possibly interfere with the fresh and spicy tastes of the pizza toppings but I needn’t have. Instead they complimented each other so that every veggie was highlighted without overshadowing the light sauce, cheese and crust combo that makes a pizza what it is. I wasn’t able to try every meat offering, but even the seasoned sausage that I tried did not drown out the balanced medley.

It is balance that I expect will serve Oven & Shaker so well. Inhabiting a prominent place in Portland’s swankiest neighborhood, the restaurant is stylish and daring while still retaining our love of casual dining and a comfortable, laid back atmosphere. It’s exactly what one would want in for west side pizza and a refreshing upgrade from watery beer to inspired drinks. It’s a place to impress the in-laws without scaring them away with outlandish meal choices for sure.

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