A couple of weeks ago, I ventured down to Castaway with three of my friends for Portland Monthly’s annual Country Brunch: an event benefiting local non-profit Zenger Farm and celebrating #allthingsbrunch.
With brunch dishes from six local restaurants and Bloody Mary samples from six others, Country Brunch 2015 was a soiree of almost bacchanalian proportions, but I think I’ve recovered enough to offer up some reflections on my first Country Brunch.
At $30 a person, Country Brunch probably isn’t for the casual brunch-goer (if you’ve ever used the phrases “let’s go out for breakfast” and “McGriddle,” in the same sentence, this is not the event for you), but it’s a pretty good deal for anyone with a decent appetite and a hankering for Bloody Marys. Spending the extra $15 or so on VIP admish proved to be a solid investment, as it allowed our group to get in an hour before the unwashed masses – and even then, it was pretty crowded. The VIP swag bags were pretty boss, too. (More on that later.)Local event space Castaway Portland bills themselves as a “perfect blank slate for any event you can imagine”, and while that’s a slightly hyperbolic claim, it’s not necessarily untrue – Country Brunch’s light, airy vibe made the building almost unrecognizable from the intimate vibe of last fall’s “An Evening on WhistlePig Farm” during PDX Cocktail Week.
There were Bloody Mary offerings from Doug Fir, Interuban, Levant, The Original, Raven & Rose and Urban Farmer. Some were fairly traditional: Doug Fir’s meaty “The Antidote” took home the People’s Choice Award, while Urban Farmer’s “Spicy Bell Pepper Bloody Mary” and Levant’s “Levant Bloody Mary” were sadly a little underwhelming.Others were a little off the beaten path: Raven & Rose’s “Full Bloodly Irish” took home the Judges Award with an injection of nitro stout and a “full Irish Breakfast” (pudding, potato, and pickled onion) as a garnish, while The Original got sups weird with their “OG Soup, Sandwhich and a Pickle” (the grilled-cheese sandwich garnish was delicious, but their gazpacho-esque Bloody was a little tough to swallow). Personally, I’m not a huge Bloody Mary drinker, so by the end, my palate was a little burned out. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that my favorite was Interurban’s New Mexico-inspired “Sandia Sunrise” made with Hatch chiles and a splash of Tecate, as I’ve never met a Michelada I didn’t like – and the Sandia had just enough of that vibe to appeal to me. For the non-Bloody Drinkers, they had also stations on-hand to serve up complimentary Miller High Life Manmosas, Spiked Coffees, Crispin’s Hard Cider, and samples of Coors’ new gluten-free beer, “Coors Peak.”
The food selections at Country Brunch were as equally varied as the Bloody Marys. Fried Egg I’m In Love (“Yolko Ono”) and Tastebud (“Wood-Fired Mini-Bagels”) served up tasty starters, YaHala (“Breakfast Canape”) and Levant (“Za’atar Biscuits with Merguez Gravy”) both offered exotically-flavored dishes, and Daily In the Pearl served up a delicious dessert: Candied Ginger Shortcake.
Surprisingly, one of my favorites was The Sudra’s curry-flavored tofu scramble and black rice porridge. It’s pretty rare that I’ll willingly eat vegan and gluten-free, but The Sudra almost threatened to make a convert out of me.
In addition to a smorgasbord of brunch items and booze, there were quite a few extras to be had at Country Brunch – live music, coffee & juice, complimentary copies of Portland Monthly, free Car2Go swag, etc.
People who came later in the day were treated to visits from Sizzle Pie and a mini-pony. Sadly, I was already gone by that point, but I was able to console myself with my VIP gift bag, which came loaded with swag like free Stumptown Coffee, Grey Goose vodka and New Seasons peanut butter.Speaking of benefits, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention the beneficiary of this event, Zenger Farm – a working urban farm in Southeast Portland that teaches students and adults alike about farming and sustainability. Admittedly, downing six Bloody Marys – even small ones – doesn’t necessarily put you in a frame of mind to learn about sustainable farming practices, but since I’m hoping that you, dear reader, are reading this article sober, hit up the link below if you want to learn more about Zenger’s mission.
Portland Monthly (portlandmonthlymag.com)
In newstands everywhere… and no doubt adorning your posh friend’s coffee table.
Castaway Portland (castawayportland.com)
1900 Northwest 18th Avenue, Portland, Oregon
Zenger Farms (zengerfarm.org)
11741 Southeast Foster Road, Portland, Oregon
(Individual restaurants are hyperlinked throughout the article.)