Sue Erickson and Wendy Hessel are ready to fire things up in NW 23rd's former Music Millennium space. Nearly eight months after news of the project first popped up, Erickson and Hessel's neighborhood bar and grill the Fireside could open as early as next week on the high-profile corner of the Nob Hill shopping district. "Fire's kind of the whole inspiration," Hessel says of the restaurant, which flaunts two indoor fireplaces and a menu of "outdoor-inspired" cuisine. "You feel at home gathering around a fire... there's just something about the kind of food that you're eating and the experiences that you have [in that situation] that translated well into a neighborhood bar and grill."
Here now, Hessel and Erickson reveal major details about the project, from design details to menu development to how they landed the iconic space.
1) Erickson (a bartender and alum of Lincoln, Ping, and the Driftwood Room) and Wessel (who's worked front-of-house at Lincoln and Nostrana) first met while working at NW 23rd's defunct Balvo (now 23 Hoyt). It was there they met local real estate maven Dick Singer, who owns the Music Millennium building and is now an investor/partner in the Fireside. "We were talking about doing something more bar-oriented originally," Erickson says. "[We] ran into Dick, and he was really excited that we were going to do something together; he had this space, one thing led to another and here we are."
2) The once-sprawling MM site has been tamed to more manageable 2,200 square feet, featuring a closed back kitchen and two separate dining areas (and accompanying fireplaces). The U-shaped bar holds 18 guests alongside a lounge where a couch and chairs run perpendicular to a fireplace built into the wall; the back dining room houses 30 seats strategically arranged around a floor-to-ceiling circular fireplace: "Everybody has a seat around the fire," Erickson says. Both spaces will feature the same aesthetic look and menu. "The whole idea was to create a really lively, convivial space that is the hub of the neighborhood. That's what we want to be; the neighborhood spot."
3) For the outdoor-inspired menu, which will be separated into small and large plates, chef Henry Kibit (an alum of Beech St. Parlor and DOC) highlights game meats and grilling. Menu items include elk chili, game jerky, a grilled vegetable platter with arugula pistou, and a rotating flatbread-style grilled pizza. Heartier fare can run from ribeye to pan-fried trout to beef brisket (served with a warm potato salad) to a camping-style pork and beans. The daytime lunch menu will feature more sandwiches and burgers, including what Hessel dubs "the best veggie burger."
4) Kibit plans to break down a half-hog each week, with the menu highlighting rotating cuts and house-made charcuterie, terrines, and rillettes. Kibit's also into foraging: a foraged mushroom platter promises "three different kinds of mushrooms prepared different ways," Hessel says. But the focus will ultimately remain on simplicity. "All the preparations, while being quality ingredients, aren't fussy," Erickson says. "You're not going to see a lot of purees; we don't have a sous vide machine and we never will."
5) Finally, the bar menu will "riff on flavors" that remind drinkers of outdoor experiences. The "Flat Creek" (named for a creek in Erickson's hometown of Jackson Hole) is a summery take on a whiskey sour, featuring tea syrup and housemade bitters; "Backyard Grilling," meanwhile, goes for smokey flavors with mescal and amaro. The bar will also feature a draft soda arm for housemade sodas and non-alcoholic experiments.
The Fireside is eyeing a mid-March opening.
· All Previous Fireside Coverage [Eater PDX]