Bollywood Theater owner Troy MacLarty says he’s an introvert, but he doesn’t show it. At Churchgate Station, his soon-to-open, 40-seat supper club behind his Southeast Portland Indian street food restaurant, he’s inadvertently created a culinary theater. Large, heavy curtains pull back to reveal long tables and a stage of a kitchen, where MacLarty can present his 14-dish thali to his audience. Some days it’ll be a dinner party, other days it’ll be a brunch spot, a test kitchen, a cooking school, an extra set of burners for the neighboring Bollywood. But more than anything, in an age where Bollywood Theater runs as a machine without MacLarty’s help, Churchgate Station will be a kitchen of his own.
Everything about Churchgate is personal: the tables the chef built himself, the photos and knickknacks he and his wife Lindsay MacLarty picked up on his almost-annual trips to India, the design of the space, and of course, the banana-leaf-wrapped parcels of fish, apricot-braised duck, and almond and cardamom cakes that he’ll start serving November 30. After years growing his massive, nationally celebrated Indian restaurants, MacLarty will take the stage once again.
In Portland, MacLarty is often known almost exclusively for Bollywood Theater, but before that, he cooked for a handful of people at tiny Naomi Pomeroy vehicle Family Supper. “It was this perfect little restaurant where the food was so unadulterated by the needs of other restaurants,” MacLarty remembers. Churchgate’s origin story is tied to his nostalgia for that restaurant: the chef got the idea for Churchgate last November while sitting for an interview at the Southeast Portland Bollywood Theater, raving about the old days at Family Supper. Walking out of the restaurant through the adjoining D Street Village, he saw a for lease sign in the window of the bike shop next door. He called that day about taking over.
Before Family Supper, he cooked in the hallowed kitchens of Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ legendary California restaurant. On the walls of Churchgate Station, there’s a tiny framed menu on the warm yellow wall separating Churchgate from Bollywood. It’s a menu from a dinner Chez Panisse throws every year, a dinner for Parsi New Year. For those who don’t know, the Parsi population in India are Persian, and its dishes are often hard to find in Oregon’s Indian restaurants. India’s Persian descendants are a big inspiration for Churchgate Station, from the tiled floors inspired by the Irani coffee houses of Mumbai, to the opening menu, which will borrow heavily from Parsi cuisine.
Still, Churchgate won’t be limited to Parsi classics. MacLarty wants to remain open to the “bazillion” different cuisines found within the country, in his words. That being said, there isn’t an “ish” tied to the cuisines he emulate; “I have to be careful, as a Westerner, to be respectful,” MacLarty says. So although some Western diners may be completely unfamiliar with the dishes that proliferate MacLarty’s menus, all of them will have classic Indian origins, save a few necessary ingredient swaps due to access and seasonality.
Churchgate will feel extraordinarily distinct from Bollywood, though it will share certain characteristics. Guests will start by grabbing a drink from the counter, for instance, though instead of mango lassi, guests will find buckets of wine bottles picked by Bow & Arrow’s Scott Frank, as well as special bottles from friends (like Cameron’s John Paul). Beer will also be available, though MacLarty thinks wine is the way to go for Indian food — “Alsatian whites are born for it,” he says. As everyone gets seated, MacLarty will address the crowd, before taking his spot in the kitchen. The dinner won’t be a leisurely three-hour affair; rather, the thali model of dining will probably tighten things up to around two hours. Then, after savory plates leave the table, MacLarty will pass out desserts and chai.
Although the restaurant is so personal and open-format, and although MacLarty will be a performer once again, he says Churchgate won’t feel revealing, won’t show off the challenging nature of running a restaurant. “Restaurants should be a miracle,” he says. “I don’t want to know what’s behind the curtain necessarily. If Churchgate Station goes well, I’ll make it look really easy.”
• Churchgate Station [Official]
• Bollywood Theater chef expands with new supper club, Churchgate Station [The Oregonian]
• All previous Bollywood Theater coverage [EPDX]