The typical Pacific Northwestern Jewish deli is hard to define: Portland doesn’t have the abundance of delis found in major East Coast cities, so it’s tough to identify any overarching patterns or trends. Outside of places like Kornblatt’s and Kenny & Zuke’s, it can be particularly difficult to find classics like kugel or matzo ball soup in Portland restaurants. So it’s no wonder Sonya Sanford had so much trouble finding local smoked whitefish.
Sanford, a former Los Angeles producer, has been searching for it for months as she works on opening her Jewish deli, Beetroot, set to open later this month. The chef plans to to serve house-smoked whitefish salad at her restaurant, but she’s waiting on a smoking license; in the interim, she decided to source the classic spread from a local producer. That’s proven harder than she expected. “No one on the West Coast does it,” she says. “There are whitefish, but no one is smoking it.” Clearly, she’s heading into uncharted waters.
This April, news broke that Beetroot would open on NW Glisan, which would be Sanford’s version of a Pacific Northwestern Jewish deli: Organic Oregon produce tossed with sumac and za’atar, house-made half-sour pickles, vegetarian schnitzel sandwiches with harissa mayo. The restaurant originally planned to open August 19, but Beetroot will now open two days later, August 21.
For her, making the space fit the Pacific Northwestern deli theme was important; she wanted to incorporate design elements from classic East Coast Jewish delis and fold them into a Pacific Northwestern aesthetic. Local designer Daniel Goers helped Sanford fill the space with 100 percent reclaimed Douglas Fir, which is the foundation for the deli’s banquettes, tables, and bus station. Still, white mosaic tile covers the floor near the restaurant’s french doors, with touches of white subway tile hidden throughout the space.
Near the front counter sits a deli case, soon be filled with a number of salads, spreads, and grab-and-go sandwiches. Immediately after she announced plans to open, Sanford was hit with a barrage of calls, locals asking about specific dishes and ingredients: Will the restaurant have smoked fish, half-sour pickles, kugel? The answer is yes to all three. In the mornings, breakfast will include staples like Puddletown bagels and bialys with smoked fish and schmears, as well as “The Bodega,” an egg-and-cheese sandwich slapped on a Kaiser roll. On the lighter side of things, Sanford will also offer a number of healthier breakfast options, including a quinoa breakfast quiche with seasonal vegetables and a granola bowl with house-made labneh, fruit, and honey.
At lunch, Beetroot goes heavily into sandwich territory, from a pastrami on rye with house-made sauerkraut to an herb-heavy tuna salad with arugula. Sanford is particularly excited about her golden egg salad: After cooking her eggs, the chef removes the yolks and blends them, folding that mixture into the rest of the salad with a dash of turmeric for extra color. Her turkey sandwich plays the role of a classic Italian sub, with pickled peppers, shredded lettuce, vinaigrette, and red onion, since the restaurant doesn’t serve pork. And alongside the aforementioned vegetarian schnitzel, those avoiding meat can get a vegan sandwich with shaved seasonal vegetables and herb spread.
Beyond the sandwiches, Beetroot will offer two soups from a rotating cast of characters: matzo ball, chicken with pelmeni, borscht, wild mushroom. Other hot dishes include her family’s Russian-style meatballs, tefteli, as well as potato kugel.
But much of Beetroot’s identity will also be as a market and deli counter, where locals can pop in for pints of Russian potato salad with carrots and pickles or Ukrainian beet salad with dill. The restaurant will stock various pantry items, as well as house-baked pastries like rugelach, babka, and tahini brownies. Because let’s be real: If someone wants to create a Pacific Northwestern Jewish deli, it should involve something for home cooks to play with at home. Take a look at the full Beetroot menu below:
Updated Tuesday, August 13, 2019, at 4:30 p.m.
This story has been updated to include the latest restaurant menus.
Updated Thursday, August 15, 2019, at 10:35 a.m.
This story has been updated to show that the opening date has changed.
• Beetroot [Official]
• Northwest Portland Is Getting a Modern Jewish Deli [EPDX]
• Previous Beetroot coverage [EPDX]