Three years ago, Amelia and Brandon Hughes opened a small food cart in the Cartlandia pod. Half of the cart’s mass involved a large, wood-fired oven, and the two wanted to pull off something ambitious: Use whole animals and produce from within a 100-mile radius — all while battling the size and storage constraints of a food cart. Wild North was a hit: The cart regularly sold out, and eventually the couple moved their mobile restaurant to the Base Camp Brewing space. The two were just starting to look at potential restaurant spaces when the pandemic hit.
After a year of relative radio silence, Wild North has returned in a brand-new restaurant space, just in time for its third anniversary. The new Wild North, in a cozy Broadway house-turned-restaurant, is now serving the hyper-local, inventive dishes that made the cart such a hit.
Brandon Hughes, the restaurant’s chef, grew up in Missouri, where he developed a love of both outdoor spaces and cooking. He worked in big-deal Minneapolis restaurants, like Tilia and Travail Kitchen and Amusements, before moving to Oregon with Amelia. When the two of them opened Wild North, they brought their sourdough started with them — that sourdough starter became the foundation for one of the cart’s most popular items, a sourdough bread bowl filled with oft-changing, seasonal soups.
At the new Wild North, that bread bowl is currently filled with a blend of heirloom carrots, some roasted in chicory coffee, a nod to Brandon’s brief stint in Louisiana. Amelia says that Brandon pulls most of his inspiration from his personal history, whether that’s in fine dining kitchens, outdoors in the garden, or in the woods. “Brandon was born 100 years too late,” Amelia Hughes says. “He loves to go camping and make these wild dishes when we go camping — sort of like a mix of foraging and his fine dining training.” For instance, the restaurant’s chicken liver pâté gets a quick cold-smoke before it hits the sauté pan, which he pairs with pickled baby corn and wild foraged mushrooms cooked in bourbon.
The Hughes often go camping, where he’ll forage, hunt, and find inspiration for dishes in the restaurant; Wild North’s menu often involves wild foraged mushrooms, which change seasonally. Much of the menu also utilizes the restaurant’s smoker, a potential nod to the couple’s love of campfire-cooked meals. “(In 2020), I spent a lot of that time going into the woods, doing the stuff I really like to do besides cooking,” he says. “Trying to gather inspiration in nature... In every kitchen I’m in, there’s always so much equipment, so many different things to do, to cook with. When you go out in the woods, you simplify things.”
That focus on simplicity is apparent in the restaurant’s menu, which is currently centered on a single protein — currently, chicken — and Oregon-grown vegetables. For now, because the restaurant is new and still small in scale, the couple is taking their focus on whole animal cooking and focusing on smaller animals; down the line, however, they want to graduate to larger animals. “With the restrictions right now, it’s hard to buy a whole animal and not be able to sell it,” Brandon Hughes says. “I really want to get back into doing whole animals... it’s just hard to plan that right now.”
With the heightened COVID-19-related restrictions, the restaurant has stuck to takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining, while the Hughes slowly renovate the interior of the restaurant. Wild North is open at 1411 NE Broadway.