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G-Love is home to one of Portland’s most personal and immersive dining experiences. The strangest thing is, it can’t be had in the restaurant. In the warm months, chef and owner Garrett Benedict parks his personal bus outside, opening its doors for parties of two to adventure through his menu amid string lights and a lava lamp. It feels like eating in the brain of the chef, and you can certainly feel the mileage.
Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Benedict traveled to the Napa Valley to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Greystone before working at the Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood and Ubuntu. After four years, he bought his bus and traveled the country for six months, cooking at 35 different restaurants anywhere from one day to two weeks. That journey ended in Philadelphia, where he stayed for two years, before moving back to San Francisco for another seven to work at Michelin-starred Al’s Place. Now, he’s landed in Portland with the first restaurant of his own: G-Love, a produce-heavy, super-seasonal “reverse steakhouse” in a rapidly expanding section of Northwest Portland. We sat down with Benedict to chat about his local indulgences — from pizza to oysters to diner breakfast staples.
Eater: So, after all that traveling, what finally brought you to Portland?
Garrett Benedict: In 2012, my parents bought Olde Moon Farm in Silverton. They don’t run it, they only own the land, but I immediately hit them up and asked, “What do you think about my future restaurant being in Portland and partnering with the farm?” I always loved Portland as a food city and could always kind of see myself landing here.
Can you talk about where the “reverse steakhouse” concept originated?
I was eating at Ox with my sister and brother, forever ago, and we were talking about what the future restaurant could be. I loved working at Ubuntu, the vegetarian restaurant, but I didn’t want to give up certain fish and meat ingredients I like to cook with and eat. My sister dropped the concept in my lap: “What if it was like a steakhouse, but instead of the meat being the main thing, the meat was the side thing and the sides were the main thing?”
What other restaurants have been a source of inspiration?
For me, the other places I had worked in California. When you come to G-Love, it’s a somewhat unique setup. There aren’t a lot of restaurants in Portland that have a really high-energy, party feel right when you walk in the door. The music’s elevated, the vibe is elevated, and the food itself reflects my experiences. I feel like we’re trying to do something here that people can’t get anywhere else. Based on the success the restaurant’s had, it’s working.
Moving into your personal life: what are your go-tos when you’re not at G-Love?
I live just down the street, so I wanted to call out places local to me. On Monday mornings, my first day off, I always get a Hot Tony and a Wildwood from Pizza Thief, which I love. Farmer and the Beast, the food cart, I love their burgers and salads.
Stepping Stone, the diner right up here, I used to go there every morning. Sleep in, then stumble in, not even awake yet. I love the whole vibe in there, I always sit at the counter, I almost always go alone. It’s entertainment, and it has a classic diner vibe, something that feels like it’s going away.
What’s your go-to order there?
Well, my last name is Benedict…
Yes, you have to.
Oh, St. Jack! I sit at their bar, order a couple dozen oysters, fries, a couple dirty martinis, and just hang out. I love how consistent it is. You know exactly what you’re gonna get, it’s done exceptionally well, and it’s always the same. It’s like a guiding light.
They kind of set the template for the new wave of what restaurants in this neighborhood look like, including yours. Nothing in this neighborhood looked like that until they did, and now everything does.
I think my favorite restaurant in Portland is Jacqueline, at the original St Jack location. The chef, Derek [Hanson], is awesome, the nicest guy. Before G-Love opened, I didn’t even know the guy, and he sent me all of these great front-of-house employees. So generous, and his food is insane.
I love Angel Face, too. I love how small it is, and it’s a cool concept: Don’t just order a cocktail, tell me what you like, what you want. That immersive interaction.
Which you have some elements of here, too, interactive bits of service. Letting people dine in your bus, bringing complimentary doughnuts at the end of each meal. Those little touches give your place a strong identity.
During that initial COVID lockdown, it was so depressing. Just five of us alone in the restaurant every day, no energy or vibe. I was driving my bus around and one day I decided to pull up onto the sidewalk, put the pop-top up, and try to attract more people. People started coming by and the area started feeling a little more alive. The doughnuts, I didn’t want to put them on the menu, I just wanted to give everybody a little gift and exclamation point at the end of the meal. They’ve already hopefully had a great time — it’s just another thing that’s memorable.
Updated Wednesday, January 4, 2022: This story has been updated to specify that the bus is only available during the warmer months.