Home to all things funky, the red brick building at the corner of Southeast Belmont and 14th Avenue is where Fermenter, Portland’s very own “beneficial bacteria emporium” dishes out millet-and-black lentil tempeh burgers, jojos slathered with cultured cheese sauce, and kombuchas with dainty botanical notes. Next door, Aaron Adams — the chef behind Farm Spirit, the influential (and shuttered) vegan tasting menu restaurant that came before — has been working on something more personal: an intimate lounge outfitted with maximalist decor. Here, toffee-colored banquettes invite guests to relax and graze on vegan caviar and guava galletas, while sipping oregano-infused mezcal cocktails in glasses with nixtamalized butternut-powdered rims. Opening on February 18, Workshop is poised to become Portland’s go-to neighborhood hangout for vegan snacks, drinks, and conversation.
For some time, Adams and his crew used the back of the space adjacent to Fermenter to produce the cultured foods they served at the restaurant. The storefront sat empty until the chef decided to begin this new project last November. He named it Workshop in honor of the space’s original purpose — the fermentation workshop supporting the restaurant — and its new life as a workspace, where Adams, chef Phomma Mack, and beverage lead Alma Medina will work on the art of hospitality.
However, this is not Farm Spirit 2.0. That chapter has ended for Adams, who is happy to leave the meticulously plated 12-course tasting menus behind. At Workshop, the menu is simpler, revolving around vegan bar snacks with Cuban influences paired with cocktails and zero proof drinks. Tidbits from Fermenter, like koji vegetables and cashew yogurt whey, appear on the menu, but this is a whole new concept.
The chef originally envisioned Workshop as a vegan Cuban tapas and wine bar — a concept that he felt was missing from Portland’s food scene. Some of Workshop’s plates are based on Cuban snacks that Adams’s aunt would make: guava galletas with cashew cheese; pasta de bocaditos, or brioche rolls stuffed with seitan-tofu ham and fermented cashew cheese; and empanizado, typically made with beef, but here made with breaded misozuke lion’s mane and Canarian mojo verde.
As he delved deeper into recipe development, the menu evolved beyond just the Cuban bar snacks. Instead, the chef drifted into a broader spectrum of culinary ideas: Workshop will offer vegan “luxuries,” like black garlic-beet-seaweed caviar tarts topped with poached celeriac and horsey cream. A vegetable-based take on charcuterie — in the form of koji smoked beets, butternut, and carrots alongside sweet mustard tamari — is on the menu, as well.
In the past, Adams has sourced ingredients almost exclusively within 105-miles of Portland. Although Workshop will use seasonal vegetables, it won’t have the same hyperlocal focus as Fermenter. “It’s hard enough to do vegan already,” Adams says. “Don’t want to limit ourselves further.” Rather, Adams is excited to work with more ingredients from outside Oregon, like pineapple and chocolate.
The same global influence appears on the beverage menu, stacked with drinks Adams named after memories or people from his life. For instance, the Victorhugo Camion — a Venezuelan rum cocktail with agricole rhum, house-made hazelnut orgeat, and Coca-Cola — is named after a kid from Adams’s childhood. Made of Rittenhouse rye, Cynar, and celery kombucha vinegar, the K & A is a tribute to fellow fermenters Kevin Farley and Alex Hozven, of the Cultured Pickle Shop in Berkeley. The bar program includes wines from France, Spain, and South America.
The menu will also have an extensive nonalcoholic drink list, in honor of his wife, Jenny Adams, who is 10 years sober — as well as the rest of Portland’s sober community. Drinks will use house-made bitters to recreate the depth and complexity of its alcohol-based counterparts. A Lapsang Souchong black tea concoction mimics an Old Fashioned, and a house faux fernet relies on heaps of herbs and spices, including angelica root, star anise, fennel seed, and sarsaparilla.
Drawing inspiration from iconic Portland spots like Dots Cafe and Junior’s Cafe, Adams hopes to recreate the feeling of old Portland — even going as far as to match an accent color to Dots. “I wanted to make a space that felt PORTLAND,” he wrote in an Instagram caption accompanying interior photos. “The Portland I fell in love with twenty years ago.”
Styled by interior design studio In Golden Hour, the lounge is a maximalist treasure trove of keepsakes and memorabilia. “It’s a distillation of who I am as a human being,” Adams says. Perched over the open kitchen, a poster with blocky retro typography in orange on a teal background reads, “oui, l’anarchie c’est l’ordre,” meaning “yes, anarchy is order.” Among the antique framed portraits, you’ll find British musician Terry Hall of the Specials, a painting of the chef’s dogs Annie and Greta, a photo from Adams’s younger days as an anti-racism activist, and Cuban revolutionary José Martí.
Workshop is a personal project, where Adams is sharing bits and pieces of his life, but he still keeps some things to himself, “to keep it shiny” as he puts it. Cooking Cuban cuisine is a deeply emotional experience for the chef: It’s a way for him to explore his Cuban heritage and family roots that trace back to the Canary Islands and Galicia region in northwest Spain, but it also comes with the complexities of being Cuban American. “I’m just a white kid with a Cuban mom,” he says. With so much attached to the food, Adams will reserve some Cuban dishes for special occasions.
Workshop opens on February 18 at 1407 SE Belmont St. Hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursdays and Sundays and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Walk-ins only; no reservations.