By Shirley Lewton
For the Hollywood Star News
Portland’s Cully Neighborhood bears the name of the man who settled there back in 1846, Thomas Cully. He came from England, was a stonemason by trade and probably would have approved of the tall Colonial hearth used to cook the majority of the dishes at Old Salt Marketplace. The hearth recalls those long-ago days when locally raised livestock was freshly butchered, cooking was done over a fire and vegetables were harvested from your own farm or one nearby.
Old Salt Marketplace operations manager, Ben Meyer, became familiar with open-hearth cooking when he was the chef at Portland’s Ned Ludd restaurant. Meyer, Alex Ganum (owner of Upright Brewing) and restaurant designer Marcus Hoover began their partnership in 2010 when they opened Grain and Gristle at 1473 N.E. Prescott St. A key feature of the food preparation there was the in-house butchering of high-quality, locally raised meat. Grain and Gristle chef Nathaniel Price said, “Our business grew, and we found that we were going through way more protein than had been anticipated. People were blown away by the flavor of our meat and asked where they could buy it.” The size of the Grain and Gristle kitchen couldn’t accommodate the demand but the space at Old Salt Marketplace has solved the problem. Meyer said he envisioned creating a “food community” when he began planning for the new enterprise.
The Marketplace opened in May 2013, offering a supper house, bar, meat shop and deli. Soon after, Anja Spence opened Miss Zumstein Bakery and Coffee Shop at the site; followed by Blake Van Rockel’s Good Keuken School. The bakery offers cakes and other desserts, as well as catering services. The cooking school features cooking classes, cooking certification, chef training, tours and dinners. The latest addition to Old Salt Marketplace is the Farmers Market where local growers sell fresh fruits and vegetables every Thursday. Meyer hails from a family with a history of farming and believes strongly in supporting small local farms.
As operations manager, Meyer controls the food, interfaces with local farmers who use organic growing methods and meets with Price and Old Salt’s chef, Timothy Wastell, to plan menus based on the produce that is available. “We contract with local farms to grow a lot of our vegetables,” Meyer said, before adding that “1,300 pounds of tomatoes and 1,400 pounds of potatoes were grown for us this year.” He purchases all of their chicory and a salad mix from Cully Neighborhood Farm; buys arugula, herbs, radishes and root crops from Side Yard Farms; and garlic, tomatoes, onions and peppers from Red Truck Farm. “By contracting with farmers for produce, they are assured that all of their produce will be sold,” said Price.
Meyer is the sole customer for beef purchased from Hawley Ranch, located in Cottage Grove. Payne Family Farms in Carlton, Oregon, supplies pigs. Both of those ranches breed and raise their livestock and grow the food the animals eat. Meyer had to look beyond Oregon to find the quality of breeding, care and feeding of poultry that he wanted. He buys Mary’s Free Range Chickens from Pitman Family Farms in California.
Those high-quality meats are butchered on site at Old Salt instead of in a slaughterhouse. “That assures that the craft is done correctly, that the meat is fresh and all parts of the animal are used,” Meyer said. “I’m aiming for zero waste.” He added that slaughterhouse butchering cannot offer some of the unique cuts of meat that are found at Old Salt. The meat butchered at Old Salt is also used by Grain and Gristle, Old Salt’s meat case, the deli, the supper house, in Miss Zumstein’s savory pastries and in the cooking classes at Good Kuken.
Old Salt’s deli menu draws a lunch crowd from the Cully neighborhood and beyond. On a recent Monday afternoon, Shirley Armenta and her wife Tracy Stroder enjoyed steak sandwiches with pickled chanterelle mushrooms. “The sandwich was awesome,” Armenta said. “The chanterelles were pickled just right; they didn’t overpower the wonderful taste of the meat.” The couple came up from San Francisco to visit and enjoy the sights and tastes of Portland. “We’re foodies,” Armenta said. “We read about Old Salt in a travel magazine.”
Visitors to the meat shop and deli are treated to a view of Rebekah Scheer’s mural mounted on the wall behind the meat case. Meyer commissioned Scheer to create what he calls a food map of the Pacific Northwest. Scheer, an employee at Grain and Gristle, researched the history of the region as well as old Works Project Administration (WPA) posters from the New Deal era. She uses the WPA images to illustrate her pictorial history of the Pacific Northwest.
If Stroder and Armenta had visited on a Thursday, they could have strolled through the Farmers Market and found items provided by Alpenglow Candles, Fressen Artisan Bakery, Seed and Thistle Apothecary and Brumm’s Pickles. The Farmers Market manager, Anne Chenot said, “I have a passion for food and growing food. We are building relationships with customers from the local community and beyond. We already have people who come every week.”
Thomas Trotter of Farmageddon Growers Collective said, “I’m personally passionate about giving people the opportunity to have high quality food at a reasonable price.” The Farmers Market is open from 4-7 p.m. every Thursday and will be open year round. Chenot said, “We wanted to be open at a time that was convenient for our customers.” She added that Simington Gardens will be joining them and also will be offering a winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that will have Old Salt as its pick-up location. The CSA system allows subscribing members to purchase local, seasonal food directly from farmers.
At Old Salt, another item can be picked up daily — the Grab and Go meal. “I saw the need with my own family,” Meyer said. “I wanted to provide high-quality food for people who are sometimes too busy to cook.” The menu for the Grab and Go changes daily and is posted by 3 p.m. on Facebook. It includes a protein, vegetable and a starch and is priced at $10. Meyers’ concern for families extends to those who work with him. He recently hosted a benefit for an employee who suffered a medical emergency that left her awash in bills. He donated the space and the food for the event.
Old Salt will be selling free-range organically fed turkeys for Thanksgiving. Customers can buy the turkeys raw, brined or roasted. Prices vary. Old Salt also will offer turkey stock and a stuffing kit for sale. The Christmas special will be aged prime rib tenderloin.