Having grown up in and around Portland, Oregon, I have a soft spot for the McMenamins group of hotels, restaurants, and distilleries. Recently, I had the opportunity to check out Zeus Cafe, located on the first floor of the Crystal Hotel at the corner of SW 12th and Stark.
My husband and I were married at McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon. We spent a good deal of our early twenties meeting up with friends at Blue Moon, catching concerts at the Crystal Ballroom, and seeing movies while scarfing down pizza and downing beers at the Bagdad. When we're on a road trip and need a lunch pit stop that is kid-friendly but also has great beer and wine, we stop at a McMenamins.
Whether you love 'em, hate 'em, feel indifferent about 'em, you can't deny that the McMenamins brothers have built a truly impressive empire of 52 (and counting) unique and memorable establishments throughout the West Coast. From a business perspective, what I love about McMenamins is that they've been able to keep their brand not by replicating the same exact details in every single space, but by allowing each and every one of their establishments to shine on their own accord. They have a vision for what each space can become, and rather than fight against it, they allow each restaurant, bar, hotel, brewery, distillery, movie house to reflect the natural atmosphere of the space and the neighborhood.
That's why, between Burnside and Stark and SW 12th and 14th avenues in downtown Portland, there are a number of McMenamins establishments, each with their own flavor.
For several years, I worked down the street from Zeus Cafe, as the Director of Public Relations and as an instructor for The Art Institute of Portland. I can't believe this was the first time I had ever eaten here! With an unassuming facade, it might be easy to pass it by, but do me a favor and stop in. I think you will be just as pleasantly surprised as I was.
Our blogger dinner started with a Cafe Smash cocktail: muddled blackberries, Crater Lake vodka, fresh squeezed lemon, black pepper syrup, aged balsamic vinegar, and mint sprig. This cocktail sings of spring!
The Fuentes is another sweet meal starter:
El Jimador Blanco tequila, mezcal, aperol, fresh squeezed grapefruit, smoked ice cube and smoked glassware give the Fuentes cocktail a special touch.
And of course, McMenamins knows how to do whiskey and bourbon cocktails right. I loved both the Burnt Bulleit and the Fireside Sour.
McMenamins distilleries produce their own special spirits, including the Devils Bit whiskey. This whiskey is released once a year and sells out almost as soon as it is released.
Many people familiar with McMenamins often associate the group of restaurants with their burgers and fries. But look closer and you'll see that this McMenamins offers so much more. Take this special starter that Executive Chef Jordan Taylor treated us to: speck with huckleberry jam on a beet chip.
The food at Zeus Cafe focuses on fresh, local ingredients, as most Portland restaurants do, but with a definite refined spin that you do not find at all of the smaller McMenamins pubs. Try the chickpea fries from their regular menu to start, or the seared scallops with arugula, currants, and chorizo vinaigrette.
I thoroughly enjoyed dining on the Bulgogi Braised Short Ribs, while another fellow diner enjoyed this Carlton Farms Pork Chop on a bed of spätzle with walnut gremolata.
And while burgers and fries are on the menu at Zeus Cafe, the Zeus NW Grass Fed Beef Burger is no ordinary burger, made with house pepper bacon and aged white cheddar (my favorite from Tillamook!), served with truffle fries.
The desserts by pastry Chef Warren Pinkston Kaam are absolute works of art and, I am told, are as delicious as they look. Due to my oh so exciting dairy sensitivity, I was able to feast on the following goodies only with my eyes, but oh what a feast for the eyes they were! Our group enjoyed Malted Milk Chocolate Tart with espresso pastry cream and mascarpone; a beautiful hazelnut nougat and dacquoise with toasted meringue; and a gorgeous Toffee Budino with honeyed crème fraîche, toffee sauce, hazelnut pralines, and chocolate sea salt.
One of THE most exciting things I learned about at this blogger dinner was the existence of the McMenamins passport. For $25, you can purchase a passport at any McMenamins. You can get it stamped at each location you visit, and each has a different potential special treat, including free tots or burgers, pint glasses, t-shirts, and more. Once you complete the entire passport, you earn the title of Cosmic Tripster, and are eligible for a grand prize worth more than $500.
I was so excited to get my first stamp at Zeus Cafe, and can't wait to continue collecting stamps as my family and I work our way through different McMenamins in the Northwest!
One of the main things I love about all McMenamins is that the majority of them are family and large-group friendly. Zeus Cafe would be a great spot for meeting up with co-workers for happy hour (theirs is amazing, starting at 2:30 and going until 6pm!!), or bringing the family for a weekend breakfast. If you have never been to this McMenamins, I would definitely recommend it.
303 SW 12th Avenue
Breakfast & Lunch 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Happy Hour Food & Cocktails 2:30 p.m.–6 p.m.
Dinner Sunday–Thursday, 5:30 p.m.–10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 5:30 p.m.–11 p.m.
Late Night menu available after dinner hours