Take a chef from Flemings Prime Steakhouse, a well-traveled farm-to-table restaurateur, the brains behind OTTO pizza and the owner of Empire Chinese Kitchen and get in line.
Hero, opening in early March at 30 City Center, is about to rock your downtown lunch game Portland. Don’t have a lunch game? You soon will.
“Portland is in need of a lunch spot that is consistently producing high quality food,” said co-owner Todd Bernard, who makes diners swoon at Empire on Congress Street with lobster dim sum delights.
Hero, a sandwich, salad and meals-to-go eatery, opens in the space last occupied by Soakology. Think spit-roasted, free-range chicken; vegetables roasting in chicken fat and gourmet slaw. “You choose your vehicle,” said kitchen manager Richard Cobbs, who recently moved to Portland from Los Angeles to take part in the city’s “food renaissance.”
Unlike most set menus, here customers are in control. Pick your protein or go vegetarian. Want a whole chicken? Rib eye? Prime rib?
“We envision our guests having a nice big salad or sandwich for lunch as well as being able to pick up a whole roasted chicken with sides for dinner on their way out of the office at the end of the day,” said Brody.
The Culinary Institute of America grad has a deep well of culinary experience. He’s cooked in Santa Fe, Europe and Asia. For 10 years his restaurant The Night Kitchen was a Western Massachusetts destination. As Hero’s opening chef, Brody says Vietnamese street food banh mis and other international fare will represent “a medley of all of our experiences.”
That includes pork belly porchetta and stuffed, rolled and tied flank slow cooking all day. Guests step right up to the open kitchen to see the spit in action.
“The energy flows both ways,” said Cobbs, who worked a Flemings and “the country club circuit” in Boca Raton, Florida. He was ready for a change. “I wanted to be somewhere hardy with seasons.” And a strong restaurant buzz.
Though OTTO’s Mike Keon and Anthony Allen are co-owners, Cobbs and Brody (both newcomers to the Portland scene) have full creative license. And they are not afraid to use it.
You want sides? Hello brussels sprouts with cracklings and cojito cheese; green apple fennel slaw with toasted caraway and herb-salt tossed fries. Condiments like green tomatoes relish, and bourbon cheese will all be made in house. Boston Market this is not.
And for downtown workers still nursing the loss of institutions like Mike’s Restaurant, Hero wants to fill all voids. “We have a captive audience here of cube dwellers,” said Brody. “This is not food that will make you want to crawl under your desk and take a nap.”