Probably the best example of how much a sense of atmosphere can make a restaurant that we’ve ever run into, McMenamins was yet another great recommendation from local friends (trust the locals!). The Courtyard Restaurant is great fun in the middle of the larger McMenamins experience; once you’ve found the right door, you pass beneath glass-and-metal custom light fixtures, taking inspiration from some mix of old censers and kaleidoscopes, on your way to your table. Expect to spend much of your meal staring at the décor and being greatly entertained.
The food was rather good overall – between our group of four, we got the Berry Patch Salad, Hogshead Burger, Chicken Marsala, a cup of butternut squash soup and a personal pizza with pepperoni and sausage, and all pretty much hit the mark. The burger was a bit underdone, but the recommended Cajun tater tots were delicious. Everything came out presented beautifully and the chicken marsala was probably the best of the lot. The drinks selection definitely impressed – with many local beers on tap, one of our party greatly enjoyed the recommended Ruby Ale, while another ordered a custom mixed drink with the house rum. (We were pleasantly surprised to find that drink charged on the final bill cheaper than any mixed drink on the menu, effectively just as a serving of the house rum.) The wine list also ran more than two full pages, with many tempting local options, though we didn’t get wine on this visit.
The atmosphere and the service, hands down, are why this is a required stop in Portland. Our waiter frankly made our evening, as glad to make conversation as he was to make menu recommendations. There’s no “oh, that’s my favorite too” style of forced familiarity here, just natural conversation. In addition to our food coming out quickly, we found we had a fun series of connections with our waiter, having grown up many thousands of miles away in the same area as one of our party, and learned the story behind one of his tattoos late in the meal. It should also be noted that our server managed his time carefully – while getting us our food and chatting, he was also serving five or six other tables deftly, making sure to leave no one hanging. We’d be glad to run into him again on a future visit, but regardless, we’ll definitely be back here again the next time we’re through Portland – and maybe we’ll take in the theater or stay upstairs this time.
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