On Wednesday night, the weather was cartoonishly terrible. Aggressive gusts of wind took my umbrella hostage, once-vibrant leaves collided with my hair and lipstick, as well as buckets of cold, fall rain. And yet when I arrived at The Original Dinerant to taste through their fall menu, I began to feel a little warmer.
We began in one of their darkly romantic booths, sipping some of their house sodas, created by bartender Lee Watson along with some creative flavor input from The Original’s pastry superstar Sally Bowers.
With soda on topic, general manager Meagan Goode explained the overall inspiration to The Original. Back in the 19th century, the pharmacy/drugstore was the American diner’s predecessor – it was the place to be. Goode explained you could fill your prescription, grab lunch, suck down a soda and be on your way back to work, fast. The real stars of these pharmacies were the Soda Jerks – the creative geniuses behind the soda fountain. These masterminds were true professionals of their day, taking years to perfect the craft of soda and tonic making – which feels awfully reminiscent of today’s bartenders.
The sodas Watson makes would make the Soda Jerks proud. We tried the Bitter Orange Elderflower (elderflower a favorite flavor of Bowers’), a rich and sweet sarsaparilla, and my personal favorite, the pomegranate thyme which had a savory bite that’d make a solid stand-up to any strong liquor pairing. The sodas set the tone for the rest of the menu, which is, as Goode puts it is, “Rooted in the diner, but always kicked up a couple notches.”
We sampled the menu cocktails where these sodas were used, including the Bittersweet Sunset, a mixture of Aperol and Benedictine balanced by the floral notes in their Bitter Orange Elderflower soda. Yet the cocktail that best captured our current season was their classic Hot Buttered Rum. Watson starts with dark rum and finishes with a compound butter of ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon, which felt just right with the rain still smacking against a nearby window.
Chef Ryan Bleibtrey (formerly of Urban Farmer) kindly walked us through a meal that managed to highlight all of these hours, all accenting the hearty seasonal fare that gives comfort food its definition. Breakfast offered baked eggs in a smoked tomato sauce that was best spooned with grilled flatbread – no utensils necessary. The sauce, as Bleibtrey put it, “Manages to hit all the senses,” with its combination of red pepper flakes, bright citrus, and smoke from the tomatoes.
And then, I’m not sure if it was the weather or that Thanksgiving is a mere week away, but it did almost feel like a holiday meal (minus a drunk aunt or the kids table). The “turkey” of the night was the hefty braised pork shank in rich bordelaise, garnished with 50’s-esque duchess potatoes (or as the menu playfully titles them, potato frosting).
And while there were other proteins on the table, like Thanksgiving, the sides stole the show. Big enough to share for two, each of the side dishes are unique takes on traditional sides. The classic scalloped potato gratin was improved with a savory mushroom cream sauce, while the roasted squash was amped up with spicy harissa, miles away from your standard maple syrup marshmallow concoctions. After any rich meal, something refreshing is always nice to have on the plate, and the Spice Roasted Applesauce played that role well. The dish is topped with a crunchy basil apple slaw that replenishes you after all that heaviness – and readily prepares you for dessert.
And dessert is quite a big deal at The Original. Their towering pastry case (so big it has its own YouTube video) has everyday specials of pies, cakes, pudding shots (nicknamed the Cosby shot after Mr. Puddi’n Himself), and parfaits. Pastry Chef Sally Bowers joked that “We only have a small window where people want pumpkin pie before they get sick of it at their own Thanksgiving.” She served up her own silky version of the Thanksgiving pie, along with an airy sweet potato cheesecake. And following The Original’s love of excess, Bowers also shared two flavors of cake pops, as well as Almond Joy and pumpkin chai cupcakes that didn’t hold back on frosting or flavor.
So, that night, I learned two things. One, never believe there’s such thing as an “umbrella warranty.” And two, if horrible weather means a menu with cheese-curd stuffed pretzels and Amaretto pudding shots, I think I can stand a little bit more rain.
One element about The Original I’ve always liked is that no matter the time of day – whether it’s a leisurely brunch, a quick midday bite or late night imbibing and snacking – they’re always open (til 4 AM on weekends to be exact). Be sure to check out The Original Dinerant’s New Years Eve Party this year as well – $40 per person for a night in the retro luxe party loft from 10pm – 2am. The price includes dessert bar, two cocktails, champagne toast and a $10 donation to Ecotrust Food & Farms Program. You can make your reservations by calling (503)526-2666.
*Photo credit: Wendy Shortman