Monday Nights at the Produce Row Cafe

By Matthew DiTullo

Last night, on an impulse, we stopped at the newly revamped Produce Row Cafe located on SE Oak and 2nd in Portland. Unfortunately I wasn’t equipped with my camera, but I can offer shots from the press preview we attended along with our colleagues a couple of weeks ago. Now, I knew they used to do live jazz on Monday nights, and I wasn’t sure if this was going to continue with the newly dressed up space. After staying for just one set, we know now this must be a more common activity for us. Sipping beer and whiskey pairings, enjoying great food, and tapping to some bop standards is a pretty decent night.

Our barkeep was talkative, alert, on top of everything, and had a great sense of humor. And even though he didn’t know much about the brews offered (one feature Produce Row prides itself on), he made up for it with friendly conversations and quick wit. We got the sense that he was new, and for someone starting off, he didn’t get overwhelmed or flustered and was able to be a great support for the rest of the serving staff. He’s definitely a keeper there and we’ll look forward to having him deliver libations to us on future Monday nights. My only major gripe about Produce Row, no imperial pint glasses. Instead they use cheater, English looking imperial-like shaped glasses. With a decent head on a brew, you’re lucky to get 14 ounces. Please Produce Row, do the honest thing here.

Their food was amazing. Last night I had a pulled pork sandwich that stacked up with some of the best BBQ places in town. Also, at the press preview in the beginning of June, they offered treats like beet salads, nachos, reuben sandwiches, pork sliders. All made with exceptional quality, unique ingredients, and extremely tasty.
We also enjoyed a pour of the new Pro Row Pale Ale. This collaborative effort was brewed especially for Produce Row by Laurelwood, Walking Man, and Double Mountain. An above average brew that offered clean, floral and citrus hop flavors, with biscuity sweet malts for balance. I hope this gets brewed repetitively, because it’s worth the trip to Produce Row alone.

This maybe a sincere replacement for the Blue Monk (SE Belmont), which caved into the dart and billiards crowd and no longer offers live jazz on a regular basis. The house band started off, a piano trio. The highlight was when they played Bemsha Swing with a straight ahead, sort of hip hop drum rhythm. After about 45 minutes and four or five tunes, other players were welcomed to sit in. This allowed for a guitarist to be added and a new drummer with a totally different, a little more free flowing style, where as the other gentleman was very technical and precise.
The crowd at Produce Row was really mixed. Working class folk, hipsters, older couples, youngsters just stopping by for a burger. It was quite the collage of personalities. The best and most important thing though, was that everybody was enjoying the sounds. Stop by Monday nights, imbibe all evening while tunes begin at 9pm.

Read more from Matthew DiTullo and his exploration of jazz, artists, recordings, and life on his blog This Shape of Jazz.