By Alisa Sloan, Foodable Contributor
Portland is a funny town — one of our favorite pastimes is playing Six Degrees of Separation. It’s usually along the lines of “Oh, you know Jamie? I went to college with her sister/answered a Craigslist roommate ad and met her/dated her brother/had the cubicle next to her at a software company.” We’re all connected through our friends, family and coworkers, but truly my favorite surprises happen on social media. Thanks to Facebook, I can easily find out who knows whom.
But there are still a few surprises left in town. Like the one that happened at Nobleoni, located on the campus of the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts. I’d been hearing for years that their brunch was something special, but it took an old friend to finally get me out there for lunch. (It’s on Barnes Road near the 217, and at least from where I live, that’s a road trip.) As we enter the restaurant, she ever-so-casually drops the “Oh, did you know that this is Leather Storrs’ place?” As in Leather Storrs, chef and co-owner of Noble Rot. How, I wondered, did a famous uptown chef find his way to a casual kitchen in the ’burbs?
Back to His Roots
As the story unfolded, I learned that his father, architect John Storrs, designed the original OCAC buildings in 1977, and Leather had been dining in the college’s café all his life. (That’s one degree!) So when the opportunity came up to take over the café and turn it into his own vision, so to speak, he grabbed it. Nobleoni brings a few ideas in from Noble Rot, aside from just the name. (Degree number two!) There’s a recently planted chef’s garden, a dedication to seasonality and locality in the ingredients, and, happily, wine on the menu. And yes, they’ve kept the Sunday Brunch tradition going, but get there early as the line often forms around 9 a.m.
Not Your Average "Dining Hall"
So what should you eat at Nobleoni? Everything. The menu changes weekly, so don’t get too attached to a favorite dish. They write the week’s offerings on a chalkboard above the open kitchen, and you order right there. We tried three “mains,” since the prices are just low enough that OCAC students can use it as their dining hall. Color me envious: At my college, the big treat was banana bread and the student union was in a basement, so having access to seasonal melon salads, Jalapeño Popper grilled cheese, a Ploughman’s sandwich, Croque-Madames, or the heavenly braised chicken (with preserved lemon, green olives, spring onions and potatoes) seems like a wildly outrageous fantasy. (Ahem. Banana bread. Banana bread with chocolate chips blew my mind.) Yup, the OCAC students have it pretty good. In addition to a world-class education — whether it’s an art day camp or an MFA in Applied Craft and Design — being totally absorbed in art, and enjoying the beautiful campus, they can dine at Nobleoni every day.
If it’s busy and the weather’s nice, have someone in your party snag a table on the patio while you check out the gift shop — there’s art, ceramics and jewelry by students, as well as local artists. Then look around for someone you know. You may be in the ’burbs, but it’s still Portland!