Twisted at Silly’s
Silly’s Restaurant has been a popular Portland eatery for nearly a quarter century. It’s beloved as much for its quirky décor and attitude as for its extensive, pun-filled menu. The walls are covered in pictures of customers holding Silly’s bumper stickers in places all over the world. The food is inspired by the cuisine of nearly as many countries, with an emphasis on vegetarian entrees, though there’s no shortage of meat, either. (I recently got hooked on Penne for Your Thoughts, a pasta dish with red peppers, broccoli, char-grilled chicken and spicy pork-and-lamb sausage made in-house.)
Last December, the Washington Avenue restaurant expanded into a building next door, and Silly’s With a Twist was born. The Twist has a full bar and additional seating, inside and out (keep that in mind next spring). The personality of the original place has been seamlessly extended into the new space: chrome-skirted Formica tables, kitschy salt and pepper shakers, a leg lamp like the one in A Christmas Story, a Steve McQueen blankie I desperately wish I had.
In keeping with the more-is-more philosophy at Silly’s, the drink menu is four pages long. A fair amount of real estate is devoted to shakes, which can be made with ice cream and milk from cows, rice or soy. They also serve shakes with booze, like the Ragin’ Ruby (made with ruby port), Twist & Stout (contains Guinness) and the more traditional Mudslide. I tried the Sherry Baby ($7.50), which is made with Sandeman Amontillado. The fruits of the medium-dry Spanish sherry came through nicely and complemented the ice cream well.
The wine and beer selections are both lengthy and well chosen. The Twist’s list includes over 20 vinos available by the bottle or glass (most glasses are in the $6-$8 range). Draft beers come in 20-ounce tin mugs, as well as pitchers and half pitchers. Locals and micros dominate, though you can also get Miller or PBR.
The specialty cocktail list reflects the quirky atmosphere, which is fine if you don’t take your cocktails too seriously. The first one I tried was the Oh Yeaahh! ($7.25). It’s vodka-based, with a dash of Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and purple Kool-Aid. The Kool-Aid dominates the mouth, and there’s no noticeable taste of vodka. It’s not bad, but not unlike the slightly watery powdered drink of your youth.
The Blue Granate Breeze ($8.25) is a stand-out mix: vodka, with a bit of Grand Marnier and blueberry juice, topped with Izze’s pomegranate soda. It’s delivered in a thin pilsner glass with the remaining soda sidecar’d in the bottle. As with the Oh Yeaahh!, the alcohol doesn’t have a bold presence, but the blueberry and pomegranate balance well. It’s sweet and crisper than expected — a nice surprise.
On another visit, I chose the Twist’s tequila cocktail, the Sassy Pants ($6.50), mostly because I was intrigued that it contains limeade. The “spicy rim,” however, is no substitute for kosher salt, and detracted from an otherwise competent cocktail.
I ordered The Violet Pirate ($7) next, but instead I received a goblet of pink liquid accompanied by half a bottle of Izze’s grapefruit soda. From the menu I could deduce that this was a Blushing Beauty ($7.25), a mix of pink grapefruit soda and Absolut. I drank it anyway, and found it to have the thin, easily palatable flavor of a slightly flat soda.
I eventually came back around to The Violet Pirate, a rum-based drink with blueberry juice, lemonade, and a maple flavoring on the rim. It was good, though I didn’t taste the rum until I was deep into the drink, and the flavoring on the rim does this one no favors, either. I would order another, but ask them to hold the maple.
(Speaking of rum cocktails, Silly’s is one of a handful of bars in Portland that carry Coke products, and yet they have no Bacardi. They substitute Myers’s Platinum, which is really no substitute at all.)
Lastly, on a lark, I tried the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster ($7.75), a train wreck of a cocktail that takes its name from the notorious libation in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It contains Absolut, Jameson Irish Whiskey, peach schnapps, orange juice, “blue stuff” and hot sauce. Though it’s impossible to replicate the fictional ingredients Zaphod Beeblebrox used to invent it, the effect is identical: “like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.”
— Carl Currie