Spread the Word
My first impression of Spread came via their website, which claims the restaurant is founded on “a simple idea … [p]roviding a bustling, cozy, inviting eating space with great energy built around beautiful art and ambiance.” This makes it sound like Spread is a small, intimate place, not the sort of establishment one would expect in the sprawling area it occupies at 100 Commercial St. Surprisingly, they manage to live up to those claims.
Spread is subdivided in such a way as to make each of its rooms feel unique yet tied together by a common contemporary design that blends exposed brick walls with woodwork reminiscient of a rustic cottage. The bar, which one enters after passing through a spacious entryway, is beautiful. It’s horseshoe-shaped, with a liquor island in the middle and a fabulous display along the back wall. The bar is flanked by two televisions that were tuned to local news most times I visited — appropriate, given the white-collar clientele, and not overly distracting.
There’s a dining area attached to the bar with a huge shadow box full of artwork. Most of the furniture is wood, tasteful but otherwise unremarkable, but there are also chic mattresses scattered about, each large enough for a group, with piles of decorative pillows in the center. They add a touch of playfulness to the space. For a more traditional dining setting, you can pass through the door to the left of the bar, which leads to a formal seating area.
On my first visit to Spread, I met a friend for cocktails after work. With no time to change, I arrived in my usual attire: jeans and a t-shirt under an ill-fitting but well-loved sweatshirt, and a baseball cap. I felt underdressed in Spread’s classy surroundings, but my attire had no discerible effect on the service I received. Everyone greeted me warmly, from the valets outside (Spread offers free valet parking) to the manager, who made a brief but appreciated acknowledgement of my presence.
The “bustling” part also proved true. By 5:30 p.m., the bar was surrounded by a decent crowd of more than a dozen. By 6, it had doubled, yet the creative design of the space allowed everyone enough elbow room.
The menu at Spread it divided into three sections: Spreads, Small Plates and Large Plates. Spreads are the appetizers, which range in price from $8 to $15. There are over a dozen similarly priced Small Plates, including salads, skewers and seafood. Among the Large Plates you can get seared duck, mussels, and New York strip steak. These entrees run as high as $30, though most are in the mid-$20s.
Spread’s exceptional wine list has dozens of selections, and the rotating drafts and bottled beers are similarly well chosen. My bartender on that first visit was Jeff, an alumni of Vignola, which has produced some of Portland’s best bar talent. He explained a few cocktails on the menu, then proceeded to shake me up a Southern Revival.
Despite the presence of peach purée on this drink’s list of ingredients, I expected the Maker’s Mark base, black tea and Campari to create a dark, brooding libation. What I received was a pink-hued cocktail on ice in a stemless martini glass, garnished with lemon. The purée gives the Southern Revival texture and sweetness. The Campari shows up in the aftertaste, riding the sides of your tongue to a citrus finish as slight as the lemon garnish. It proved to be an excellent introduction to their cocktails, and future visits proved it’s consistently prepared by different staff.
One drink that fell a little flat was the Moscow Mule. It’s made with the traditional elements (Russian Standard Vodka, ginger beer, lime garnish), but Spread chooses to jazz it up with Domaine de Canton, a French ginger liqueur. The addition of the liqueur, with a healthy muddle of fresh ginger, gives this Mule a strong, broad flavor, but takes all the shine and sweetness out of the nose and mouth. This may make the cocktail more palatable to some, but the Mule’s classic lightness is lost. The French and the Russians still don’t get along.
Sliding in for brunch on the Saturday before Easter, I encountered a much different atmosphere than I had on prior evenings. The big front windows fill the barroom with natural light. Spread works well as a brunch spot. The menu is deep and the portions are large. We shared the place with only one other party, leading me to believe that waiting in line at Caiola’s or Bintliff’s is now a fool’s errand.
Skipping over the usual Bloody Mary and Mimosa options, I started my brunch with a drink off the contemporary portion of the menu, the Second Marriage. The bartender explained that this is an adaptable champagne cocktail, served in a flute. I opted to have it served down. The peach-colored libation had almost no nose to speak of, so the immediacy of the tart grapefruit finishing with hints of the Italian apertif Aperol was a welcome surprise. Just like Spread itself.
— Carl Currie