At Alberta Street’s new spot, the food and beer go down easy — but the family-friendly service needs some work.
On paper, Great Notion Brewing has all the ingredients of a family-friendly brewpub: Solid and varied kid’s menu, “play area,” dad-run business. But great service, for my money, is the most important piece of a kid-friendly establishment and our experience sadly fell short.
My family headed into the brewpub a few minutes before 5 on a Saturday evening ready to meet our friends Amy, Schuyler and their 2-year-old, Shiloh. A sign said, “seat yourself,” which seemed easy enough — but there was nowhere to sit. We spent 15 minutes stalking tables hoping someone would leave while trying to keep our 3-year-old from hanging on a door. (After searching around, we realized the “play area” was a small shelf of toys right by the front door and immediately in front of the bathrooms. It wasn’t visible from most tables.) Although it was chilly, our only option seemed to be the outside seating.
Once seated on the patio, no servers checked on us or took our order. (Later, we figured out that you order at the bar if you’re seated outside.) My husband hunted down a highchair for our 1-year-old, but we couldn’t find another for Shiloh. We grabbed one of the staff and asked if he could light the outdoor heater. He tried; it was out of fuel. Then he suggested, “If you’re cold, you can always sit inside.” Gah!
As we were about to place our order, part of a long table opened up inside. They were out of the chicharones, aka pork cracklings, the appetizer I’d wanted to order. But everyone agreed the buffalo tostones, fried green plantains doused in buffalo sauce, and cheese crisps (imagine a whole plate of the best part of a grilled cheese — that little bit of cheese that sizzles up on the pan) were tasty and interesting variations on traditional pub offerings.
I ordered the kids’ mac ‘n cheese for my 3-year-old and 1-year-old to split. Amy and Schuyler ordered the grilled cheese for Shiloh, but were brought the kids’ cheeseburger on a pretzel bun, though the kitchen quickly whipped up a grilled cheese for him. My 1-year-old chowed down on the mac ‘n cheese.
For our entrees, the steak-and-cheese-stuffed Philly empanadas were yummy, but my husband’s fried chicken sandwich was nearly burned. However Amy’s housemade veggie burger with black bean tempeh blew away most restaurant veggie burgers I’ve tried.
Great Notion’s greatest strength is its beer. My husband raved over his fruity and floral Juice Jr. IPA. I admired the citrus punch of the sour Zest beer. It reminded me of a tart shandy – and I can see drinking it all summer long. (It’s worth keeping in mind that the patio at Great Notion has excellent kid-friendly potential for the summer. There’s enough space for kids to roam, plus toy dinosaurs and a neighbor goat on the other side of the fence to keep them busy.)
We wrapped up the evening by walking a block over to Salt ‘N Straw and decided next time we want to enjoy the innovative brews at Great Notion, we’ll leave our kids with their grandparents.
Great Notion Brewing, 2204 NE Alberta, greatnotionpdx.com
What makes a restaurant truly family friendly
1. Good service: Staff that get you seated and served quickly so you can get out before anyone has a meltdown.
2. Accessories: Enough high chairs and booster seats, plus a diaper changing station.
3. A solid kid’s menu: Stuff kids like and stuff that’s good for them.
4. A bathroom with an occupied sign: This is not something you think about until you are trying to help a preschooler perch on a toilet and she freaks out each time the door handle rattles.
5. Icing on the cake: A play area. I always pack stuff to keep my kids busy, like paper dolls or a coloring placemat, but a play area — that’s close enough to tables that you can actually see your kids — earns extra credit.