You’ll quickly forget memories of high school cafeteria horrors with a trip to the Buckman Public House, a vast 300-seat restaurant located in the old Washington High School.
On a recent visit with my family, the towering school windows remained, but the interior looked nothing like a school cafeteria. Red leather booths hugged the walls and a swanky, gleaming bar was a focal point. I ordered the Fridays with Shea, a minty mojito, while my husband imbibed a Fort George IPA — definitely not cafeteria beverages.
We tried the restaurant on one of its opening nights, so I knew there’d be a learning curve. But I’m happy to report that the wait staff was super friendly and service was swift. I also appreciated thoughtful kid-accommodating perks like lidded cups with colorful straws.
We started with the chile-lime chiccharrones ($8), relish plate ($7), and green salad ($7). I was hoping my kiddos would be into the crackly pork skins, but they couldn’t get past the spice (not that they were that spicy). But I thought the salty, tangy, hot seasoning hit all the right notes. I liked that the relish plate contained raw cucumber slices, carrots and radishes, in addition to the pickled veggies, spiced nuts and olives. The kids chomped up the carrots and olives. The salad came sprinkled with edible flowers, but was otherwise fairly standard.
I was curious about the fried cauliflower entrée, and it did not disappoint with savory, crispy florets, crunch from cashews, a bit of salty funk from queso fresco and just enough heat from the chile puree. The kids nibbled on some florets, too. My 2-year-old son wanted a cheeseburger ($12), so we shared that as well. (When we visited Buckman Public House, they were not serving their kids or happy hour menus yet). The Buckman Public House tops its burger with a gooey cheese sauce in place of a slice of cheddar, which was pretty darn good.
My husband ordered the half fried chicken ($23) to share with our 5-year-old daughter. He got a side of mac ‘n cheese for her, too, and an extra side of baked beans ($2). The chicken was fried to perfection, juicy inside, crunchy outside. He thought the accompanying chile puree tasted too raw, and could have used a long simmer to bring out the complexity of the chiles. The coating of the chicken proved to be too spicy for our kids, but it was easily taken off and they did take approving bites of the “naked” chicken. Both kids also gave a thumbs up to the mac ‘n cheese. The baked beans had a great flavor, but the giant butter beans were undercooked.
The desserts were absolute winners. My daughter picked the chocolate hazelnut torte ($7), to share and we also ordered the churro sundae ($8) since her little brother wanted ice cream. The torte was a flavor bomb of mousse, rich cake and salted caramel sauce. The churros, while tasty, had more of an eggy, éclair texture than a traditional churro. But my son happily ate them and scraped the last dregs of melted saffron ice cream from his bowl.
1310 SE Stark St.
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10 pm.
Fridays and Saturday, 11 am-midnight. buckmanpublichouse.com.
School’s in Session
If we’re talking about repurposed schools, we’ve got to mention the ever-popular McMenamins Kennedy School in Northeast Portland and Old St. Francis School in Bend. Each reincarnated campus now hosts
a hotel, kid-friendly restaurant (tots, anyone?), movie theater and soaking pool. mcmenamins.com.