The chef is a large man wearing a pink headband. The special is a 35-ounce rib eye. If someone orders it, the chef disappears and then briefly may be seen through a large window into the larder, where, you realize, an enormous hunk of beef is sitting on a shelf. (There's a table right in front of the window, and despite all the nice vegetables also on the shelves, this table is Not Safe for Vegetarians.) The chef hoists the beef and reappears with it behind the counter of the open kitchen. Then he saws a giant steak off the giant hunk with a giant hacksaw.
The chef is Mike Robertshaw—he's worked at La Bête, Quinn's, Zoë, and Union. The place is Local 360—it's in Belltown, where Flying Fish used to be. The beef is local—everything at Local 360 comes from within a 360-mile radius of the corner of First and Bell, excepting the pretty-much-impossible: coffee, olive oil, citrus, the vermouth behind the bar.
Three hundred and sixty miles takes you well up into Canada (excellent hazelnuts up by the border), over to Idaho (trout!), deep into Oregon (that giant steak: Oregon Natural Meats, Eugene, approximately 283 miles), all across the oyster beds of Hood Canal and the mushrooms of the Olympic Peninsula and out into the Pacific. Local 360's got website copy about REAL FOOD and FUTURE GENERATIONS and SUSTAINABILITY and CONSCIOUS DAILY CHOICE (all-caps theirs); they've got a chalkboard of Favorite Vendors, and menus with old-timey typeface, and decor of the rough-wood wainscoting, metal chairs, and tarnished-silver-candlesticks variety. If you've been to Quinn's or Oddfellows or any number of places in Portland, you know this decor drill. But Local 360 is plain enough to conjure up an old-school union dining-and-drinking hall—not what the name Local 360 refers to, but with the old IBEW Local 46 and Catholic Seamen's Club a stone's throw away...
This 360-mile-radius thing is also not new—Local 360 admits such in its website Manifesto. Any restaurant worth its salt that focuses on local ingredients sources the vast majority of its foodstuffs from within the region, i.e., around 360 miles. I called Renee Erickson, chef/owner of longtime Belltown favorite Boat Street Cafe (and Ballard's the Walrus and the Carpenter), and she looked around Boat Street's kitchen: "Hmmm... produce... dry goods..." She arrived at an estimate of 80 percent of her ingredients originating from within the described area. She said people have told her she should add sources to her menus, "but," she paused, "I just do it because I think the food's better." She was quick to point out that Local 360's bar program—all local wines and liquors—is a standout, and rightfully so.
If Local 360—brought to you by club owner and promoter Marcus Charles—makes a brand out of an ethos, at least it's the right ethos. The more local we get now, the better, by whatever name and wherever. (Recently new: Northwest grass-fed burgers by Ethan Stowell in the 'Pen at Safeco Field, the top shelf of all-local booze at the lowly but venerable 5 Point.) And the very good news is that the food at Local 360 is very good—and not very expensive.
The $40 côte de boeuf for two is a cost outlier. Breakfast and lunch (called "JUST WAKING UP" and "Been UP FOR A WHILE"), available all day, are priced like at a diner. It's extraordinary, really: The usual tariff of several bucks a dish for locally sourced (not to mention carefully made and straight-up delicious) is just not there. The farmer's breakfast—eggs, choice of meat, potatoes, and a biscuit—is $8. A chicken-fried steak—covered in unusually tangy gravy with big pieces of mushroom, called by an expert "the most exciting chicken-fried steak I can remember eating"—served with a heap of fluffy, well-black-peppered scrambled eggs, costs $12. A bubbling-hot cast-iron skillet of macaroni and cheese, rich with two kinds of Golden Glen cheddar, a paragon of simple virtue, is $7.50. A very fine house-ground burger (beef and pork!) with a small haystack of french fries: $10. Local 360's daytime menu has nothing startling on it—except a Cobb salad ($12) with an inch-thick, six-inch-wide disk of pork belly on top, which leaks porky fat down onto the lettuce in a way that is kind of wonderful and also inarguably excessive—but everything is assertively flavored and expertly cooked. There are sandwiches and soups and potpies and pancakes, and if you eat everything you order, you're going to need to lie down.
The nighttime menu is called (in a fit of terseness) "NIGHTTIME." If you want to venture into gastropub oddities, there's peanut butter and jelly bonbons ($4), crispy pig ear ($6), and tête de cochon (only at happy hour, $8). I went with fried quail with potato salad ($8) and was extremely happy about it. The potato salad was creamy, but with the pepperiness of chives and a strong tartness underlying; the quail was deep brown and heartily crusted, KFC-style, the fatty meat dissolving underneath (and the tiny bones cooked enough to crunchily eat). Local 360 is the kind of place where you'll find dishes that lodge in your mind, making you come back again; this is one of them.
A roasted beet salad is a good late-winter litmus test, and Local 360 made a fine, plentiful version with crumbles of fried pistachio for $8. A short rib "pot roast" (their quotes, $19) with a silky potato puree was also everything it should be, the interstitial fat of the meat almost melted away, the baby vegetables way better than the ones Mom used to make. Other standards abound—spaghetti with or without meatballs, a pork chop, house-made bratwurst—with the most high-concept entrée being the "Fried chicken" (again, quotes theirs; $16.50). It's "a chicken roulade with bacon mousse over cheesy grits & braised collard greens, topped with a sunny-up egg," an irresistible combination of upscale comfort foods, and you can see the chef setting these up for service by the half dozen. It takes the form of a cylinder of chicken with the bacon mousse as an airy, porky sausage at its core; the chicken is lightly breaded and deep-fried, then topped with its offspring. Personally, the squeaky feeling of white meat chicken on the teeth is not my favorite, but the flavor is intense, and the dripping yolk acts as an unholy gravy. Both the grits (SO cheesy—possibly more cheese than grit) and the greens (with spicy, vinegary heat) are outstanding, though the grits were cool from waiting too long for the chicken to be laid on top.
If you can somehow make it to dessert, there is an insanity of a sundae ($9) based on the one that the chef envisioned when he was 6 years old. Good luck!
The pleasant servers at Local 360 wear handsome long, striped aprons; one responded to a request for a Coca-Cola with zero annoying dogma, just an offer of a geographically guilt-free Double Cola instead. (It had the signature sweetness of cane sugar and comes from Orca Beverage, "the nostalgic soda company" in Mukilteo. Though it is produced "under the authority of the Double Cola Company, Chattanooga, Tennessee," importing authority is presumably low-carbon-footprint.) The one service foible: long waits for beverages, alcoholic or not. The bar at Local 360 is so close, but so far away.