Ben Meyer, Old Salt Marketplace and Grain & Gristle
Established: Old Salt Marketplace (2013), Grain & Gristle (2010)
What They Feed:
Ingredient-driven, farm-to-table food, representing the farms and ingredients by treating them as simply as possible. True American food. Old Salt Marketplace is an exclusively whole-animal butchershop which supplies its own deli, supperhouse, and Grain & Gristle’s kitchen with the best meat in the region. Grain & Gristle is Portland’s premier beer-focused farm-to-table restaurant.
Seeders & Feeders They Support:
Hawley Ranch, Payne Family Farms, Creative Growers, Groundwork Organics, Gathering Together Farm, The Side Yard Farm, Cully Neighborhood Farm, Simington Gardens, Wobbly Cart Farm, Red Truck Farm, Ayers Creek Farm, Your Kitchen Garden
Ben Meyer is the real deal. He is the chef/owner of Old Salt Marketplace and Grain & Gristle and has been an integral part of Portland’s farm-to-table movement for 20 years. Ben is possibly the most knowledgeable, passionate and opinionated voice in the Portland food scene, motivated to provide high quality, locally and mindfully sourced ingredients, while educating consumers on what true farm-to-table is all about. His hope is that in 25 years people will refer to Old Salt Marketplace and Grain & Gristle as institutions that helped pave the way for a better, more established food system.
Ben grew up in Northern Indiana, at the knee of his low-German great grandmother, from whom he first gained inspiration of the traditional foodways of the heartland farms and the preservation methods they employed. Ben began working in restaurants at 15. He got his first sous title under chef Kevin Tubb, at Eldorado Grill in Madison, WI, a Southwestern-style restaurant employing animal butchery and traditional smoking techniques.
After years in restaurants in Minneapolis, MN and Madison, WI, Ben traveled west to Portland. He started running kitchens in 1998, buying directly from farmers at the Portland Farmers Market to inspire his menus. He then took a break from the kitchen to cut meat and build his charcuterie skills in a butcher shop for two years before opening Ned Ludd, with Jason French, in 2008.
After two years, building on the whole-animal/farm-direct ethos at Ned Ludd, Ben left in 2010 to join Alex Ganum (brewer/owner of Upright Brewing) and Marcus Hoover (restaurant designer and builder) to open Grain & Gristle, Portland’s premier beer-focused farm-to-table restaurant. The partners took over a recently-closed restaurant and used their own labor to gut, redesign and rebuild the space into what Grain & Gristle is today. Marcus, being a former cabinet builder, repurposed Oregon barn timbers and former revivalist pews to build the well-worn, comfortable space. Their main goal with Grain & Gristle was to broaden the accessibility of the farm-to-table experience by focusing on a comfortable, casual setting. Another key focus was to pay fair prices to farmers and employees so both could afford to dine at the restaurant regularly (an issue that Ben recognizes is a large problem with many of the fine dining farm-to-table restaurants today).
The team then went on to enlarge their vision and open Old Salt Marketplace in 2013, including a whole-animal butcher shop which supplies its own deli, supperhouse and Grain & Gristle’s kitchen with the best meat in the region. The building was another major construction project: they bought an entire barn, which had been recently deconstructed and Marcus milled those boards down to rebuild the whole restaurant, market, supperhouse and Carver private dining room. It took over a year to handcraft every element of the space themselves.
Grain & Gristle and Old Salt Marketplace serve ingredient driven farm-to-table food, taking sourcing and sustainability to new levels, possibly an otherwise unseen extreme. The restaurants are not tied to any one cuisine, nor do they produce highly stylized food. They try to represent the farms and ingredients served by treating the food as simply as possible.
“We are true American food,” – Ben Meyer, Chef/Owner
Old Salt Marketplace and Grain & Gristle
Old Salt Marketplace focuses on whole-animal butchery, producing every rib-eye, roast, sausage and jerky stick sold from a weekly delivery of two cows and three to four pigs purchased directly from ranchers. They are partnered with Hawley Ranch for all of their 100% pasture-raised, grain-free beef, and Payne Family Farms, who raise all of their pork, as well as the grain they feed to the hogs. Both restaurants have a long list of local farms and producers they source from, including Creative Growers in Forest Grove, who even grows their own special variety of heirloom tomato, the Old Salt Roma. Old Salt is FDA certified to wholesale canned goods and they have a full bread bakery in-house, producing all of their naturally fermented sourdoughs, using local, custom-milled grains from Oregon and Washington. Old Salt Marketplace also offers a whole curriculum of classes, ranging from whole hog, lamb and beef butchery, sausage making, sourdough bread baking, cooking, pasta and charcuterie and meat curing.
There’s no question that between the two restaurants, they have a lot going on. However, in Ben Meyer’s words, “What we’re doing is just making supper. I tell the guys, Grandma did it every day and no one ever wrote a magazine article about her.” That sums it up. Good food, locally sourced and prepared simply. Just the way it should be.
Seeders & Feeders That Inspire: Adaptive Seeds, for selectively breeding great regional vegetable varieties for a future of NW cuisine. Champoeg Creamery, for revitalizing a 5th generation farm to produce amazing proteins! Kathleen Bauer, for writing the stories people need to read. Anthony Boutard, for doing God’s work.
Feature Photo Credit: Kathleen Bauer, GoodStuffNW