Chicago-style food, as close as the St. Helens riverfront
St. Helens is far removed from the skyscrapers of bustling Chicago, but if you find yourself spending a lot of time at a new eatery on the St. Helens riverfront, you may soon be rooting for the Cubs or develop a slight Chicago accent.
That's because Big River Taproom, an eatery specializing in Chicago-style meals, opened just weeks ago at 313 Strand St., directly across from the Columbia River, steps from the historic courthouse.
The inspiration for Big River Taproom comes from Randy Sanders, who himself was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago. He's quite familiar with the way Chicagoans relish their hot dogs.
Sanders owns the restaurant with his wife, Marci, who tends to Tap Into Wine, a wine tasting room at the same riverfront location.
Sanders describes the eating habits in Chicago and how he was inspired to start his St. Helens eatery.
"Back in Chicago, hamburgers are cool, but hot dogs are incredible," he said. "There are all kinds of old, established hot dog and Italian beef joints."
Sanders wondered, "Why isn't there anything like that out here?"
Big River Taproom was born, and now residents and tourists in South Columbia County can enjoy tasty menu items such as the Chicago-style hot dog.
"It's an iconic, Vienna beef-only hot dog," Sanders said. The premium dog is served on a steamed poppyseed bun with yellow mustard, chopped onions, Italian sport peppers and tomato wedges. The dog itself is sprinkled with celery salt and topped off with a dill pickle.
"That's a Chicago hot dog," Sanders emphasized, with a smile.
If that doesn't get you hooked on Chicago-style fare, Big River Taproom offers the hot Italian beef sandwich, a sandwich Sanders describes as "the Philly cheesesteak of Chicago."
The sandwich has seasoned top round roast beef and is sliced thin and dipped in aus jus gravy, a gravy Sanders is proud to make himself. Served on French bread, the sandwich contains mozzarella cheese, grilled bell peppers and onions. This sandwich, which will require napkins, is served with a side of spicy gardiniera.
Other menu items include the Brooklyn-style hot pastrami, the Pulaski Polish, the "Mayor Daley Dog" (a quarter-pound footlong premium hot dog made, of course, Chicago-style) and the "Willy Chilli Dog," which features all-beef, beanless chili with shredded cheddar and chopped white onions.
Big River Taproom also offers a selection of local craft beers, Guinness on the nitro tap, hard cider and Oregon wine.
Business has been brisk at the taproom, which is open daily at noon. Sunday through Wednesday, hours run until 7 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, until 9 p.m.
"Lunch hours are insane," Sanders is happy to say. "I've been very lucky to have really, really good people."
Sanders' goal at Big River Taproom is to eventually bring music.
"I want to bring some authentic Irish bands here to play Saturday nights," Sanders said. "My family is from Ireland."
Sanders boasts, "Wait until St. Patrick's Day. We will have the best celebration for St. Patrick's Day, right here at Big River Taproom."
While St. Helens is a long way from emulating Chicago, Sanders hopes to see more of the Chicago foodie tradition come to St. Helens.
"We are becoming a destination for food," he said. "I would like to see a whole litany of food restaurants down here. That way you could come down here every night of the week and eat something else different. People from Portland would come down here."
Sanders wants to provide a pub-like atmosphere at Big River Taproom.
"I am looking forward, even in the wintertime, to folks coming here and having a Guinness on tap, a real pub where you can relax and chat," Sanders said.
You can learn more about Big River Taproom, and get updates, by visiting its Facebook page at WaynesRedHots.
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