The Stumptown beans that won Duane Sorenson the capital to open this place are on offer, with espresso from a La Marzocco Strada machine poured into a pint glass to make an Americano ($2.75). House hot cocoa ($3.25) is served in a white ceramic mug bearing the bakery’s logo, with a crown of fluffy cream.
You’ll want to order at least one sweet. My favorite was kouign amann ($3), a trendy and formerly obscure French pastry made from thin, buttery layers dusted with sea salt that you may know from the now-closed Alder Pastry or from Saint Honoré. Learn to pronounce it “queen aman” or receive gentle correction. For something heartier, keep an eye out for coffeecake with seasonal berries or the polenta cherry bar ($3), which, as its name implies, is made from moist cornmeal dough similar to cornbread and topped with a shake of powdered sugar, sliced almonds and dried cherries.
As at sister restaurant Ava Gene’s, bread slabs with interesting toppings are a focal point. Here, the “toasts” are open-faced sandwiches on the house’s substantial super-grain bread. The best has large hunks of moist smoked trout ($7.50) fresh out of its skin atop a schmear of creme fraiche, sliced avocado and bitter greens.
Down the menu, opt for a robust bowl of Old World cereal ($8) with flax seeds, nuts, almond milk and maple syrup, or a sandwich I’m calling the McDuane ($6; add meat for $3), a herby everything-bun with aged cheddar and a steamed egg that pops its yellow yolk on the first squeeze.
In the evening, you have your pick of tables at what is essentially a pizza-by-the-slice place, though its simple, doughy wood-fired squares aren’t like any other pie. The kitchen is dim, but the brightly lit Roman Candle dining room feels like an overflow room for those left out of Ava Gene’s next door—itself a den of booming laughter and fleet servers. The pastry cases are mostly empty by dusk, a few dessert cakes and cookies lingering for mop-up duty.
Beverage options include Lurisia sparkling spring water ($3) and Mexican Coke ($3).
Pizza bianca typically refers to a type of bread topped with olive oil, salt and herbs, so Roman Candle’s square slabs of crusty flatbread might be better called pizza al taglio, as most have tomato sauce plus mushrooms, sausage or cheese.
Start with appetizer options borrowed from Ava Gene’s, including the stellar Tuscan Cavalry salad ($11, $18) of thinly sliced kale below a blanket of shaved Parmesan, lemon juice, garlic and bread crumbs. There’s also a plate of Iowa’s famous La Quercia prosciutto ($11) with cracker sticks and a bowl of mixed olives or a locavore Fruit Loop salad ($12, $22) that combines slices of hard Italian pecorino cheese, slices of ripe pear, hazelnuts and arugula in a dressing of caramelized grape must.
The slices themselves are bready, too thick to bend when lifted, with a little char on the bottom and a fingernail-wide grip of naked crust.
The best slice is also the simplest: a red-faced slab of pomodoro ($4) that builds from the house’s piquant marinara using a sprinkle of sea salt, paper-thin slices of garlic and a too-light shake of oregano. A slab of potato pizza ($5) with provolone and thyme, on the other hand, failed to escape the starchy trap laid with the recipe. The pizzaiolo was too stingy with sausage ($6) and pepperoni ($5) for my taste.
Believe it or not, there’s also a separate lunch menu centered on hoagies. The only thing missing, then, is late-night cannolis to fill the few fallow hours remaining.
EAT: Roman Candle, 3377 SE Division St., 971-302-6605, romancandlebaking.com. 7 am-10 pm daily. $-$$.