Penn Sardin PDX brings both Breton cuisine and culture to Portland, adding a Pacific-Northwestern flair to traditions from Brittany. Cook Liz White and wine expert Simon Lowry, the duo behind the popup, met at Portland’s Olympia Oyster Bar, where they both work. They bonded over a shared love of Breton cuisine and have built a dinner series centered around seafood-focused menus and a unique roster of wines and ciders.
Why Breton Cuisine?
Simon grew up in Paris, spending time with his grandparents in Brittany. Portland’s coastal climate and abundance of foraged ingredients provided a sense of nostalgia for his childhood experiences. Liz, who had been working as a fishmonger, was already hosting pop-ups rife with root vegetables, seafood, and spices — another reminder of Breton cuisine. Together, Liz and Simon decided to host a one-time dinner with cider and wine pairings. One time turned into a monthly series, and Penn Sardin was born.
Brittany’s primarily female cannery workers in the early 1900’s “earned” the name “Penn sardin,” or “sardine head” in Breton. They adopted it with pride even though it was intended as an insult. Through Penn Sardin PDX, Simon and Liz honor these working-class women and all food made by the mothers and grandmothers in our lives. They also want to teach people about what they’re eating and why, embedding the culinary world into history and culture. As self-described “history nerds,” they provide diners with a booklet of illustrations and facts about Brittany and Breton cuisine to accompany the dishes.
Sardines, Shellfish, and Cider
Liz and Simon are also passionate about supporting local and small-batch providers. Over the last year and a half, they’ve realized that product from smaller, natural producers works best. Since wine and cider pairings are such an integral part of the Penn Sardin experience, they aim to tell the story of the hard-working makers and make a point to visit as many as they can. As a result, 80% of the wines on their last two menus came from winemakers Simon has actually met in person. At the dinners, expect a frequent appearance from coastal whites, with a minerality and acidity that pairs perfectly with seafood. An exploration into reds is also taking shape, and there are abundant cider offerings as well.
For those looking to expand their seafood palate, Penn Sardin also includes a la carte offerings of tinned fish. Canneries age high-quality sardines and mackerel in a similar way to wine, providing richer and less fishy flavors. Other menu items are Breton-style through a Pacific Northwestern lens, like foraged shellfish, heritage pork, and heirloom vegetables and grains.
Above all, Liz and Simon love hosting diners at their table. The experience narrates the stories of the many individuals who make their dinners a reality – shellfish divers, oyster farmers, winemakers, and more. Check out what they’re cooking up!