Portland Brew East, Nashville, TN
921 Eastland Ave, Nashville, TN 37206
We’re almost at the last shop in the Nashville series and I’m taking us back out into East Asheville. To rewind a little, I’ve talked about East Nashville before as the burgeoning, artsy side of the city. Downtown Nashville maintains a busy scene one might expect in an ever-increasingly crowded city; but, as you creep towards East Nashville, life seems to slow down a little bit. A friend and I walked upon this shop as we were walking from Cafe Roze on Porter Road and toward Five Daughters Bakery (a bakery that specializes in croissant-like donuts) on Eastland. I love when you can walk along quiet sidewalks to get from one place to another. I enjoy surprise coffee shops even more.
Portland Brew East was an unexpected, but welcome surprise.
This saga goes back to 1999, when coffee couple Brandon and Tracy Stakelbeck opened the first Portland Brew location in Sylvan Park. These two mid-south natives enjoyed Portland’s neighborhood coffee scene so much, that they felt led to open a shop in one of America’s top creative Southern communities.
In 2003, they took a gamble on a location on Avenue 12 South, what was then an up-and-coming area. Their story is fairly similar to Frothy Monkey, another location on 12 South. In 2006, they branched out into East Nashville and acquired a third location on Eastland Avenue. This Eastland location is the one that we’ll cover in depth here. Since 2006, there have been many changes, to include changes of ownership. The Sylvan Park location was sold in 2009 and the two remaining shops came under the ownership of Charles Treadway.
Regardless of all the changes, they’re clear about their commitment to “creating a welcoming space for visitors and residents of our Nashville neighborhoods, and providing delicious coffee, house-made baked goods, and food.”
What’s the deal with their coffee?
I’m going to lay down some honesty here: I wouldn’t label Portland Brew as a third wave coffee shop. Their coffee menu leans heavy toward espresso based-drinks. There is no single pour-over option and there’s no discussion of the coffee to any depth. However, there is at least cold brew. I’ve emailed and Insta-messaged Portland Brew a couple times to gain more insight into their coffee sourcing/roasting and haven’t been able to get a response. I’ve scoured their website and every article written about them in the last five years and NONE of it makes any mention of their own internal roasting. Their website makes no mention of it, nor does it make any reference to where its coffee is sourced from either. It’s characteristic of third wave coffee shops to exhibit great passion of the subject and make this aspect of their business a cornerstone, so I found the complete absence of information curious.
As I mentioned before, the coffee menu is geared toward the mainstream: espresso-based drinks, drip, cold brew and blended iced coffee options called ‘glaciers’. They also feature a fairly robust tea menu and a couple flavored lattes (pictured below), such as their Honey Child (honey, vanilla and cinnamon). My friend ordered the Honey Child and I ordered a cortado so I could get chance to really taste their espresso. Both drinks were made well. The Honey Child was sweet, but not overpowering and my cortado was creamy and smooth.
I’d say people come to Portland just as much for the food as they do anything else. Portland offers some pretty good sandwiches to accompany their coffee (I heard the Multnomah is fantastic), which has drawn in a solid customer base of students and teleworkers. According to Portland Brew’s website, they strive to connect its customers with other local vendors through its menu.
The East location has two floors; the bottom floor has a few tables that are best fits for Portland’s more chatty customers. The top floor is an open loft location that’s filled primarily with small two-chair tables. On a sunny Saturday at 3 PM, it was filled with quiet, studios students who were perfectly happy to stay absorbed by the computer and headphones. In the corners of the loft are some plush seats and leather couches that look far more inviting for conversation, but you get the sense that you should keep your voice down.
Locals come to Portland Brew East to escape the bustle of the busy city. Their 12 South location seems to be the more popular of Portland’s two locations; it’s the primary place where Nashvillians seek solace away from the bustle of 12th Avenue South. Almost all of the coffee goers I saw at the East location came with a book and/or Macbook in hand and were ready to get work done. Though their coffee is pretty good and their offering of a full lunch/sandwich menu is great for locals, this isn’t a place I’d recommend to put at the top of your list if you’re just visiting Nashville for a short period.