ON AN EARLY summer evening, shards of dusky sunlight stream through Sunshine Tavern’s tall windows. The room hums with the din of conversation, the sandy slide of discs on the shuffleboard table, and the patter of small feet drumming toward the Ms. Pac-Man machine. With this tavern, Jenn Louis and David Welch, the husband-and-wife team behind Lincoln restaurant, have adapted their upscale, farm-fresh cooking for the family-saturated enclave of SE Division Street.
Sunshine Tavern’s menu feels like the “greatest hits” of Portland dishes—a refined assortment of pizza, burgers, pork belly, and fried chicken. To this lineup, they’ve added refreshing salads and very Lincoln-esque touches like baked eggs and skirt steak with shallot-thyme butter.
Some dishes manage lasting impressions, good and bad. One pizza, showered with chopped, roasted asparagus, came with the satisfying punctuation of a perfectly baked egg. Meanwhile, a clam pizza arrived in a pool of olive oil. Succulent fried chicken comes atop a semolina waffle, butter oozing from its craters just in case you needed a little more fat. A sandwich of smoked ham, radishes, and fennel on a crispy baguette is a delicious exercise in simplicity, but the burger feels overworked, with a heavy dose of gloppy grilled onions and Thousand Island dressing making for a messy meal light on flavor. The soft-serve ice cream, however, is a hit—cold and creamy and topped with a “magical shell” of dark chocolate that gains unexpected depth and richness from olive oil.
The space is charming, portions are generous, and the beer list is just right, but the element lacking in much of Sunshine’s comfort food, strangely, is the comfort. With food this rich and fatty, we eaters deserve super-satisfying flavors that feel special. Hopefully, with time, that comfort will shine through.