by Ashley Lodato, Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer
photos courtesy of Michael Molitor & Ecliptic Brewing
It’s fitting that Bluebird is featuring Ecliptic Brewing on this first full day of winter. The Portland brewery and pub unites Oregon craft brewing icon John Harris’s two passions: brewing and astronomy. The centerpiece of the pub is a massive light fixture in the shape of the Analemma (the figure-8 that depicts the sun’s path in the sky through the year) and much of the brewery’s beer and food are in constant change throughout the year. In fact, the seasonal menu rotates every 6 weeks according to the old world calendar: on the solstices, the equinoxes, and Samhain, Brighid, Beltane, and Lammas.
The mastermind behind Ecliptic’s menu is executive chef Michael Molitor, a native Pacific Northwest resident who came to Ecliptic after attending Scottsdale Culinary Institute and cooking at several Portland landmark restaurants, like the Heathman Restaurant and Pazzo Ristorante. As a teen, Molitor cooked in Italian restaurants in and around his hometown of Boise, ID, but hadn’t really considered cooking as a career until many years later. “I was chipping away at a political science degree during the day,” he says, “and working the line at an Italian restaurant at night. I always enjoyed cooking, but then I started to get into restaurant culture. The work really appealed to me: the fast pace, the stress, the people, the controlled chaos…it was all very exciting.”
The transition from political scientist to executive chef was an evolution–one that confirmed Molitor’s eventual career path. “I learned a lot about myself over those couple of years,” he says. “I realized that my future belonged in restaurants.”
Although Molitor comes from a strong background in Italian cooking, at Ecliptic he uses that background as a footing, rather than an anchor. “A good working knowledge of Italian cooking is an excellent foundation to build upon,” he says. “I use that foundation to help build future menus. I respect the Italian sensibility of using a handful of seasonal ingredients, doing very little to them, and letting the food speak for itself.”
When designing the Ecliptic menu, Molitor says he wants to have fun, but also provide consistent items that people come to expect (“although with a twist,” he says). “I have divided the menu into essentially 2 halves,” he says, “one of which is fairly reliably the same, the other changes every 6 weeks. If you come in and are craving a burger, you will not be disappointed. Our burger is consistently ranked one of the best in the city.” The “twist” in this case, is the option to vary from the brewery’s traditional burger and savor the Ecliptic burger, which is made with beef, pancetta, and gruyere, served with Russian dressing on a potato bun.
Molitor says “the versatility of the rapidly changing menu allows me to explore different cuisines and flavors. If you want something seasonal, maybe a little more whimsical, I want to offer that.” Molitor’s exploration into different flavors led him to Bluebird Grain Farms‘ organic whole grain emmer farro, which he discovered through Provvista Specialty Foods, which seeks to provide Portland restaurants with the best quality food products at a fair price. Molitor was familiar with Bluebird’s other products and “was impressed with the quality,” he says; the farro was a natural fit with the Ecliptic menu. It’s important to Molitor to have a vegan option on the sandwich/burger side of the menu, and the farro burger satisfies both vegans and carnivores. “The farro burger is one of our most popular items,” he says. “I have changed the style of the sandwich over the years, but the farro patty remains the same.”
“Farro is a grain that works well with many different cuisines,” Molitor adds. “And I enjoy dipping my toe in the water of different cuisines at Ecliptic. I think that is an outlook on cooking that transcends geography.”
When Molitor eats out, he says he wants restaurant staff to care. “I want someone to acknowledge my presence when I walk in. I want the server to be engaged with our table. I want the cooks to care about executing the menu.” This attention to the quality of the customer experience is something Molitor thinks about as he designs and facilitates the Ecliptic dining experience. So whether Ecliptic customers are families with young children or couples looking for a night out, Molitor and the other staff at Ecliptic focus on reading each individual situation and adjusting the service to accommodate. “We are just looking for genuine effort and quality,” he says.
Ecliptic’s delivery of effort and quality is matched by the caliber of its beer and the standard of its food. “We are not just a brewpub,” says Molitor. “We have amazing beer and some pretty damn good food to go with that beer.”
Along with “damn good” consumables, Ecliptic also offers tours and events both public and private. To learn more about Ecliptic Brewing, visit their website or check them out on Facebook and Instagram.