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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

No Small Plates: An Interview with Clay's Mike Slyman

Posted by Andrea Damewood on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 1:59 PM

I was toodling down SE Division the other day and I spied with my little eye this sandwich board sign in front of Clay’s Smokehouse at 2932 SE Division Street:

I snapped a photo and tweeted the pic (follow me at @adamewood). The little sucker took off—for me anyways—and even garnered a retweet from New York Times food critic Pete Wells, who wrote this invective against the small plate phenomenon in 2012.

I sent owner Mike Slyman a quick note and asked him what it’s like being a BBQ joint (where the smallest plate is still a “platter”) within eye shot of two new teensy plate restaurants, The American Local and the second outpost of Bollywood Theater.

MERCURY: When did you put up this sign?
MIKE SLYMAN: I put the sign up about 2 months ago.

Is it a direct reaction to being part of a corner that now has two small-plates based restaurants (Bollywood Theater and The American Local)?
In no way is it a direct response to any of our neighboring restaurants. Small plates or big plates, this is a tough business to survive in, so I know what all restaurateurs go through. I wish them all luck.

What is your opinion of small plates?
The reason for the sign is partly because I got really tired of going to highly recommended restaurants, dropping a hundred bucks, leaving hungry and stopping at Burgerville on the way home. I like the food on small plates, I just wish the plates were bigger and there was more food on them. I am a man of quality and value and I think things in PDX are getting a little too cutesie and value is being flushed.

There's been a backlash against small plates for some time now—do you think it's a trend that's here to stay?
I was unaware of small plate backlash; the type of foodservice I engage in is not trendy. Trends in regards to food have a shelf life, so absolutely this too will pass. We will chuckle about this along with fusion cuisine and hot pockets. (ed note: HEY! I’ve got some Spicy Beef Nacho Hot Pockets in my freezer RIGHT NOW!)

What's your smallest plate?
Our smallest plate is probably the smoked seafood platter, with smoked salmon, smoked catfish and smoked oysters; it's still a great app for three people.

Anything else you want to add?
I put up the sign because I thought it was pretty freakin' funny and it kind of represents my cynical look at the way a lot of PDX restaurants are treated with rock star status, in a business that I grew up in that mostly consisted of long hours with ex cons, drop outs, pot smokers and drifters. Twenty-five years ago, people laughed at you if you worked in a restaurant, in fact we used to affectionately refer to ourselves as "restaurant scum.”

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