The Subterranean puts new on the old

Chris Lynn opens restaurant in former North Oak space

OWNER CHRIS LYNN puts the final touches on a plate of fettuccine.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea.
OWNER CHRIS LYNN puts the final touches on a plate of fettuccine.

Old is new and new is old at one of Hood River’s newest restaurants, and Chris Lynn is back in the business.

The Subterranean’s opening in the old North Oak Brasserie space marks the return to full-service dining for the guy who opened one of the longest-standing restaurants on the Heights, The Mesquitery and Shed.

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LYNN’S DAUGHTER, Evita, draws chalk por-traits. Much will seem familiar from the old North Oak in the same space, but new décor and pub-height tables augment the familiar booths in the underground establishment at Third and Oak. The entrance is down a set of stairs a few steps off Oak.

The Subterranean is the only Hood River establishment located fully underground; it’s at the corner of Third and Oak, underneath Apland Jewelers, who own the space. Lynn, who opened the Mesquitery in 1987 and The Shed a couple of years later, bought the North Oak business from Mike and Shawna Caldwell, completing the deal in February. (The Caldwells continue to own and operate Stonehedge Inn in west Hood River.)

Lynn hired the former North Oak chef, Gerardo “Lalo” Badillo, and pasta and lemon chicken dishes, to name a few, came with the deal. (You may find them at Stonehedge, too.)

“We opened on Oct. 16 after much ado,” Lynn said. “We did a lot of renovations, and there were the complications of opening a business; the lease took a while to finalize.”

“We started working on (The Subterranean) after July 4 and it took us a little over three months to get it ready; we cleaned and redecorated, new decorations; the decor is just different,” he said, pointing to the large historic photos, some of them scenes most people have never seen.

“We left the booths the same, but changed the table coverings, added the pub-height tables and pretty much all the old decorations. We added metal trim to get that old look,” Lynn said, adding that it’s flashing from Rebuild It covering old oak trim. “We wanted to give things a new look, but it was used for another purpose: You can catch yourself on an old nail hole, here and there.”

Oak panels were turned into a large chalk specials board. (On the other side is a section where Lynn’s 8-year-old daughter, Evita, draws chalk portraits of customers.) Lynn credits his “design team” of Melanie Thompson and Heather Sullivan.

“They taught me a bunch,” said Lynn, who also does some of the cooking.

The menu is subject to revisions, including gradual additions of vegan and gluten-free dishes. (The restaurant is open for lunch Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinners every night except Tuesdays.)

“From the North Oak, we carried some Italian items over, and are adding our own tweaks,” Lynn said. “The gnocchi is selling like wild, we have spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, and we’ll be adding pasta dishes; everything fresh.”

New at the restaurant is a large charbroiler to do steaks, all with certified Angus beef. Lynn said The Subterranean also features chicken dishes, and Tex-Mex including homemade tomatillo, pico de gallo, and tostadas.

Lynn came from California at the end of 1987, bought the building that housed Mid-Columbia Employment Training, and built The Mesquitery, opening in April 1989. In 1996 he bought Brewer’s Pets next door and turned it into the Shed. He sold both in 2002; the current owners are Greg and Kate Szwardzinski.

Lynn bought a gas station and mini-market at Oak and Fourth streets, and a year or so later purchased a gas station on the Heights, and turned it into The Deuce (now Hatts’ Fuel Stop). He closed the downtown gas pumps, and later The Deuce, meanwhile renting part of the downtown property, and that business evolved into Horse and Hound British Pub and Passport Cafe.

At the end of 2004, Lynn moved to Mexico. There, he did construction management but also had a restaurant, serving steaks, lobster and shrimp “right out of our bay,” returning to Hood River in 2009. His stepsons Matt (Sullivan Excavating) and Collin (Sullivan Contracting) are also business owners.

“I almost went into business a few times, in Portland, or The Dalles and Hood River, but nothing quite came together. The timing was right, the deal was right, and we were able to pull this off,” Lynn said.

“It almost slipped away,” he said, explaining that the day before he planned to sign the papers, someone offered to buy it for cash, but that deal fell through, so he resumed negotiations with the Caldwells, and bought the business in February.

Lynn is happy to have the opportunity to run a restaurant again, and decided “The Subterranean” perfectly summed up the space. (The Subterranean already has its own nickname among the early regulars — “The Sub T” — which at least one diner expressed on napkin art displayed near the cash register.)

Speaking of nicknames, Lynn had considered calling the restaurant “Sauceboy’s,” for his long-standing moniker from The Mesquitery days.

“But The Subterranean really fits, and everyone doesn’t know me as Sauceboy; though many of my friends call me Sauce, because I really love hot sauce.”

There is more to the story than that, but the beauty of a warm, compact place like “The Sub T” is that you can go there and ask Sauceboy to tell it himself.

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