Plenty of barbecue restaurants have opened as of late in rainy-day Portland, but in the case of Rodney Muirhead's Podnah's Pit on Northeast Prescott Street, the 'cue has been cooking for some time.
Shortly after Muirhead and Kyle Connally built a brotherhood of barbecue at the Portland Farmers Market in 2003 with LOW BBQ�which stands for "Laid Off Workers"�they expanded to a weekly gig at Apizza Scholls. Then, Muirhead sold the biz to Ken Gordon of Ken's Place, where LOW BBQ is hosted Tuesday nights, and set to raising the roof of his own 'cue house.
Open since mid-November, Podnah's�without a Texas twang in your voice the name's hard to pull off�has been dishing up all the old faves along with new ones every day except Monday.
Located on a quiet corner blocks from Northeast Alberta Street, Podnah's is easy to miss. And the small shotgun restaurant, spare as the ribs that define it, is frequently�due to the layout and constantly flapping door�as cold as ice. For these two reasons, it's impressive that, from the moment the sandwich board is propped up midday till it's tucked away at night, Podnah's is filled with finger-lickin' crowds.
Muirhead stokes his oak smoker every morning at 5 am. His Texas-style signature: quality meat, 100-percent oak smoke and minimal sauce and seasonings. All this sings in perfect pitch with the pulled pork�served either as a sandwich ($8) with one side or as a meal ($11) with two sides. Maybe it's because Muirhead smokes the pulled pork the longest�the menu states 12 to 14 hours�or maybe it's the tangy, spiked Carolina vinegar sauce that scantily clothes it, but this is meat manna. It's tender, ribbonned with smoky fat and bits of tasty char, and melts in your mouth.
Ingredients are top-notch�Strawberry Mountain beef, Carlton Farms pork. And despite being a 'cue pit, libations here are for pickier palates: French and Italian wines, hoppy micros and hard-to-find sodas.
The spareribs arrive like a meat tepee if they're on Tuesday's happy-hour special ($18 a rack, or $1.50 a rib) and otherwise ($11.50, three to five ribs with two sides) are piled on the plate. The pink but not overly fatty pork ribs are all salt and smoke.
As far as sides go, the pork-infused collards are everything they should be�tangy, garlicky, salty and soft but not mushy to the bite. The pinto beans may be the blandest item on a menu otherwise characterized by bold flavor. And the cornbread is a moist slab of stone-ground cornmeal with bits of real corn throughout.
Stop by for lunch and you'll get meat smoked the previous day. Stop in for dinner and you'll be served meat that's been smoked that day. Both meals are reliably delicious, but obviously dinner is fresher.
Starters include Texas red chili ($3) and a throwback iceberg wedge salad ($4) topped with bleu cheese or Thousand Island dressing. The salad is crisp and nice for the spice-intolerant, and the chili is rich and meaty for those who disdain beany bowls.
Whether you order the soft and succulent brisket ($8 sandwich, $11.50 plate) or the juicy smoked chicken ($13.50)�or come in just for housemade pecan pie or apple crisp (both $3.50)�Podnah's is sure to woo you without blowing too much smoke in your eyes.