It doesn’t matter. These are sandwiches worth standing up for, made with love by people who could be cooking at someplace way bigger and fancier (and have). There’s a grilled cheese for grown-ups: cheddar and bacon on buttered brioche from Grand Central ($7), slathered with a sweet and spicy whole-grain mustard and rhubarb jam spread that’s so good they ought to sell it at specialty food shops for a lot of money. The Cubano ($7) is heavy with juicy ham and melty Gruyère on Como bread, each bite delivering a big crunch from vinegary-sweet housemade pickles. The breakfast sandwich ($6) swaps Portland’s usual fried egg for a buttery omelet, sharp cheddar and bacon caught between two airy squares of that toasted brioche. You should probably order all three.
If you come during the day, you’ll probably meet owner-chef Ralph Capalupo, the laid-back New Yorker who opened the shop a little more than a month ago after years of cooking at higher-end spots like Noble Rot and Urban Farmer. He’s lived in the neighborhood for six years and lamented its lack of a great, no-nonsense deli for just as long. He spends 18 to 20 hours a day in his postage stamp-sized kitchen prepping and churning out that short list of sandwiches and a handful of equally great specials, from creamy, onion-spiked salmon and feta sandwiches to hot, herby German potato salad.
Nearly everything on the menu either comes with “pig” or the chalkboard encourages you to add it for a buck. You’d be a fool not to. Capalupo sources most of his hogs from Carlton Farms, butchers them himself and makes fantastic bacon and ham. Even the salad ($7) comes with pig: crunchy bacon crumbles on top of a tangle of local greens along with some almonds, juicy cherries and blue cheese.
Three Pigs just started late-night service on Fridays and Saturdays, serving the neighborhood’s drunken and stumbling hordes food far better than they deserve until 4 am. If you come then, you’ll probably meet Capalupo’s main man Peter Metzger, who has a beautiful tattoo of a cut-up pig named Mr. Oinker on his forearm, moonlights as a cook for Vitaly Paley and recently produced the best soup ($3) I have tasted in the past few years. That’d be a hot, sweet and vinegary bean and ham soup enriched with fat fennel seeds, carrot juice and a purée of pickled papadu peppers. (“The peppers were a stroke of genius,” he says, proudly.)
Some of what I’ve crowed about may not be on the menu by next week. Capalupo (as well as the rest of the Three Pigs crew: Metzger and chefs Salvatore Campagna and Stephanie Johnson King) is always fiddling with the menu, shifting offerings according to the season or what animal he’s hacking apart. “I get people hooked and I screw with them,” he says with a laugh, mentioning that late-night peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Saturday morning prix fixe brunch plans are also on the horizon. If you ask ahead of time, they’ll also move the stools, set up a table and cook you and your friends a private dinner for as cheaply as $15 to $20 a head. Last Saturday he bought a whole Katahdin lamb from Hubbard, Ore., which he and his friends butchered in the same space. It’ll be on the menu this week, along with parts of the Carpenter Creek Farm pig head and feet that were sitting in the Three Pigs fridge last week.
In any case, it’s bound to be good. This is one pig’s house that isn’t being blown down anytime soon.
- Order this: Egg and cheddar on brioche with “pig.”
- Best deal: The soup...any soup ($3).
- I’ll pass: On sitting on those high stools for any extended period of time, thanks.
EAT: Three Pigs, 10 NW 16th Ave., 227-3575. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night 7:30 am-7:30 pm Monday-Friday, 8 pm-4 am Friday-Saturday. $-$$.