He’s talking about Cartlandia, his grandly named new food-cart pod that sits at the junction of Southeast 82nd Avenue and the Springwater Corridor bike trail. Yes, another pod. But this one brings a much-needed sense of community along with deep-fried turkey sandwiches to a gritty thoroughfare often associated with used-car lots and big-box stores (OK, and amazing Asian food).
Pod developer Goldingay, who also owns the North Portland food-cart pod Mississippi Marketplace, rehabbed the site—installing utilities and hauling away razor wire from the former used-car lot to create a space for a dozen food carts (there’s room for 30) outer-Southeast’s cart-starved neighbors as well as the cyclists who ride along the trail.
Wooing the cycling community was a major goal. There’s even a bike repair trailer dubbed “The Bike Rack” on-site. Plus actual indoor restrooms, free Wi-Fi and grub served mostly by first-time cart owners so excited and eager to please they’ll bring your food out to you in the covered seating area by the big-screen TV.
ENLIGHTENMENT, PHILLY STYLE
A good steak-and-cheese sandwich can easily build a cult following. And with its religious-themed menu of hefty sandwiches, Cheesesteak Nirvana is poised to build a core of true believers. The cart nestles meaty, flavorful sirloin in buns shipped from Philadelphia-based bakery Amoroso’s. The bread is soft, but can still stand up to a half pound of meat. The Fundamentalist ($5.50 regular/$8.50 for a double meat and cheese ultimate) is a basic but truly great cheesesteak topped with caramelized onions and choice of cheddar, provolone, Cheez Whiz or cream cheese. The Puritan ($5.50/$8.50) is a veggie option featuring sliced portobellos instead of meat. This is not your usual drippy, oily mess of a sandwich. Hover around the cart long enough and you may encounter attempts at conversion from other members, er, customers. “Their food is amazing,” says the guy in front of me with a happy, dazed expression. He was on his second cheesesteak.
Eat this: Go for the Unitarian ($5.50/$8.50) and pick whatever toppings work for your belief system.
UK IS OK!
Yes, the hand pie is the current darling in the portable-foods scene. But the British pasty has been around for a long time for good reason. Wrapping just about anything in pie crust makes it better. And Jane Hayes of London Pasty Co. knows it. She doesn’t get gimmicky with the fillings at her little red-and-blue cart; sticking to traditional combos like seasoned round steak with potato, carrot, onion and corn. The crust is tender yet sturdy enough so you can pick up the pasty without it crumbling to bits. And for the vegetarian pasty, imagine the best mashed potatoes you’ve ever eaten spiked with cheese and onions. For a quick bite at Cartlandia, this is your best bet.
Eat this: The potato and cheese pasty ($6) is the ultimate in rainy-day comfort food.
SEASONAL SOUL FOOD
The aromas drifting through the curtains of Blues City Greens let you know you’re in for some satisfying Southern food. You won’t go wrong by ordering anything with the organic collard greens, which are smoky, slippery and rich; or the unbelievably creamy Tillamook cheddar cheese grits. Plus, most plates come with a crunchy little corn cake called a corn dodger (nearly the entire menu is wheat-free, glutenphobes). And dishes change with the seasons. The portions aren’t as huge as you’d expect at a Southern home-cooking joint, but that’s probably a good thing. For a perfect afternoon snack, get any side (greens, black-eyed peas, slaw or watermelon salad) and a corn dodger for only $3. Unfortunately, the sweet tea ($2), while herbal and delicious, wasn’t strong or dark—or all that sweet.
Eat this: The Howlin’ Wolf ($8)—shrimp simmered in a tomato, bacon, garlic broth over creamy grits. Served with collard greens and a corn dodger on the side.
Just when you thought you had turkey figured out, someone comes along and adds provolone and cranberry sauce, wraps it in dough and then deep-fries it. That someone is Etienne Saucier who, even in his chef scrubs, is a dead ringer for dreamy American Idol contestant Casey James. Saucier’s cart Blt—Breakfast, Lunch Today—specializes in fried sandwiches. (It does offer non-fried sandwiches, too, including a muffuletta, $6.50, and croque monsieur, $6). That New Orleans twist carries over into other items like fried shrimp pie ($4) and beignets ($3). Do not leave without trying the seasoned cart-made tater tots ($2.50), which my lunchmate declared to be “little packets of deep-fried joy.”
Eat this: Those tots and the insanely good Monte Cristo ($8)—turkey, ham, mayo and mustard in sweet beignet dough dusted with powdered sugar. You will giggle like a 12-year-old girl when Saucier brings it to your table.
Cascade Burger is a true Portland cart. In other words, expect really good food and a little bit of weird. Here’s the good: The meat is high quality, well-seasoned and cooked with plenty of pink left. And the cart-made veggie burger blew my mind. Cascade also plays with inventive toppings, often concocted on owner Aram Ansell’s whim—one of my sliders came drizzled in spicy Asian dipping sauce (it somehow worked amazingly well). Here’s the weird: no to-go boxes. My husband ended up driving home with five burgers in open containers sliding around inside his car. Also, the order took a while and the owner seemed somewhat flustered even though he wasn’t waiting on anyone else. But clearly Ansell is passionate about his craft. So, yeah, Cascade Burger’s got some quirks, but if you’re patient you’ll get a damn good burger.
Eat this: Just go with the flow and order the trio of sliders ($6).
ICE, ICE BABY
Eat this: Shave ice with tiger’s blood (strawberry and coconut) and wedding cake flavors.
GOT IT ALL GRILL
Rock House Grill is not for the indecisive. With more than 50 choices, including breakfast available all day, this busy cart is like a diner on wheels. It’s got the basic sandwiches such as a club and BLT as well as more overwhelming creations like the Triple D Terminator, an artery-busting combination of ham, salami, pepperoni, bacon and three cheeses. The steak burgers are enormous, messy affairs that will keep you coming back for more. When given the choice, opt for the onion bun and grilled onions, which are cooked to greasy perfection. Owner Jimmy Knight is unfailingly good-natured, even if you pay mostly in quarters as I did.
Eat this: The single steakburger with cheese ($6) is the size of your head, but much tastier.