Food carts are cheap, casual and unfussy—how we Portlanders would probably like to think of ourselves. But we're also a hedonistic bunch, and just as fancy restaurants are popping up in former warehouses, finer dining has materialized in another unlikely place: the food cart.
Former caterer and personal chef Nancye Benson is the sole staffer of Moxie Rx, a trailer adapted into a juice and smoothie bar/brunch spot next to the Fresh Pot on North Mississippi Avenue. The soy- and granola-studded menu and the stand's location give it a funky-DIY vibe, but there's much more going on here. Moxie's Betty Crocker-meets-Pee Wee's Playhouse-at-a-flea-market decor, from glass cake stands and bright floral tablecloths to fresh flowers, creates a surprisingly homey atmosphere for a restaurant with no dining room. Menu items are as carefully presented as they are concocted, like the breakfast porridge (a refreshing non-dairy rice pudding, $3.25) and moist, muffin-shaped kugel ($4.50), both of which are served with juicy spiced apples and look Martha Stewart perfect. Or grab one of Benson's quirky "elixir" drinks ($3.75) and a sandwich, like a delish apple and brie on Pearl Bakery walnut panini ($3, choices rotate daily).
Over in the Pearl District, Nuvrei Fine Cakes & Pastries' unassuming sidewalk stand lies at the other end of the cart spectrum. Although it's seemingly pieced together from a folding table and black-and-white plastic tarp—think Lucy's five-cent psychiatry stand in Peanuts—serious gourmets can get their dessert fix here without having to deal with a pretentious cafe or crashing a wedding. Actually, the stand functions as the gateway to a rabbit hole: While Moxie Rx owner Benson was drawn to carts as a way to cut costs, Nuvrei chef Marius Pop's pastry stand exists mainly to pimp his wholesale business next door, which supplies Northwest Portland restaurants like Sydney's, Pho Van and Mio Gelato with his small but well-developed line of French pastries and cookies. With the stand he can attract new customers, while giving pedestrians something to smile about on their way to work, like perfectly airy, not-too-sweet almond croissants or his addictive, eggy and portable French toast (both $2.75)—maple syrup not included.
Sometimes going to an upscale restaurant is out of the question, due to lack of money or motivation. But with these stands, offering gourmet goodies within snatching distance, you can trip on your shoelaces and land with something delicious in your mouth. Even just a taste of something tiny but exquisite, like Nuvrei's Parisian passionfruit macaroons ($1), exploding with saturated, juicy flavor, can be enough to remind you why you like living (they're that good). Indulgence has never been this practical.
Moxie Rx, N Mississippi and Shaver, 285-0701. 8:30-4 Saturday and Sunday. $ Inexpensive.
Nuvrei, 404 NW 10th Ave., 546-3032. 7 am-3pm Monday-Friday, 9 am-3 pm Saturday. $ Inexpensive. Cash or check only.