Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with the slider from Ohio, which joined the union on March 1, 1803.
The state: Ohio, which was the only state in the union too badass for a motto until 1959, when some little redneck kid from Cincinnati decided to stick it to the Pinkos by convincing legislators to adopt the unconstitutional “With God, All Things Are Possible.” No one in Ohio knows this—if you suggested changing the motto, they’d claim it’s part of a rich tradition dating back to Ebenezer Zane. In my own boyhood, Ohio’s de facto motto was on the license plate, which advertised us as “The Heart of it All.” During the lamentable governorship of Cincinnati's own Bob Taft III—arguably the worst elected executive in American history, he left office with a 6.5% approval rating—the switched this out for “The Birthplace of Aviation.” Thankfully, the license plates are again simple and classy. At least until some other dumbass from Cincinnati screws things up again. Living in Ohio means constant vigilance: Some guy from Chillicothe with a Southern drawl is always pushing a terrible idea, some plainspoken rube from Columbus is always pretty much ready to allow it, and some poor bastard from Cleveland is always arguing, red-faced, for logic and basic decency.
The food: Well, it sure as all fuck isn’t Cincinnati Chili. Every state has regional differences, to be sure, but rarely is it so pronounced as in my home state of Ohio. Cincinnati basically functions as the capital of Kentucky. Columbus, in the center of the state, is the entranceway to that giant cornfield that ends somewhere in eastern Colorado. Cleveland and its surrounds in the upper right corner of the state—Northeast Ohio, as what we call it—meanwhile, was once nominally part of Connecticut. Two centuries later, Northeast Ohioans still feel like Harry Potter living with the Dursley family, waiting for some old wizard to rescue us from the muggle world and bring us back where we belong, where people don’t put spaghetti on chilli or dip everything in ranch dressing. And yet, there’s one thing pretty much everyone in Ohio agrees on—at least everyone outside Steubenville, where they mostly eat roadkilled squirrels and such—and that’s the burger. The burger was invented in Akron, and the burgers served there, at legendary joints like Bob’s Hamburg and Hamburger Station, fit a mold. Typically, they are small and topped with only rehydrated onions, dill pickle slices and yellow mustard. The people of Columbus have been convinced that this is how a burger should be made, and so they did what Columbus does best, which is mass-market things. And thus, the mighty White Castle of Harold and Kumar fame.
Other foods considered and rejected: Cincinnati Chili (see above), perogies (no one south of Canton knows what this is), jo-jos (invented in Ohio, but Portland is the only other place that has them), creamsticks (long john doughnuts filled with an ultra-sweet, almond-extract enhanced whipped cream, which aren’t available here), sauerkraut balls (unavailable), pink catawba wine, buckeye candies (unavailable).
Get it from: White Castle burgers from the freezer case at Fred Meyer. I would love to highlight a great local burger place here, but everyone in Portland makes the basic slider-style burger wrong—they use ketchup and very few use raw or rehydrated onions, the buns are always too substantial and the meat is too thick. This is not a slider. Not the way we eat them in Ohio, anyway. Maybe that flies in Cincinnati, but not Ohio.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.