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 pepperoni roll from West Virginia, which joined the union on June 20, 1863.
The state: West Virginia, which separated from regular, racist Virginia, because the poor folks in the Appalachians didn't want to fight for the institution of slavery, which old money east of the Blue Ridge had long used to its political and economic advantage while ignoring the needs of the rural people in the hills. It's a wild, beautiful state.
The food: Pepperoni rolls, which are reasonably easy to make: You get some pepperoni, wrap it in bread dough, and bake until delicious. The pepperoni melts down a bit, and its fat and spices soak into the bread—not unlike the process of creating Nashville Hot Chicken. The dish was invented by Southern Italian immigrants in the interbellum era, and popular with coal miners. You can eat them warmed or cold. I prefer cold. The West Virginians that came north to work in the rubber factories of my Ohio hometown brought these babies north with them, which is why I grew up getting them from Devitis or Euro Gyro (pronounced ji-row) or Acme.
Other foods considered and rejected: Biscuits and gravy, I guess. But, really, there wasn't another viable contender here. The pepperoni roll is wonderful and officially recognized by the state.
Get it from: East Glisan Pizza, though they're not great. The Montavilla pizzeria makes respectable pies but the pepperoni rolls aren't up to standard: To my mind, the secret to a good pepperoni roll is using as much low-grade pepperoni as bread dough, but you'd have to squeeze the East Glisan version's pale dough to get even a drip of grease out. This what a good pepperoni roll looks like. You can see what the one at East Glisan looks like above. Have you found a better version? Let me know in the comments.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.