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 a pastrami burger from Utah, which joined the union on January 4, 1896.
The state: When Jim Bridger ran into the Great Salt Lake in 1824, he thought he'd hit the Pacific Ocean. Nope. But the curiosity made it a stopover for travelers, if not a place to stay, until Brigham Young saw a toxic lake and unfarmable salt-alkali flats and decided that this was the place to be. Utah is home to some of the world's most bizarre and pretty country—honeyed rocks shot through with holes by the wind, natural arches, weird precarious balancing boulders—and one of its most homogenous voting blocks, with 62% of residents calling themselves Mormon. Bjork's ex Matthew Barney figured "Beehive State" described its people as well as its honey crop, and decided to make a whole Cremaster movie to that effect. But the Mormons, for some reason, didn't want to let him anywhere near the Mormon Tabernacle and so he had to recreate the whole thing digitally.
The food: You'd think somebody would have invented the pastrami burger approximately three days after the invention of the burger. Because come on: pastrami. But as with the philosophical underpinnings of Western society itself, it apparently takes a Greek. John & Rula Katzourakis and Nick Katsanevas started Crown Burgers in 1978 in Salt Lake City with their signature pastrami burger: an unholy mound of pastrami atop an already huge burger patty, smothered in Utah's signature "fry sauce" (one part ketchup, two parts mayo.) Damn.
Other foods considered and rejected: Funeral potatoes, Utah scones, Aggie Blue Mint ice cream, Jell-O salad, Dutch Oven food.
Get it from: Mi Mero Mole's Nick Zukin, who has probably eaten more hamburgers than any other man in Portland, modeled Ace Hotel deli Kenny & Zuke's (1038 SW Stark St, 222-3354, kennyandzukes.com) pastrami burger on Crown Burgers' monstrosity, right down to the orange fry sauce. Zukin has moved on from the deli, but the burger remains, and it is a delicious delivery vehicle for three heart attacks' worth of fat and meat. K & Z's thick, beautifully cured pastrami adds an entire extra dimension of texture to the classic burger; the burger itself comes charred on the outside and (if you ask for it) red on the inside. Burger king for a day.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.