By the time you read this, your favorite restaurant will be closed.
On March 16, Gov. Kate Brown ordered a four-week shutdown of all bars and dining establishments across the state of Oregon in an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19. It's a rough time for the food business. But as a consumer, you still have options.
There's a good chance that a food delivery service like Postmates, Caviar or Grubhub has dangled a generous promotion in front of you, either on a billboard, an Instagram ad or a business card at the counter of your favorite takeout spot. And now, you really have no excuse to not cash in that digital coupon.
And for restaurateurs, it's also a great time to test the waters of running a "ghost restaurant."
Chef Robert Thomas was ahead of the curve. Following the failed expansion of Blackbird Pizza into the Arbor Lodge neighborhood, Thomas ditched the idea of attracting diners in the flesh, converting the North Interstate Avenue space into a trio of virtual kitchens available only through the aforementioned apps.
The most important thing to understand about food delivery is that your order is bound to sit in a box for an average of 20 minutes. High-end restaurants routinely flame Postmates and the like for removing their wares from the controlled environment in which they flourish, but it seems as though Thomas paid extra attention to addressing the issue here.
Take Carmine's, the classic red sauce-Italian arm of this operation. Saucy starches travel well and hold up to being jostled around in the backseat of a busted Corolla. The generous portion of carbonara ($14) arrived silky smooth and piping hot, with crispy bits of bacon providing just enough salt and crunch. The side of pesto-and-mozzarella garlic bread ($6) was expectedly mushy, but it was reinvigorated by a few minutes in a toaster oven, and the pickled onions and red wine vinaigrette that topped the garden salad ($10) was a nice touch.
The other two "restaurants"—the aptly-titled Vegan Junk Food and Swift, an extension of the Northeast Broadway bar of the same name that Thomas also co-owns—were more of a mixed bag.
The barbecue pulled pork sandwich ($12) from Swift was tangy, fatty and chewy in all the right places, but the add-on side of fondue fries ($8) arrived as a droopy, soggy mess that no amount of congealed garlic-infused cheese could salvage. No knock on the effort of the kitchen or our diligent Postmates driver—it's just the reality of shipping a box full of fragile bar food eight miles east of where it was assembled. Complaining about soggy delivery fries is foolish, so you're better off ordering something else altogether.
The roasted cauliflower ($6) from Vegan Junk Food met a similar fate. But the vegan Hawaiian plate—loaded with creamy mac, juicy Kailua jackfruit ($14) and a firm mound of brown rice—was about as good as one could hope for considering the faux ingredients and the time spent in transit. Most vegan food is a saucy pile of veggies and fake proteins anyways, and this may be one of the better options considering the circumstances.
If you can stomach the delivery fees—around $6 per order plus the tip, which you should absolutely leave—and the reality that it may be a minute until you're allowed to eat anywhere other than your home again, this might be as good as it gets for a while. It could be worse.
ORDER: Carmine's, Swift and Vegan Junk Food are available through all major third-party delivery apps.