"Nobody knows how to operate right now. It's all just so uncertain."
Street Disco chef Kyle Christy is talking about his new outdoor snack bar project, housed inside the sprawling White Owl Social Club space in Southeast Portland's Buckman neighborhood, but he may as well be speaking on any facet of life in summer 2020. Our bizarre ride to the dark side of this annus horribilis has been hard on chefs and restaurants in particular, an avalanche of reckonings, financial and otherwise, that shows no sign of slowing down in the weeks and months to come.
And yet, in our strangest hour, there are still new restaurants emerging, improbable as it seems. Most are takeout only for now. All are works in progress.
Call the early weeks of Street Disco a sort of public beta, then, with updates and changes announced regularly on Instagram.
"We're trying a couple of different things with our team, so we can see what works, and adapt," says Christy, adding, "We pretty much get to do whatever we want."
Summarized simply, Disco Snacks is a multifaceted snack bar concept at White Owl. There is a daily menu with upgraded bar munchies—think Manchurian cauliflower, huckleberry tofu, veggies with whipped ricotta for dipping, oysters by the dozen—alongside a new natural wine approach made up of chilled, patio-ready reds at $30 and under from Jessie Manning, part of the team at Dame, North Portland's natural wine bottle shop and bistro. Christy is a Dame alum as well, and his ambitions for Disco Snacks go far beyond daily small plates.
So far, that looks like a series of distinct concepts: Taco Tuesdays, a public school cafeteria homage to tacos of the hard shell variety ($3-$5); a coming outdoor wood-fired grill situation, offering fish, lamb, and gorgeous veggies cooked in woodsmoke on the White Owl patio by purveyors like Wild Roots and Ayers Crook; and pizza inspired by the suburban food court experience, currently available as pre-order on Fridays and Saturdays, with updates through Instagram.
"As a kid, pizza to me meant the Little Caesar's at Kmart," says Christy. "I didn't start hearing about Detroit pizza until a few years ago. To me, that's just nostalgia."
Early versions of the pizza concept were developed by the chef at the height of the initial coronavirus lockdown, used as a ploy to trade with winemaker friends in exchange for their bottles. There are elements of that classic Detroit style in Christy's product, but it differs from the more purist versions available around town at spots like East Glisan Pizza Lounge. These land more like an individual "pan pizza," almost like what you'd get at the small-town laser tag parlor, albeit with fresher ingredients and a lot more hand-washing.
"I just want to do fun stuff," Christy says, and these pizzas are undeniably fun, ideal for a nice lunch but really built to be enjoyed after a glass or two or four of your beverage of choice. There are standard-issue pies—cheese ($12), Hawaiian ($15), pepperoni ($14)—but also a very good clam pie ($17), almost like a garlic bread with fresh Manila clams shucked to order over herbs and pecorino.
The stunner, however, is the cheeseburger pie ($17), a heavyweight concoction born of some suburban hunger dream. There is nothing else quite like it in Portland, and the best of its kind I have ever had.
The Breakdown: Street Disco’s Cheeseburger Pie
"Our dough is very similar to focaccia," says Christy, "very straightforward and pressed out in the pan with our fingertips." The end result lands somewhere between a Detroit-style square slice and a Costco frozen pizza bread: chewy and hefty and capable of soaking up a satisfyingly deep amount of flavor.
After placing the dough, low-moisture mozzarella is sprinkled around the side of the square pan. During baking, little strands of the mozzarella creep over the side of the dough, fusing with the crust to create a sort of cheese wall. "People call it Detroit style but to me it's Little Caesar's style," Christy says.
Christy starts with a thin layer of ketchup underneath the mozzarella, but not too much, which is important. He then makes a sizable "smash" burger patty using high-fat Painted Hills beef. Once cooked, the burger is chopped up alongside onions and pickles (sourced from New Jersey cult favorite Grillo's) and topped with American cheese.
Once cooked, the cheeseburger pie is topped with still more onions, this time raw, and a mustard-forward secret sauce of the chef's own design. "I'm a huge fan of both grilled and raw onions on my burger," Christy says. And so it goes on his cheeseburger pizza."
EAT: Street Disco at White Owl Social Club, 1305 SE 8th Ave., street-disco.com. 3-9 pm daily.