Growing up, Collin Mohr spent Sundays after church in the kitchen with his grandmother, Ruth. Most of what she cooked came out of a cookbook, and one in particular.
It wasn't The Joy of Cooking, or anything by Edna Lewis. Her go-to was the ward cookbook that circulated among members of one congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ogden, Utah. The collection of recipes was community-approved and iterated upon over generations.
"We call it Mormon cooking," Mohr says. "Grandma would always cook the recipes from that cookbook, plus what was in her backyard garden."
Now, Mohr and his childhood friend, Aaron Kiss, have brought those dishes to a food cart on Southeast 36th Avenue and Division Street.
The two have been cooking together since they were 6 years old. What started under the tutelage of Mohr's grandmother led the pair to work side by side at the now-defunct Park Kitchen in the Pearl, then Ava Gene's, and now, smushed together in an old food cart with a wood-fired oven as its only heat source.
The cart is at once an homage to Mohr's grandmother and a shrine to Oregon's natural bounty. Appropriately, they've named the business Ruthie's.
Mohr and Kiss use the pizza oven to char broccoli, burn garlic and bake Grandma Ruth's honey butter rolls early in the morning with residual heat from the previous night's blaze. Though they source the honey for those rolls from Utah to stay true to the bun's roots, it's about the only thing served out of the cart that isn't produced in Oregon.
Mohr and Kiss launched the cart in early October. Ruthie's menu will change with the seasons, and every bite undergoes some form of fire application. The inaugural lineup includes four salads ($10-$13) and two meats ($22 each).
You won't feel Ruth's touch coming through in the vegetable-forward dishes, though. "Grandma doesn't do salads," Mohr says. On opening day, the only way to get one of Ruth's famous buns was to order the ribs. Set your expectations accordingly: These are not saucy pork ribs. They're subtly spritzed with grape must and topped with a heavy dose of what the menu calls "crunchy shit": candied coriander, puffed barley, and black lime. On the side, enjoy Grandma Ruth's roll and turmeric pickles, plus two moist towelettes.
Mohr and Kiss acknowledge they've endeavored on a bold path by opening a food cart amid a pandemic. But right now, nostalgic bites have increased in stock. For the duo behind Ruthie's, "comfort food" is synonymous with Grandma's cooking, and that's what they aim to serve.
"During winter, we'll do really solid, hearty food," Mohr says. "Come eat something comfortable."
Kiss pipes up: "Do it for Ruthie!"
EAT: Ruthie's, 3634 SE Division St., instagram.com/ruthiespdx. Noon-8 pm daily.