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A New Food Cart from a Le Pigeon Alum Serves Duck Pate Along With Grilled PB&Js

Poppyseed makes fancy-ish, local and seasonal food that’s both to-go friendly and affordable.

What kind of food cart serves a duck country pate with roasted hazelnuts, cranberries and parsnip puree, and also a grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

The kind of food cart started by a trained pastry chef and a Le Pigeon alum.

Open since mid-January at the Killingsworth Station Food Carts, Poppyseed makes fancy-ish, local and seasonal food that's both to-go friendly and affordable. Owners Tim Willis and Lissette Morales Willis come from fine dining, including various jobs and stages in Colorado, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. Since moving to Portland, Tim cooked at Nomad PDX and then Le Pigeon, while Morales Willis worked the 4 a.m.-to-noon shift at Baker and Spice.

And, then, as with so many current restaurant stories: COVID-19. Restaurant shutdown. Layoffs.

So why not open your dream restaurant, albeit scaled-down, sped-up and with no employees? The name Poppyseed was almost random inspiration: They spilled some actual poppy seeds they were saving to plant in the garden, and that became a metaphor: "How such a big, beautiful flower can come out of this impossibly small seed," Morales Willis says. Plus, she and their son, Eliah, have been reading the children's book Poppyseed by Stephen Cosgrove.

While overall there's a division of labor between the Poppyseed menu's "sweet" and "savory" categories—Lissette trained at Chicago's French Pastry School, while Tim also has a background in salumi—certain plates are still collaborative. That duck pate is accompanied by Lissette's Seville whiskey marmalade and lavash crackers, while Tim's version of that old Portland restaurant standby, the kale salad, becomes a composed dish atop a sunchoke puree and caramelized onion galette: his filling, her pastry.

The leading player on the menu is brisket, which has been available both as a sandwich, on a Dos Hermanos potato roll, or as an entree with a parmesan potato cake and vegetables. Inspired by a similar dish at Le Pigeon, the brisket is coated in a version of Quatre Épices seasoning—in this case, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper—sits for 24 hours, gets braised in red wine, tomato paste and vegetables, and then sliced and seared. It's brisket by way of beef bourguignon, rather than Texas BBQ or Jewish grandmothers.

As for the grilled PB&J, which is made with marionberry jam and Adams chunky peanut butter, that's meant to be a less obvious, kid-friendly menu item, based on Tim's own childhood.

"My Dad would make me a grilled peanut butter and jelly, and I just remember it kind of blowing my mind," he says. "I had grilled cheese for so long, and I had cold peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but never a hot peanut butter and jelly."

It's fancied up via two thick slices of Lissette's fresh-baked pain de mie—though you can also trash it down with marshmallow, which was on Poppyseed's opening menu and is now more or less a secret menu item. That came about because Morales Willis was making marshmallows for dessert anyway, and it just seemed like the kind of quirky thing a food cart ought to do.

"I had the idea in my head that we weren't 'fun' enough," she says. "Just something people will maybe try if they don't like what we have to offer on the refined side."

EAT: Poppyseed, 1331 N Killingsworth, 503-489-7449, poppyseedpnw.com. Noon-8 pm Thursday-Sunday.