If You’re Missing New York—and/or Your Jewish Grandmother—Sweet Lorraine’s Will Fill the Latke-Shaped Hole in Your Heart

The crispy, pillowy latkes are fried to order and come with the traditional accompaniment of sour cream and applesauce.

Sweet Lorraine's Latkes Sweet Lorraine's latkes. IMAGE: Sam Gehrke. (Sam Gehrke)

It’s Hanukkah year-round at the Killingsworth Station food cart pod—or, at least, a reasonable facsimile of the Lower East Side of New York.

In any case, the pod is where Aaron Tomasko and Rachel Brashear of Sweet Lorraine’s Latkes & More are serving voluptuous potato pancakes, as well as knishes, kugel, kasha varnishkes and East Coast sweets. In other words, Jewish grandma cuisine. That’s literally what it is: The cart is named after Tomasko’s maternal grandmother, while also referencing the 1928 standard made most famous by Nat King Cole, which Tomasko’s grandfather Gerry used to sing to her.

Sweet Lorraine's Latkes (Sam Gehrke)

Tomasko and Brashear are both working musicians and music teachers. Needless to say, neither of them has been performing much music for the past year.

“The time in lockdown gave us an opportunity to rethink our futures and identities,” says Tomasko. “We wanted to do something with our lives to help us connect with our community as well as reconnect with our roots.”

Tomasko’s grandparents lived in Long Island and South Florida, while his great-grandparents were Russian immigrants. But he was born and raised in Oklahoma, which he and Brashear left five years ago to move to Portland. The couple had always cooked this kind of food at home since it was hard to find in either place. Tomasko’s latkes, in particular, always got a big response from friends and family each Hanukkah.

“Food is the thread that connects our family,” he says. “It has always been how we express love to each other.”

For the cart, the pair asked people what kind of food they loved—and missed—the most. The bigger-than-a-fist knish is mashed potatoes and onions inside a pastry shell, essentially the Ashkenazi Jewish version of a dumpling or pierogi, served with deli mustard on the side. The kugel is savory rather than sweet, a rich and hearty spinach and cheese baked pasta. The crispy, pillowy latkes are fried to order, with three regular varieties available (classic potato and onion, spinach and feta, and cheddar-jalapeño) and come with the traditional accompaniment of sour cream and applesauce. Special latkes and knishes rotate in and out.

If that sounds a little carb-heavy, maybe skip the kasha varnishkes—bow tie noodles with butter, onions and buckwheat groats—as your side dish in favor of the kale wheat berry salad. You need to save room for dessert, which might include a black-and-white cookie, a “devil dog” that’s too high end to truly evoke the packaged Drake’s cake, and that fabled New York specialty the egg cream, which has neither egg nor cream but is something like an ice cream soda without ice cream: seltzer, Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup, and whole milk.

Given that New York is now without St. Marks Place egg cream stalwart Gem Spa, you might also say that the corner of North Killingsworth Street and Maryland Avenue is now Portland’s East Village.

EAT: Sweet Lorraine’s Latkes & More, 1331 N Killingsworth St., sweetlorraineslatkes.squarespace.com. 11:30 am-3:30 pm Monday-Tuesday, noon-8 pm Thursday-Sunday.

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