Keep On Truckin’- Portland’s Portable Food Scene

Good morning, friends and neighbors.

Some time back, I asked a group of professionals what movies about kitchen life got it “right,” and which ones really REALLY got it wrong.

“Waiting” and “No Reservations” were among the “don’t mention that movie in my presence” list, but there was one movie that everyone- and I mean everyone- claimed hit the nail on the head: Jon Favreau’s 2014 father/son megahit, Chef.

Movie poster for

Whether it was the sweet story of a busy chef trying to keep a relationship with his son, that same chef bucking a demanding owner and going into business for himself, or just the gobs and GOBS of on-location foodporn, Chef struck a chord with every pro I met who’d seen it.

When my mother saw the movie for the first time, she said, “See Matt? That looks fun, and not that hard! You could do that!”

Thanks for the vote of confidence Mom, but as cool as it looks- running a food truck is NOT exactly the “easy mode” of the food world.

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Review #15- The Cavern

Where:  4601 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland OR, 97215

When you notice a small corner bar on a normally bustling strip of the city open for a few weeks, but then closed on Friday nights and Saturdays, one of the first things you start to wonder is “…who’s idea was that place?”

The small, narrow corner space- sharing its block with Zach’s Hot Dog Shack, the locally-famous Por Que No?, and a nondescript Tibetan tchotchke shop- had for a short time been the “Hawthorne Public House.” I’d looked in a few times in passing, and that’s precisely what I did. I passed. A whistle-clean bar on the inside, with big TV screens… that was closed at 4pm every Friday.

Passing by, regardless of day or hour, the joint was always empty or closed, and nothing ever compelled me to walk in.

One day, the windows were papered, the sign was down, and another Portland bar vanished like a fart in a Jacuzzi.

A couple months later, my friend Pete caught up with me at the beer cart next to the cafe. He’s a writer for Willamette Weekly, and besides just casually talking to folks about where they like to go for the best ___, he’s one of my go-to sources for new places to try.

“Hey Matt, you like pork, right?”
“Uh, yeah?”
Ok, you need to go to this place. It’s like an old rocker, punk bar. You know where Por Que No is?”

“Oh, yeah that’s… oh wait, yeah! Someone finally did something with that space? I wondered what happened to it after the Public House went out.”

“… There was something there? Anyway, it’s called The Cavern. Go there sometime- one of the best places for meat in the city. Get the pork belly skewers, and spring for the mousse dip. It’s so raunchy and weird.”

If you want to be noticed, you’ve got to make a little noise- having a whiskey list and a knack for the carnivorous helps too.

Exterior shot of The Cavern Bar on SE Hawthorne Blvd

“Hey ho, let’s go”

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Hands That Feed- Culinary Charity, and What You Can Do

Good morning, friends and neighbors.

Since the first time I heard it in the retrospectively-awful-yet-beloved Rankin-Bass animation of The Hobbit, this has been one of my favorite quotes in all of literature.

As Thorin, the Dwarven King, lies dying of wounds he sustained in a battle started in part by his own greed and bitterness, he speaks his last words to Bilbo Baggins are:

“Child of the Kindly West… if more of us valued your ways- food and cheer and song above hoarded gold- it would be a merrier world. Sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell.”

 

Whenever things get a bit too dark and heavy in this world, I try to remember that, and I try to do whatever I can to hold back the darkness a little longer.

I write some nice stories. I bake some pastries, and make people smile… and I thank Heaven that there are people in this world with the means and desire to do more than that.

Today is about them.

A quote from J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit

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A Trip Home(s)

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

The flight in was abysmal. Normally, I don’t truly care one way or another for air travel- I usually have enough of SOMETHING to make being stuck in the same seat for hours on end manageable- reading material, writing work, podcasts, exhaustion, something to make the hours a little shorter.

For some reason, though, the red-eye out of Portland International drove me mad. I’d been tired enough to sleep, but not exhausted enough to sleep for very long. Nothing distracted me long enough that I could ignore my legs getting twitchy and anxious.

Granted, that had been my entire body and mind for the last week or so, and this plane trip was meant partially to help me relax and get ready for a new job to start the next week. What better way to relax than ten days of family and food- and what better place to do it?

Philadelphia.
Hello, you f***ed up little city. Good to see you again.

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So You Want To Move To Portland…

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

If you’ve been reading this blog for even a little bit, you probably know at least three things about me:
1. I like a food. Like, a lot.
2. I am a proud New Jersey native.
and 3. I currently live in a pretty weird place.

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The Unipiper- a guy who figured that a Darth Vader mask, a unicycle, and flaming bagpipes would be his day job. Click for his site

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It’s Not The Floorspace, It’s the Headspace

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in Portland. The sky has been spitting rain all day and threatening more, but in Portland you tend to just get used to a constant state of moisture. I didn’t even bother with a jacket or umbrella on my way out today. I’ll be under cover or shelter long before the wetness can bother me, and the cool air feels sweet to breathe.

 

I’ve just gotten off the phone with an old friend of mine who had more than a few words to say about self-publishing, and I researched some new technology to make doing my work as the Black Hat Baker easier. Now, I find myself (finally) getting ready to tell you all about whatever’s on my mind this week.
Just another day at the office… except this office I share with the rest of the city.

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Review #12- Beulahland

There’s a threat of foulness in the sky over Portland. Not merely rain, but a cold, dank drizzle. The kind that seems to soak you and sting your skin, even though it’s by no means a “heavy” rain. Pushing my way out the door of the cafe, I can already feel that I’m not up for going home right now. Not if it means walking in this, and I really don’t want to buy a bus pass just yet.
What I need is a beer- a beer, and a familiar space somewhere where I can just LISTEN to the rain, and be alone with my thoughts in the company of others.

Two blocks down, I lean through the door of Beulahland and sigh. The jukebox is going, there’s a soccer game on the TVs, but nothing loud enough that people need to shout at each other. Unlike other bars, the smell rolling out of the small kitchen isn’t dirty frying oil. It’s smoky, with a bit of open flame and charring vegetables.
Dean behind the bar waves me in. “Heya, Matt- been wondering when we’d see you again.”

“Hey hey. Yeah, well- you know. Between the work and the writing, I’ve been kinda tied up.” I slip my hat off to eye the beer list. “How’s that Porter?”

Dean’s already tipping me out a little sample. “It’s pretty good- folks seem to like it fine, but I’m all about that cream ale.”

The shot glass of porter IS good, but he’s got a point. Not the finest I ever had, and the cream ale is tempting.
“Yeah, alright- let’s do the cream ale and a hot dog.”

“Right on.”

As I open up a tab, the back door to the patio clicks open. A middle-aged, bedraggled man in a hooded jacket pushes it open with his back as he’s holding two glasses. Slipping up next to me, he sets the glasses down on the polished sloped wood of the bar.

“Hey Dean, same again?… Oh, hey Matt! Long time no see!”

Dean’s just brought my beer. “Heya Patrick. Yeah, well- you know.”

Welcome to Beulahland.

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The dive bar.

Unassuming, unpretentious, a-regular-is-as-good-as-family-if-you-aren’t-then-shut-up-and-drink dive bars.

They are everywhere, and they are magical, and they probably would not like to hear you say that.

Dive bars have a simple role to play: exist, provide good alcohol and edible food for cheap, and have no expectations of their clientele other than that they pay their tabs and don’t make too much trouble. Customers, similarly, have few expectations of their favorite watering holes- have alcohol, have room to sit, and maybe remember their faces.
Go to a dive bar often enough, and you’ll find a regular cast of characters. The bar is where they go to relax. It’s where they ALWAYS go to relax, and see the same people they always do, drink the same things they always drink, and it doesn’t need to change.

Beulahland is currently my favorite dive bar in Portland. I don’t forsee that changing anytime soon.

 


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 The best way to describe the bar itself is “eclectic.” Art from friends and patrons hang on the walls, alongside band posters, chalkboards listing upcoming soccer game times, and various odds and ends of the bar’s weird past in a weird city.
Looking past Patrick for a moment, the vintage pinball machines in the back glow lecherously in the dim light. There’s a large photo booth I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone actually use, and a vending machine.
The vending machine is a trip in itself. It doesn’t have snacks or sodas in it, but rather a mass of odds and ends: pulp novels, condoms, a pregnancy test, individual tarot cards, addressed blank postcards to the White House, and so on. I’ve never seen anyone use that machine either, but one really doesn’t go to Beulahland to peoplewatch. You go to be alone with a crowd.

Patrick and I head out to the small back patio. It’s crisp and cold, but a plastic corrugated roof keeps out the rain- the sound is soothing as we slide into two of the metal chairs. In Portland, “back patio” is a sort of shorthand for “smoking section,” given the city’s strict laws regarding it. Patrick resumes rolling his own with a huge carton of tubes and a gallon-bag of his favorite tobacco, and I just contentedly sip my beer as we compare our work weeks.

Rain drums on the patio roof, and soon we’re not alone. Beulahland is a popular post-shift bar for a lot of folks like Patrick and I. We’re soon joined by Rick, Mike, and Valerie- all employees of City Star, the cafe next door. Mike was in the dish pit, while Rick and Valerie are servers. Every one of them collapses into a metal chair, sips a drink, and lights up.
That’s one thing I love about what I do for a living- the community that you join continues after hours, and we can all relate to the various ways we take the rough edges off our day. A quiet recognition of kinship in this crazy thing we do.

Ashley’s just come on duty- a younger waitress with curly dark hair and cateye glasses, permanently in a knit beanie and cardigan. She’s the one who brings out my hot dog, grabs glasses, and asks who she can bum a smoke from on her break. Everyone with a pack volunteers- they’ve all been there.

The hot dog is REALLY damn good. Steamed to snap, and dressed up with aioli, roasted red pepper ketchup, pickled mustard seeds and onions. Recently, the Beulahland menu has been renovated. You used to get things like veggie wraps, burgers, and greasy chicken wings there- but since a new cook has come in, the menu now features street tacos and sliders, made with meat they smoke themselves outside. It’s all still simple comfort food, but with gourmet twists as foodieness worms its way into every neighborhood. Walking the line between gourmet and dive bar comfort food is difficult, but Beulahlands staff has it right.

The beer goes down, and the sound of the rain is starting to do its work. The edginess of the day is gone, and now just weariness is setting in. I say my goodbyes to Patrick and the rest, and pay off my tab with Dean. If I can keep it together, I might be able to walk home- but a bus stop isn’t far away.

Jeez, I needed that.

HOW: Swing by, or check their website: beulahlandpdx.com
WHEN: Mon-Wed: 9:00*AM-12:00 AM, Thurs-Sun: 9:00*AM-2:00 AM
WHY: You just need a place to take the edges off the day. A good beer, no muss no fuss, no pretension.