Wednesday, November 9, 2011

J & K Do Portland Food Carts: Months 7-10-ish?

Remember that time I wrote monthly posts about food carts? Right, you might not, since the last time I did it was in July. Oopsies. I just re-read that post and found it to be pretty funny and thought to myself, "Man, I don't know why I'm not the most popular blog on the Internet, after Hyperbole and a Half because I could never be as good as that, even though I never promote myself other than to my family and friends on Facebook?," which is a thought I have sometimes.

Anyway, we have still been going to food carts but in a much more sporadic manner because there were some months we couldn't afford it, and other months where we still couldn't afford it but said, "Oh wells!" and went to carts anyway, but none of it felt organized enough to do blog posts about. And yes, to us,  even though street food is supposed to be something poor-ish people do, being able to afford food carts feels like sometimes rich people do. I.e., hipsters who somehow have more money than us, and/or freelance bloggers who know the secrets to getting paid to visit food carts, which are secrets I do not know.

Anyway, here's a quick summary of the random food carts we've visited in the past few months.

#1: Azula Tequila Mexican Taqueria. In our favorite A La Carts pod off of SE 50th and Division, we went here with my dad and Cheryl when they visited way back this summer. I'm pretty sure my dad and Cheryl got tacos, and Kathy and I both got this smothered chorizo enchilada thing. The exact details are hazy. In any case, this was definitely yummy, and there were major pluses to this cart in general: 1) They served you the food in these fancy fiesta-ware-esque plates, which is pretty high-class for a food cart. 2) The workers were super duper nice. 3) They had many plastic bottles of their own house-made salsas, which from what I can tell is basically a necessity for any true taqueria, but still is always exciting to me. 4) The best part of all is that the food was truly cheap. For truly large portions of food, as you can see. While I can't remember exactly, I'm sure this dish was $5 or less. In other words, what I believe true street food prices should be like.

While I really enjoyed this place and would definitely return in a heartbeat, I still feel like I have yet to discover a Mexican/taqueria cart in Portland that really makes my heartstrings explode with love. In other words, I feel like I will be constantly searching in vain for my West Coast Anna's Taqueria. Sigh. It's never going to happen. And now I'm just going to be pining for Anna's all day. Dammit.

Anyway. < /taqueria angst > Next, we went on our first adventure to the new-ish cart pod along Division and 32nd, near the famed Pok Pok (which I obviously have not been to since I feel it's too fancy and I'm often scared of new things), D-Street Noshery

This was actually a little bit of a disappointing adventure, but this might also have been because we were both in horrible moods when we went. In other words, I think I was being a bit of a bitch. The exact details are hazy. What I learned from this adventure is that, when one is in a slightly bitchy mood, great food can really make you feel better, but mediocre food can just make you even more pissed off. Or, if you don't place as much emotional attachment to food as I apparently do, you'll probably be alright either way.

Kathy's Choice: A special of the day from Herb's Mac and Cheese which featured tomatoes, bacon, garlic, and blue cheese.

Now, these are all things that I LOVE, and so it sounds like it would be amazing. However--even though I only had a few bites of it--I remember being slightly disappointed. I think because 1) While I love both garlic and blue cheese, they are both really intense flavors, and there was a LOT of garlic on top, and I feel like having two such intense flavors at once almost cancel each other out, or allows you to not fully appreciate each one as you should. 2) All the toppings were just plopped on and baked on top. Now, I understand you are fully able to mix it into the mac yourself. I know I'm lazy, but I understand that. But at the same time--I feel like the mac would have a more consistent mixing and blending of the flavors into every morsel of pasta if it all actually marinated and bubbled together, toppings and mac as one.

That said, I feel like mac & cheese places are the New Thing, and since I love mac & cheese so much, I feel I have to be a little critical of them. Because let's be honest--most of the things I eat when I eat out are things I can't make myself at home. Which is why I'm paying a lot of money for it, right? But I can make a damn good mac & cheese at home, as I proved when I made that mac for the Mac & Cheese Off last year. (Note to self: make that again.) So if I'm spending extra money to buy mac & cheese out, it better be damn good and something I know I couldn't perfect myself (like the macs I highlighted in this entry. No way can I make any mac like Montage can).

That said, I'm looking forward to trying more of these new trendy mac places. In particular, for months I've been meaning to visit Baked!, a take-out establishment on Alberta which isn't exactly a cart but doesn't have an actual restaurant/eating area of their own yet which still makes it the kind of supporting-small-business-upstarts type of thing that I like feeling with (most) food carts.

[Little rant: I said (most) because with the popularity of cart culture in Portland, I've seen it happen where already established, popular brick-and-mortar restaurants open up food carts around town. And while it might be kind of neat to have your favorite restaurant suddenly be mobile, I think the true food cart experience should be unique opportunities for poor-to-middle-class folks to really start up something new, something small but rewarding and exciting, on their own, closer to the American dream than most other things. Wait, have I ranted about this before in my food cart posts? Maybe. The exact details are hazy. HOWEVER, the addendum to this rant is that it's also frequently the case that a food cart is so popular that the owners are able to open up their own brick-and-mortar stores (most notable case, Pine State Biscuits--my first EVER entry on this here ol' blog), and to keep their original roots they usually still keep their food carts operating as well. This I deem completely acceptable.]

Anyway, Baked! was started by an Emerson grad, and while I don't think I really know him I will always feel a fondness for and allegiance to Emerson grads. And I'm a fan of theirs on Facebook so I always read posts about their weekly specials and they always make me SO HUNGRY. And then upset I don't live closer to Alberta. And then upset about the fact that even if I lived closer to Alberta I couldn't afford to get the weekly mac specials every week, or eat at any of the numerous eating establishments on Alberta, and it's a whole vicious Facebook-food-money-self-pity cycle. But, still--I'll get there sometime.

Wow, that was a lot of mac talk.

My Choice: I got arepas with chorizo and plantains from Fuego de Lotus, a Venezuelan cart. I decided to get it because I thought it'd be good to branch out and get something new/feel cultural, and I'd never even heard of arepas before. Arepas are basically Venezuelan corn cakes often served with meat, apparently something like a poor man's (wheatless) bread. And hello, I love chorizo, and hello, who doesn't love plantains?! DON'T TELL ME IF YOU DON'T LIKE PLANTAINS BECAUSE I WILL IGNORE YOU.

While this was all yummy food, I have to admit that I wasn't quite sure the best way to eat it. Also, while I understand that chorizo is one of the greasiest things one can put down their gullet, normally I cook it as part of a dish so the grease just kind of all blends in and gives a rich flavor to things. But when you're just eating a big bunch of chorizo in a bowl, the grease all pools in a neon puddle at the bottom and makes one feel kind of gross. So overall, I would definitely try arepas again, but I'd maybe give this a B-.

However, any and all ambivalent feelings went away when we also visited the Pie Spot. Yeah, we really went all out at this pod. First of all, Pie Spot for sure wins for Cutest Food Cart Ever. Like, look at it! I couldn't even get all the cuteness in one picture! And all the adorable and delicious looking pastries are piled on cute plates! Gah!

The main thing Pie Spot serves are uber-mini pies they charmingly call pie holes. We got the chocolate hazlenut one. We shared it because we had already spent too much money on mac and arepas and the pie holes are maybe a little more expensive than I would prefer. However, they are SO GOOD. AND SO WORTH IT. AND IT WAS SO HARD SHARING JUST ONE. I AM ALSO REALLY HUNGRY WHILE I'M WRITING THIS WHOLE THING AND I WANT TO EAT THIS PIE HOLE AGAIN RIGHT NOW AND ALSO ALL THE OTHER FLAVORS OKAY THANK YOU.

This cart pod is also home to Slice, the delicious pizza that was our one real win experience from the food cart festival we went to earlier this year. We didn't get any because we wanted to try new things, but if I went back to the pod, Slice and Pie Spot would be an amazing and beautiful combination.

Since our D-Street Noshery experience, which I've just surprisingly written a book about, we've eaten at a couple other places but I wasn't on top of things enough to get pictures of them. Most recently, we got a couple of subs/hoagies/heros (depending on what you want to call them in your geographical location) from Shut Up and Eat, again in the A La Carts pod on 50th. This cart has some good press and for good reason; it advertises its menu as "Italian comfort food" and there's something about the place, the food, and the workers that has a real genuine vibe to it. I also absolutely love the name. It all just feels real East Coast-y, which always makes me happy. They also list in giant letters on their menuboard what farms all of their meat/ingredients come from, which is pretty Portland typical these days, but is still great.

Kathy got the Broad Street Bomber, which is basically a cheesesteak, and I got a chicken parmesan sub. Which, due to Tom Haverford I literally feel I will no longer be able to call anything other than chicky chicky parm parm. And this chicky chicky parm parm was great. The sandwiches are huge and definitely share-able, or good for two meals, which makes them especially worth the money (they are generally in the $7-$10 price range per sandwich).

This was fun to write even though it made me really hungry/angsty, because anytime I am hungry I am angsty. But still, hopefully this will inspire me to get this monthly blog tradition back into shape. And then maybe someone will pay me to write about them! OK, probably not.

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