Tuesday, June 17, 2014

MJ&K Explore PDX 2014: January-May.

First of all, let's have a little talk about 2014 thus far, and why I haven't (really) written anything in this here blog since January. And even the posts I made in January were all about summarizing 2013, so essentially, we can all agree that 2014 has been non-existent on this blog thus far. 2014 has been blog-ily invisible. It has been unblogged. It is a blog-able ghost. It has been--okay, you get it.

The reason for that isn't because I don't want to have a personal blog anymore, or because I have run out of things that I, Jill, like (puh-lease), but because since almost the moment 2014 started, I have been working really hard at being a Real Adult Person trying to Make It in the World of Education. I know, being a Real Adult Person is the boringest, but for the most part it has been rewarding. And also very exhausting. And sometimes cynicism-inducing. Working with kids is hard. Through a combination of substituting and finishing work on a second endorsement/masters, almost every Monday through Friday I have been bouncing around between a variety of elementary, middle, and high schools. And I feel (mostly) good about what I've done.

The only downside of this is that, while I never lose the desire to write, I often lose the 1) time 2) headspace 3) strength to do it while rocking the Real Adult Person thing. (Well, I don't know if "rocking" is an adequate verb there. "Attempting," maybe.) But lately I've been craving a space to get back to myself and back to writing. I've still been writing for AfterEllen (and very occasionally, the Riots), but I want to get back to this--to the very exciting world of documenting the food I eat and the hikes I go on and the music I listen to and all the other shit I've been documenting for myself since I was 10.

So now that I've over-explained that, I can get to what this first-real-blog-post-of-2014 is actually about! *CHEERS FROM THE AUDIENCE*

2014 also marks the first full year that our best buddy Manda, recently imported from Connecticut, can officially call Oregon home. There are lots of pluses about having fresh faces in town; mainly, you get to see their faces! But also, they insert slightly fresher lenses into your eyeballs, inspiring you to see your familiar surroundings in a newer, more exciting way. So to make the most out of Manda being in Portland and all three of us being alive and mobile, we've made a pact to once a month either 1) eat at a new restaurant or food cart that none of us have been to before, or 2) do a new thing of some sort. We've stuck to it so far--obviously, mainly with the food thing--but I've been bad at documenting these new experiences as I hoped. It's kind of similar to how Kathy and I made a pact to visit (and document) one new food cart in PDX a month back in 2011, which we almost did for a whole year but then kind of puttered out on. But THIS TIME, we WILL NOT putter! We will have a whole year of new things! WE WILL!

So now let me shut up and start documenting the things.

January: PBJ's Grilled; Hawthorne

This is a peanut butter and jelly food cart. HOWEVER, just calling their sandwiches peanut butter and jelly is like calling the David a cool statue. In other words, these are some fancypants peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and not all of them have peanut butter, and not all of them have jelly, but most of them have some semblance of the gist of those things.

Kathy and Manda both had the hearty but messy Good Morning with egg, a hella intense breakfast sandwich, whereas I opted for the Oregonian. The Oregonian includes this seemingly strange variety of things stuffed between challah bread: hazelnut butter, Rogue Creamery blue cheese, and marionberry jam. Maybe this sounds as gross to you as it sounded to my dad when I tried to explain it to him. It also does not photograph particularly well! But it was dee-licious. And as Oregon is the nation's leading producer of hazelnuts and blackberries (of which the marionberry is an Oregon-specific type), very Oregonian indeed. (I don't think the Beaver State necessarily holds a monopoly over blue cheese, but we like it an awful lot.)

PBJ's has two locations, one of which is in the Cartopia food cart pod on the corner of 12th and Hawthorne, one of the oldest and most-established food cart pods on the East Side. But the news on the street is that the pod will soon be razed in favor of some type of overpriced apartment building. Because heaven knows, the one thing the East Side needs is LESS funky culture that drove people to the city in the first place, and MORE condos/overpriced apartments that are pricing everyone OUT of it! AMIRITE!

February: Little Big Burger; Division

Little Big Burger is a recent, rapidly-expanding Portland chain that takes on the In-N-Out philosophy of an exceedingly simple menu: cheeseburgers, fries, floats. And the bright red and white design scheme is appealing. Now, is this close to the thrill of In-N-Out? No, although I don't think it necessarily desires to be anyway; that was just a flawed comparison I pulled out of nowhere. BUT, is it a dang tasty burger for under $5? You bet your butt it is! My favorite thing about this place, actually, was that you could choose ANY cheese for your cheeseburger, including blue cheese, all at the same charge (a quarter). That's a heck of a deal! The bun is also delicious, and of course everything is local, yadda yadda, down to the ketchup. Solid.

March: Tortalandia!; Foster-Powell

Tortalandia is a Mexican restaurant I've been meaning to check out forever, because it's located in our hood, and we love supporting independent business in our hood. This is located right off of Foster, but is slightly hidden on a weird little corner of 60th. They specialize in margaritas and tortas (duh), which is a type of Mexican-style sandwich, although we actually went there for brunch. Brunch with margaritas. I'm pretty sure I got the chorizo con huevos, because I am drawn to any menu item that has chorizo almost as much as I am drawn to any menu item that has blue cheese. It was huge and I couldn't finish it, although this is maybe also due to the fact that we also got sweet potato fries and I got a fried cauliflower thing that was a special side of the day. It seems like they have lots of specials, and a lot of unique stuff that sets them apart from just a typical Mexican restaurant. The margaritas, also wonderful. The space itself is really interesting but neat--I think it used to be an old auto shop, or something of the sort. Anyway, this is in walking distance from me, and goddammit but I really want to walk there right now.

April: Cheese Bar; Belmont

I was really excited about this place, because HELLO. CHEESE. QUESO. FORMAGGIO. JOY. REASONS FOR LIVING. But I've decided that maybe places like this are only truly enjoyable if you are an actual cheese aficionado. And I am not. A cheese lover, yes. A food lover, yes. But will I ever actually be a foodie? Will I ever understand half the words on the menu at places like this, or know which cheese comes from which animal, or which cheese to pair with which beer? No. I will not.

That said, man, do I always love the stylish hunks of wood that meat and cheese plates are so often presented so beautifully on in the Northwest.

Other than cheese and meat plates, they also have a small food menu, and Kathy and Manda both got the mac and cheese, with they both reported to be somewhat underwhelming. But I got a sandwich that, even with my whining about the fanciness of the place, was really, really tasty. The things I recognize that were on it: pimento cheese and greens. The things that were on it that I do not understand, but that tasted good: mortadella? Giardiniera? And the bread was called Levain? It was good. The beer I got was good. But, we'll probably leave this one to the foodies.

May: El Cubo de Cuba; Hawthorne

Yet another food-cart-turned-brick-and-mortar success story, El Cubo de Cuba recently took over the adorable aquamarine storefront on Hawthorne that used to be a Taco del Mar. Both the decor and the food are full of color and flavor, yet I don't think I took any photos. Clearly there was something wrong with me that day. Anyway, the idea of Cuban food has haunted me ever since a particularly memorable hole in the wall Cuban restaurant in Miami that I visited with my dad when I was in middle school, where I had the best black bean soup and Cuban sandwich that I will probably ever have. This memory is both delicious and painful, because any time I've tried Cuban food since then, it's failed to live up to the hole in the wall restaurant in Miami. Which makes sense. A hole in the wall restaurant in Miami is like the pinnacle of Cuban food, the gold medal, the home run. But ugh, the disappointment that follows hitting the home run on your first go!

So I obviously had the Cuban sandwich here, which had been well-touted by reviewers, and it was good. It was very good. But here's what I really want with a Cuban sandwich. I want the pork to be sliced just as thinly as the ham (or as close to it as you can), and the cheese as melty and the bread as pressed but crispy as possible, so that it all just kind of melts together in your mouth. This, and other Cubans I've tried, have thick slabs of pork that fall out of the sandwich and necessitate more chewing and less melting-in-your-mouth-iness. And I know that the pork Cubo de Cuba uses is really good local pork! But sigh, I dunno.

On the plus side, though, there were PLANTAINS! So many plantains! Fuck I love plantains! Kathy and Manda and our friend Becky all got a variety of the bowls they offer, and I think when I go back I'll get one of those. And I have to go back because I didn't even get to try a mojito. Also, I need more plantains.

So that was January through May, and now that I've typed it all up, I'm proud of ourselves, and also really hungry. I'll try to post the rest of our adventures in shorter, more current updates. Because if anyone actually read all the way through this, well, thanks for loving me.