From left: Earl Ninsom, Matt Vicedomini, and Eric Nelson

Image: Karen Brooks

Pop-ups and collaborations are standard for Portland’s food scene: a special, fleeting night of food and drink magic where fun is front and center. But occasionally that collaborative spirit morphs into something greater than its parts. What if three talents met at the intersection of smoked meats, Thai spices, and goofy but serious island drinks to make something strange, new, and wonderful?

That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind EEM, a “Thai barbecue cocktail bar” from an unlikely all-star cast: Earl Ninsom (mastermind of Thai standouts Langbaan and Hat Yai), Matt Vicedomini (of Texas food-cart phenom Matt’s BBQ), and fun-loving bar veteran Eric Nelson, whose Shipwreck pop-up is Portland’s best roving cocktail party. Eat Beat has learned that the trio has signed a long-term lease at 3808 N Williams Ave, in the former Ray space, recently closed by Jenn Louis.

“Think of it as a Thai-style drinking food bar, with smoked meats done by Matt’s BBQ,” says Ninsom during an interview with his partners. “Really good food. Not traditional Thai, not traditional ‘cue. Just fun food and drinks, done right … with heat.” Nelson and Vicedomini nod: “We love heat.” 

Plans are still shaping up, but here’s what we know so far about EEM (rhymes with “team”),  the Thai word for “satiated”:

ETA: The goal is to open in true Portland style—with a bang-up New Year’s Eve party. (But in true Portland style, delays are inevitable).

The menu: Expect 10–15 dishes. Vicedomini envisions “a lot of proteins, smoked Matt-style,” beef cheeks to ribs. “I’m super technique-heavy,” he says. “I obsess over details—juiciness, deliciousness, consistency.” Sausage is a Matt’s BBQ standout, and Vicedomini hopes to create a few Thai-spiced specials for EEM, including one inspired by classic New Orleans boudin sausage. Smoked mushrooms are also in the works. Meanwhile, the kitchen will offer lighter dishes and snacks such as fried rice, Thai curries, skewers, vegetables.

The drinks: Nelson will be the house maestro, in charge of vibe, music, and drinks. Original cocktails will rule at EEM. Juicy island flavors. Vacation drinks. Beach-style booze. Playful glassware to match playful spins on piña coladas, margaritas, and daiquiris. “We’re moving away from old-man drinks,” says Nelson. “I’ve been running drink parties for the last few years and I know what the crowd wants: ‘fun; don’t overthink it.’” The list will showcase some Shipwreck signatures like the Jesus & Tequila (margarita with key lime frozen yogurt) and Tremor Control, a slurry of Yoo-hoo, bourbon, and cold brew. Meanwhile, roughly one-third of the list will be devoted to non-alcoholic drinks; Nelson is a proud member of the sober chef/bartender movement.

Dinner, then lunch, then brunch: EEM will unfold in waves. Current goals: dinner daily to start, then lunch, and eventually brunch as kinks are smoothed. 

Watch for pop-ups between now and the opening date: To test ideas (and give a hint of what’s to come), watch for word on Shipwreck events at EEM as well as breakfast taco pop-ups from Matt’s BBQ. And, we’ll just drop this gem here: Vicedomini also hopes to open a breakfast taco cart next spring. Stay tuned for details as they come.

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