Q&A with Comeback Chef Kevin Sandri
Kevin Sandri has donned many hats in the Portland bubble. The New Jersey native migrated south from Seattle to PDX to pursue a career in music in 2001, and after six years as a guitarist with the Foghorn Stringband, returned to the culinary roots he had cultivated in the early days of the Pacific Northwest’s farm-to-fork movement.
His much-loved Garden State food cart (which opened in 2008) showcased Sandri’s sustainable East Coast-inspired sandwiches and received critical acclaim nationwide (including a turn on the cover of John T. Edge’s The Truck Food Cookbook). In 2010, he relocated to the burgeoning Mississippi Marketplace cart pod and debuted a burger-focused cart Burgatroyd.
Despite their popularity, the carts proved too time consuming for Sandri. In 2011, he decided to close Garden State, sell Burgatroyd to a former employee, and take a position with the local meal delivery service Farm to Fit. But the hours were still too much, as the chef was eager to spend more time with his young daughter. Sandri found his fit at Rick Gencarelli’s Lardo, where he has spent the last year enjoying “chef rehab.”
Now, Sandri is back in action as the Executive Chef at the newly renovated Alberta Street Pub, which is set to re-open in early June. Here, Sandri gives us a little insight on his cart experiences, his culinary style (or lack thereof), and what we can expect to see on the new menu.
What inspired you to start cooking professionally?
I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager. The first job I ever got was working as a bus boy. The inspiration to become a chef came much later. I went to culinary school in Seattle after graduating from college and began working in the city right when the farm-to-fork movement began penetrating the mainstream. The restaurants were bringing in some really nice products from local farmers, and it was during that time that I decided to make cooking my career.
After working in farm-to-fork restaurants, what made you take the food cart route?
My band started to fizzle and my resume had fizzled too. None of the Seattle restaurants on my resume even existed anymore. I saw the food carts around and, after talking to the folks at Flavour Spot, I said “yeah, I could do that.” After not having to punch a clock for six years, I couldn’t wrap my head around going back to a restaurant kitchen.
How is Alberta Street Pub going to be different for you compared to Lardo and Garden State?
The main difference is that Alberta Street Pub is a restaurant. We’ll be less focused on expediency. We’re looking to create a more relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. And we’ll be plating on ceramic plates [laughs]. It’s my kitchen and my menu. We’re going to do some good farm-focused locally sourced pub grub.
Can we expect to see anything from the Garden State menu?
A few things made it onto the menu like the chickpea sandwich, which was missed by a lot of people. The happy hour menu will have the chickpea fries and the meatball hero too.
What’s your inspiration for the new menu?
I don’t know that I have a “style”. I’m aiming for good pub food that goes well with beer. Rick [Gencarelli] once told me to “just make it delicious. Don’t think about your style. Someone else will tell you what your style is later.” That’s really been my guide ever since.
Alberta Street Pub
1036 NE Alberta St
Re-opening early June