Portland's own gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwich food cart, PBJ’s Grilled, has come a long way since the flagship location debuted on NW 23rd in 2010. With a menu boasting 13 sweet and savory grilled sandwiches, owners Keena Tallman and Shane Chapman opened their cart with the idea of serving homemade nut butters and jams on grilled sandwiches that go beyond the PBJ sandwiches we grew up on.
“People assume that we’re just doing plain PBJ sandwiches and thought we were crazy for opening a cart selling just that,” Tallman says regarding the initial reaction of customers. “I grew up on a farm so we had fresh fruit jam from the backyard. That’s what we’re doing now because that’s what I grew up eating—and it’s great that we don’t get much criticism after people eat our food.”
After four years of hustling a variety of inventive sandwiches—fillings range from pickles and roasted jalapeños to goat cheese and caramelized onions—and expanding to a second cart at SE Hawthorne's landmark pod Cartopia, Tallman and Chapman have bigger plans. The pair hope to open a brick-and-mortar sandwich eatery in the new year and recently closed their flagship cart to focus on their future shop.
“We’ve always had a vision to start slow and build our company as we run along. We’ve outgrown [the NW 23rd location] because we cannot serve our new menu there anymore,” Tallman says, referring to the flagship cart’s Class III classification—which doesn’t allow cooking of raw meat in the unit. “It was sad and emotional to say goodbye to 23rd because we’ve worked so hard to prove to people that we’ve got great sandwiches.”
What's in store for the full-scale shop? Tallman says the team plans to "play around with different ideas on how to use our nut butters and jam. We’ll also offer beer and wine and we’ll be competitive to other sandwich places in the market.” Location wise, Tallman hints that Northwest Portland is a perfect fit. “It’s where we’re known and it’s sentimental to us. There’s a lot of opportunity there and I’m excited about that,” she says.
Can't wait to see what they've got cooking up? You don't have to. With a new Class IV classification of the Cartopia cart on SE Hawthorne, PBJ’s Grilled has a brand new, meatier menu from lunch to late night—from the add-on option of crispy chicken on the Good Morning (french toast, peanut butter, bacon, blueberry jam and maple syrup) to the perfectly golden, coconut crispy shrimp in their Spicy Thai (peanut butter, sriracha, curry, basil, orange marmalade). Tallman is exceptionally proud of her well-seasoned carnitas—laden with cumin, orange zest, and Chile salt—in the Betty, where it makes friends with peanut butter, pickles, Swiss cheese, and white pepper. Also, the upcoming November special, dubbed Tryptophantastic, will be a decadent combination of pecan butter, slow-roasted rosemary turkey, apple sage sausage stuffing, and cranberry jam on campagnola. And yes, you can get that as late as 3 am. Goodbye, munchies.
“I want to be serious about food but at the end of the day it’s a fun, family thing for me to eat well, and I want to stay humble with it," shares Tallman. "I think Portland’s pretty nice about what I’m doing here.”
PBJ's sandwich shop is slated for a May 2015 opening. Stay tuned to Eat Beat for more details!
PBJ's Grilled at Cartopia
SE 12th and Hawthorne
12 pm-12 am on Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday
12 pm-3 am on Fridays and Saturdays