Word of Mouth

Find Portland’s Best Unknown Brunch at Whiskey Soda Lounge

Food critic Karen Brooks dishes with Pok Pok kingpin Andy Ricker over Vietnamese coffee, patangko doughnuts, and coddled eggs.

By Karen Brooks September 13, 2016 Published in the October 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Karen Brooks

On a recent Sunday morning, Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker taught me how to eat breakfast. Well, breakfast as you might find it a Thai market: a drip-brewed Vietnamese coffee; a soup bobbing with preserved radishes, fried garlic, and herbs; and patangko crullers, ready to swoop into a vat of pandan-coconut custard. The occasion? The newish weekend brunch at the chef’s east-side Whiskey Soda Lounge, which builds on the great a.m. menu briefly offered at his defunct noodle house, Sen Yai. It’s the best morning meal you’ve never heard of, from PDX’s most famous chef. Years after spicy wings made him a big shot, Ricker still lives to share his ongoing (for 20-plus years and counting) journeys to Chiang Mai and beyond. Here’s what I gleaned while watching Ricker tear into his newest import:

Rule No. 1:

For breakfast, be open to anything good: soups, curries, grilled meats. “That’s how people eat in Thailand or India,” says Ricker. “We are the only culture with discrete time slots for what we eat.”

Rule No. 2:

Thai dishes arrive as rough drafts—seasoning to taste is a national pastime—as eaters dip freely into sweet/hot/tangy/even hotter table condiments. Case in point: A week earlier, I thought Ricker’s pan of Issan-Vietnamese over-easy eggs and sweet Chinese sausage was good. Then I watched him season it, spooning from a jar of sour, fiery vinegared chiles; the dish suddenly roared forth. Jok, another menu high point, arrives like a hip cream of rice, with “bouncy pork” balls and a cloud of fragile fried rice noodles. “I add a shit ton of white pepper,” says Ricker (he’s not kidding), before drizzling a little soy sauce for depth.

But the real surprise is adding a patangko doughnut, which he rips apart and throws in for extra textural magic. Jok, he says, is not highly seasoned—so make it your own. More finds: steamed buns holding sweet shredded pork and, Ricker’s fave, a squat glass of coddled eggs sided by a Jenga stack of toasted bread fingers for dipping. Like everything, it gets the white pepper treatment. Mostly, don’t overthink it. That’s the Ricker lesson. “Just grab it, and eat the damn thing.” 

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