In an exclusive scoop, Eat Beat has learned that hungry downtowners will get an early holiday present as Pioneer Courthouse Square’s highly anticipated new food cart pod starts to fill out in the coming weeks. Saucy bean bowl stalwart The Whole Bowl landed in Portland’s “living room” this week, but pod curator Mike Thelin let slip what other carts we have to look forward to—and it’s a damn tasty lineup.
A new outpost of Hillsdale gem (and our May 2017 Cheap Eats cover model) Burger Stevens is also on the roster—slinging the Pioneer Ranch beef wonders PoMo noted taste “like McDonald’s, if that fast food giant ever had a soul.” FYI, downtown has been a bit of a diner-style burger desert since All-Way closed in 2015 (R.I.P.), so this is really, really welcome news.
It’s joined by another local favorite, Hawthorne’s Fried Egg I’m in Love, which boasts one of the most habit-forming breakfast sandwiches in town. I'm talking about the Yolko Ono, a fried egg stacked with Parmesan and a house sausage patty and slathered with bright house pesto on Portland French Bakery bread.
Two more carts are slated to join the party by January: some sort of collaboration between Olympia Provisions and Tillamook Cheese and, in a nice nod to the Square’s history, a Philly cheesesteak cart opened by one of gathering spot’s existing food stand vendors.
Nearly 100 carts applied to be part of the new Pioneer Square food cart pod earlier this year, with Thelin working with Pioneer Courthouse Square staffers to choose carts they felt met the litmus test of “iconic and established food operators who represent the city.” True to rumors, Nong’s Khao Man Gai was slated as a sixth cart but, alas, had to pull out due to timing issues earlier this fall. (I vote they either ask Tábor to come back from the dead, enlist Wolf and Bear's for that last slot, or invite one of the city’s worthy taco carts to join the party—because so many sandwiches.)
It was no surprise when the Square’s powers that be tapped Thelin to organize the pod people. As the co-creator of Feast Portland and the culinary curator for Pine Street Market, the dude knows a thing or two about choosing local restaurants to create a cohesive mix-and-match food experience. But Thelin sees this project as something even more important:
“Food carts are vital to our food culture, but as many of them are located on surface parking lots that are increasingly being developed into housing as our city grows and becomes more dense, it's vital that our city leaders and those with influence in the development community find ways to preserve this very important part of Portland culture,” he explained. “That’s what drew me to this project—that Portland's most recognizable public space will house food carts makes a big statement. The debate over saving surface-parking lots is wrong-headed. Instead, the conversation ought to center on how do we preserve food carts—and think of new and creative ways to help these businesses thrive.”
So there you have it. Go grub on a burger or a fried egg sandwich in the Square. Save Future Portland. Repeat.