Portland Restaurants Are Going Above and Beyond During the Pandemic
“I opened my dream restaurant on Monday and closed it on Friday,” says Shaun King, co-owner of Asian-influenced Bar King in Southeast, which debuted right before restaurants shut down. Since then, Shaun and partner Jamie King have worked to bring the “Bar King Experience” into people’s houses. That means sending customers home with aromatic wood and herb bundles that perfume your dining room and access to their nightly Spotify playlist. The ultimate at-home show? Smoked, twice-baked eggplant stuffed with baba ghanoush and served with yeasted flatbread that cracks open with a cinematic puff on your dinner table.
Right before March 2020, Don Salamone was close to being crowned king of Portland’s classic burger revival, with a food cart, takeout window, and pending Beaverton restaurant all under the Burger Stevens name. But, explains Salamone, “Burgers make for terrible leftovers.” His solution? Dig deep into his family’s Sicilian roots and morph into an Italian comfort dinner operation. Red-sauce classics rule, with chicken cacciatore, rigatoni in his mom’s tomato sauce, and thin-sliced, multilayered eggplant parmesan. It’s Sopranos food for anxious times.
The first hint that coronavirus hasn’t killed the fun-loving ethos of long-simmering restaurant project Malka, run by chef Jessie Aron and business partner Colin McArthur? The bubble machine, which pumps rainbow-hued spheres onto the faces of those arriving to pick up the restaurant’s thoroughly offbeat take-out offerings. The second is the names of each dish—right now, who doesn’t identify with the “I Have a Lot of Feelings,” a rice bowl crammed with green curry tossed vegetables, bright with miso-tahini slaw and pickled ginger, and sided with chickpea fritters?
Ava Gene’s, Tusk, and Cicoria
Conveniently for us, two of Portland’s best restaurants, Ava Gene’s and Tusk, are sisters under the Submarine Hospitality
label. That means you can order a decadent porchetta pork shoulder and a smooth chickpea and coconut curry with a single click. And, because there can never be enough pizza during a pandemic, the juggernaut hospitality group has cranked up the deck oven early at Cicoria, its pizzeria originally slated to open later this summer, offering tavern-style party pies with thin, charred crust and a just-right swipe of sauce.
Chef Ryan Ostler and baking whiz Katharine Zacher have horrendous timing when it comes to opening restaurants, having championed edgy drinking snacks, Texas barbecue, and Thai brisket mash-ups way before they were cool. This cute Westmoreland café, which opened in late 2019, didn’t fare much better. They made lemonade, however, with Zacher’s exquisite baked goods—a high point on their pre-COVID menu. During the shutdown you can order pastry boxes full of almond-paste handpies, sticky monkey bread, and bacon-studded palmiers. The Basque-style cheesecake, six inches of creamy indulgence, is one of the best in a trend that seems unkillable, even in these strange times.
Having a food emergency? Call the Hambulance. Elias Cairo, Olympia Provisions cofounder and charcuterie trailblazer, drove a bright red “Rollin’ Pantry” truck around Portland while blasting ice cream jingles to deliver cured meats, beer, and ice cream sandwiches during the first two weeks of the pandemic. Nowadays, you have to order ahead to earn a visit from the Hambulance and its larder of Saucisson aux Noisette, pork-pistachio pâté, and CSA-style veggies from OP’s favorite farms. For Father’s Day, you can order full-on meal kits with the essential ingredients for everything from sausage grilling parties to sandwich
This perennial brunch favorite’s response to the pandemic is to double down on Australia. Proud Mary, whose coffee roots hail from Melbourne, has gotten serious about what it calls “cabinet food”—quick, handheld lunches from Down Under—including delicate, puff pastry–wrapped sausage rolls, curry handpies, and veggie pasties. You can also snag DIY brunch kits, which include all of the NE Alberta Street shop’s greatest hits: charcoal–passion fruit pavlova, thick-stacked potato hash, and ricotta hotcakes. It’s all sold out of Proud Mary’s new, glass-barricaded coffee takeout window, engineered for maximum safety while they sling expedient pour-over made from nerdy varietals. proudmarycoffee.com
We think it’s wonderful that you can order chopped barbecue fried rice, sweet and sour fried chicken, and brisket burnt end coconut curry to go from our 2019 Restaurant of the Year. But what really makes Eem next-level is its tropical cocktail program, courtesy co-owner and bar vet Eric Nelson. During the pandemic, he’s sharing his behind-the-bar secrets to the public with bottled ingredients and recipes: you, too, can mix up an Eem Pina Colada with “Thai Spirit,” pineapple, coffee, coconut whipped cream, and bee pollen. Just add rum. Complete low-proof cocktails, like sherry and vermouth tropical slushies, are coming down the pike.
Owner Aaron Adams is all about radical transformation. Part of his new world model included scrapping Fermenter’s long lunch counter for a massive vegan deli case—one of the most ambitious in the city. Among his offerings: a smattering of marinated tempeh, BBQ to miso-glazed; endless jars of pickles; vegan “meats” and “charcuterie”; and several nut-based cheeses. You’ll still find crowd favorite “The Bowl,” a power shot of quinoa, cabbage kraut, kale salad, roasty roots, cumin galore, and luscious rio rojo beans. DIY’ers can try their own hand at fermenting, with plans to unveil kombucha and sourdough kits.
Shizuku by Chef Naoko
Chef Naoko, a farm-to-Japanese-table cult icon, has been doing takeout on a massive scale for years: she supplies Delta Airlines’ direct flights from PDX to Japan with her mosaic bento boxes, silky wild salmon to juicy pork tonkatsu. Now, using an industrial blast chiller, Naoko has started selling Frozen Family Packs: three meals, two servings each, for $100. Wondering how to reheat those succulent, oat-clad pork shumai? Check out Naoko’s YouTube channel for a primer. We often joke that her cooking is food you could eat every day. Now, you actually can.
Listen to Karen Brooks and Katherine Chew Hamilton discuss how the food scene is changing in response to the protests and the pandemic.