You might think that after last Saturday, I would be satisfied with my food cart sampler. But, Forktown Tours was offering a tour on Friday and one on Saturday that would visit various participants of Eat Mobile at their regular place, and promised more food samples and more time to chat since we would be just enough people to fit in a shuttle bus (14 of us)… not the 250 VIP tickets or 3000 overall Eat Mobile eaters of Saturday, so definitely a bit more intimate atmosphere of cart sampling. Of course I am there. I think of it as a birthday present to myself.
I started off with the Friday tour, which took us from downtown to the Crystal Gardens pod, North Station, and then Mississippi Marketplace. As I was coming from work in Beaverton, I am embarrassed to say I was 10 minutes or so late to the tour. However, I caught up before our first samplings, and we didn’t board our shuttle bus until 40 minutes in, phew. We would end up visiting 9 carts, and since the sampling offerings were coming directly from the kitchen, and the fact they were not having to be as mass produced as Eat Mobile, meant that each bite I had was much better then even what I had last week if I had visited that cart at Eat Mobile. What I also really enjoyed was hearing the additional information about Portland and the formation of the food cart culture in Portland, the ease yet challenges of operating a food cart, information courtesy of our tour guide, and at each cart hearing how the food cart chefs were inspired to create their food offerings and start their entrepreneurship, and their future plans for their small business.
We started out with gathering downtown, and visiting The Dump Truck. At Eat Mobile I had tried the Bacon Cheeseburger dumpling, which was a little too greasy for me. He told us about his inspiration of doing dumplings from travelling within Beijing (home of the real Mr Ma), and that the Bacon Cheeseburger dumpling was a request to offer something akin to “pub food” – which is still a bit of a mystery to me because this would make good “late night” food, but they are only open during the day. This time, I had the choice of two, and I went with a “Mr. Ma’s Special” which was my favorite, which had a burst of pork and ginger with scallions, and a “Potato Curry” which essentially has a Malaysian yellow curry with potato inside the dumpling wrapper. I still like their icon of the dump truck with a dumpling.
Eat This! was the next stop- and the flatbread was much fresher then what I had at Eat Mobile. This came topped with spinach, roasted scallions, smoked chicken and bacon and an aioli- a great sandwich that you can pretend is healthy and filled with offerings better then most any other flatbread.
Next, we stopped at Emame’s Ethiopian, where we sampled both the lentil version on top of the injera which had a nice mild spice to it, and the much spicier chicken in berbere which is the Ethiopian national dish. This would be the favorite even by the end of the tour of several of the tour participants. The name Emame comes from what her son called her, aw. We got a great introduction to what is in Ethiopian cuisine as well thanks to our knowledgable guide, and got to see a representive of a food cart owner who is dishing home cooking
We then piled into the Ecoshuttle and were driven to Baowry. Here we had a chance to hear about how Ross built the cart from scratch, their attempt to handmake and struggle to get the dough for their bao to rise in the winter, and the possibility that the house next door to their cart might be something they could expand into so they can begin to offer many more ideas he has for Asian inspired dishes, a la Pok Pok. The sample here was missing the spicy kimchee I had liked at Eat Mobile, but the meat here with their steamed Chinese bun was more tender and moist, and came with the same little scoop of white ginger scallion rice but also a spicy noodle
We then walked to the Crystal Garden pod. Here we learned about cooperative cart communities of pods, about Portland’s DIY (do it yourself) and DIT (do it together) culture. We learned that Pizza Contadina’s starter dough for their sourdough pizza came from Alaska and supposedly has heritage that can be traced to the Gold Rush, and how he has mutual agreement to supply food with Leisure Public House so that you can enjoy the natural combination of pizza and beer (more DIT). I hadn’t sampled them at Eat Mobile- and we heard how during the festival how crazy it was for him as his oven kept going out so it was taking 3x as long to cool the pizza as normal so he didn’t feel like it was representative of his pizza at all. What I found outstanding was the hand cut huge pepporoni, and he makes his own hot sauce and the chipotle habanero was spicy and kickass.
We returned to the shuttle bus and headed next to the pod on North Killingsworth, at North Station for more food carts at another pod. This was also my first visit to this pod. Here, we visited two that I had appreciated being introduced to at Eat Mobile 2011, PDX 671 and The Rolling Stoves Gimme Sandwich.
I still have the baby spork that PDX 671 gave me that you can see in the picture. I’m going to save it in my scrapbook, dammit, because it’s awesome. Also great was the sampler here. It has a bit of several things they offer- the chamarro flatbread, the red rice flavored with achotte, the chopped grilled chicken I had loved at Eat Mobile, a fritter, the choice to add a Finadene sauce to infuse more flavor of soy sauce-lemon-chili-onion (added in the last pic). Everything he offers is great, you can’t go wrong here. Try Guamanian food!
Rolling Stoves Gimme Sandwich- I had loved her roast beef with horseradish mustard mayo au jus at the festival, but this time I got the extra bonus of trying her loaded potato salad with the genius topping of crunchy bacon, why doesn’t everyone do this… Maybe I had two samples of the meeat with mayo, I can’t wait to have the whole sandwich one day with the drippings and melted cheese and onions. I’ve never really understood why people would want a french dip sandwich until now, but now I see (look at how good even that little slice of beef looks). If I worked at the Adidas campus I would definitely be at this pod for lunch, I wish there was something like this around the Tektronix/Nike campus I work at.
Back into the Ecoshuttle, and then to Mississippi Marketplace at N Mississippi. This was my first visit to this pod anchored by Prost. Our focus here was Garden State, which just like last year and at the Eat Mobile, continues to plate food like they are a fine dining establishment instead of a food cart . It’s almost as if the shiny silver-ness of their cart makes up for the lack of silverware and tablecloth because hey, we’re doing casual New Jersey take on Sicilian food, so that equals a laid back attitude but with all the charm, care, and flavor that you might expect back in the old country. I had passed up this cart at Eat Mobile because their vittello tonnato sample has veal which tugged a bit at my animal rights heartstrings, but I gave in and had it anyway here- and it was guiltily good.
We took a nice walk, window shopping as we went on our stroll to Flavourspot. The highlight as we took in the neighborhood was encountering by chance, the “neighborhood goat” tied to a tree on the way. We had to cross the street. This goat was so sweet and I didn’t know goats came in a shade of cream with a tinge of pink.
I definitely got enough sweetness for dessert at Flavourspot as we heard the story of how he started this cart- a combination of misadventure, coincidence and luck, and drunken destiny. I had three desserts, Lemon Pie (lemon curd and whipped cream), Peanut Butter & Jelly, and S’more Waffle with Nutella and Mallow fluff, all types I had not tried before. I obviously finished off this tour quite satiated.
I’m also going on the tour tommorrow night, but because it’s from 6-9pm I’m not sure the photos will come out. However, I’m excited to be shuttled to 10 carts on a progressive dinner.
The original photos in this post have been added to the end of my Eat Mobile 2011 album on picasa