Boston’s Own Cheesesteak Sandwich

IMG_2288Really this has all been a dream; you know the kind that have been sitting in the back of your head for years.  You’ve run through how awesome it would be and how happy it would make you, but it just seems so unfeasible.  For Wade Norris, that dream has been about making cheese steaks.  Coming from Boston, he’s arguably grown up with the best in the country.  Every single trip back home was highlighted by being able to eat his favorite food. Flying is expensive though, so back around 2001 he got together with some more knowledgeable individuals and learned to make them himself.  His son’s 8th birthday was training ground and they went off with a hit.  Now at 22, he’s attended innumerable events with his dad’s sandwiches on showcase.   Family outings, children’s parties, church get togethers… the reviews garnered were consistently positive.

IMG_2268Perhaps it isn’t surprising then that he wants a food cart.  Being a new student with a family, life hadn’t supported that want.  Recently though, things started falling into place.  He found an opportunity to grill at Last Thursday, a big art event that occurs on NE Portland the last Thursday of each month.  He didn’t have much time – in fact Wade put together everything needed (enough apparently to score 100% on his health inspection) within 24 hours.  Rushed, he didn’t know what to expect.  With help from the family they set up shop, fired up the grill and hoped for the best.

IMG_2266Every sandwich sold out.  It was easy to see with the quality cuts of steak being used.  The Original blends that steak with red and green peppers, onions, and a thick slice of cheese.  The Combo adds mushrooms and Italian sausage, truly making one of the best sandwiches I’d had in a while.  What really caught the attention of onlookers is his upcoming masterpiece, “The Louise.”  Named after his mother, it’s a batch of collard greens and freshly fried chicken topped with 4-cheese Mac & Cheese, onions, and peppers.  While not yet available, he promises to bring the sandwich to life once he has a cart.  How nice is it then, that members of his church are investing in his progress and donating a trailer to the cause?

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The taste is incredible.  The experience is even better.  In my short time there I met friends and supporters, as well as a few who tried the sandwiches last month and are back for more.  This food has the ability to do well, and if the powers that be keep moving in the right direction, Wade will have one of the hottest stands in the city.  Take this opportunity to check it out at the very beginning.

Currently, Wade’s Steak & Cheese can be found at every Last Thursday near the corner of NE 21st/Alberta.  He can also be found weekly at the Saturday markets held in the NE Hollywood district.  If business picks up, he’ll have a cart up and running in the coming months.  Support Wade in the quest to fulfill his dream.   Go get a steak & cheese sandwich.

-Tizz

Teardrop Cocktail Lounge

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And here it is, Tuesday and once again the most happening spot in the area. The folded windows draw back in a fan and the heavy, all glass entryway is pinned open. I’ve got to try this place; it’s constantly crowded with people of all ages and you can hear it from a block away.  Today it’s a little more calm and the perfect time to try it out.  Walking in is like the scene of a movie.  The ceiling opens and draws back wide with the bar as a central point ahead. Seats are sparse, conversation is boisterous and hip jazz in the background is making everything a little more dlightful.

I make my way up to the bar and am happy the primary menu turns out to be nothing but drinks.  It’s a slick trifold with options: House, Classics, Friends. The House concoctions are created here and strive to hit areas of your taste buds you’ve long since forgotten. Succulent flavors, cooling effects, acidic bites and sometimes texture get’s brought into the mix.

The Classics come from different historic time frames.  Browsing the list shows recipes dating from 1888-1954.  So this is what my great, great, grandparents had?  Cool. Deshler, Rittenhouse rye, Dubonnet Rouge, Cointreau, bitters… wow!  Served with a twist of lemon. Some of these drinks should be revived as modern comebacks.

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The Friends portion, while last, was truly my favorite.  In a nod to greatness they’ve borrowed unique drinks created by specific bartenders at specific bars in other areas of the country.  I can only imagine these are the favorites of lengthy travels.  Is Brooklyn, San Diego, or Las Vegas your favorite? Mine was from Atlanta, GA called the El Rosario from Paul Calvert at Victory & Paper Plane. Nova Fogo cachaca, lime, Fernet Branca, and agave nectar combine with a mint leaf and topped with pepper for some serious spice that finished cool.

Ready for a (disgustingly) awesome fact?  Each of the trio has a party bowl option which serves “4-6 people” for an easy $54.
As for the environment… The mood is mellow and would be a great spot for a date if it weren’t quite so loud and busy.  Perhaps the weekdays are the ideal time to go. Silent movies are projected onto the wall above you and it seems to most certainly be some cheesy 70’s/80’s flick you’ve never heard of.   Depending on who you are, be wary of the somewhat trendy crowd.  Depending on the night they can be extremely pleasurable or just a hair pretentious.  One thing to be said is the varied styles of folk though.  The group of 80 yr olds are laughing it up just as boisterously as the 21+ crowd.  A perm the color of a freshly painted fire hydrant sat next to me, rocking some bright gold-plated earrings that say “BOSS”.  Radical.

Lastly, let’s talk bites.  The selection spans only 10 items (Yes, that includes appetizers and desserts) and ranges from $4-16.  I was happy paying that for this food.  The tuna tartar looks as great as it tastes; plated with sesame oil and fruit crisp that’s crisp and fresh. The Italian meatballs are nothing short of amazing, holy cow! Every bite is sweet, savory, and bold.  Be careful sharing because there are 5 meatballs and that means you’ll be fighting for the last.  Of course I’ll save the best for last… this gazpacho is simply the absolute best I’ve tasted.  It was the favorite of everyone at the table.

-Tizz

Papa Haydn’s – Ea(s)t(er) Your Heart Out

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There is really one name for dessert around Portland: Papa Haydns.  Since opening in 1978 they’ve become a staple around town for succulent cakes, tortes and pastries.  You can imagine then our excitement at being recently invited to an Easter tasting of seasonal and regular tastes available this Spring.  SPOILER: I’ve never been so happy in my life.  Looking for your new favorite dessert?  Read on.

 

papas11Led by Executive Pastry Chef Jessica Caraccioli who has years experience in some of the most well-known restaurants around Portland, new flavors and twists to classics have been delightfully selected to work with a broad array of palettes and preferences.  Their location on NW 23rd is seemingly the most well known due to its location and occasionally needs reservations for dinner – worth it though.  The real magic happens in the original North Sellwood location where they handle both the restaurant and wholesale products around town.  Some of these treats are available at local grocery outlets New Seasons, Zupans, and Fred Meyer, all of whom are dedicated to fresh, local foods.  Having received a background, lets jump into flavor town.

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Our tasting started with a quaintly named Easter Special, “The Lime In The Coconut”.  Apart from loving the name I quickly found what the commotion is about.  A healthy dose of lime curd takes place between layers of coconut cake and Italian butter cream.  Shards of coconut line the exterior to present a full texture with a small, edible fondant daisy placed on top.  The pedals are sweet and the lemon curd dolloped in the middle turned to be the most surprising items we’ve tasted in a while.  To be honest, I tend to shy away from coconut at times as it tends be often overwhelming in other desserts.  This then was a delight as flavor returned light and understated.  The coconut was bright but never overcame the delicious lime tart paired with it.  I found the secret in the fresh lime zest spritzed through the curd.  It pairs well with the home-made simple syrup and a slight soak in coconut milk the cake receives before use. Overall the flavors were light, soft to the pallete, and perfect for a nice Springtime enjoyment in the sunshine (or impending rain, depending on the hour of the day).

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The next delicious treat was the Café au Chocolate.  This is one of the most beautiful and understated desserts tried.  At first glance it looks like half the Death Star has crashed into your plate, topped in chocolate and served up for your pleasure.  I never liked the Dark Side anyway.  Inside we find the true spoils: a dense cappuccino brownie with crunchy croquant (similar to small rice balls) topped with milk chocolate espresso mousse and finished with dark chocolate espresso ganache.  That may seem like a lot, and it is.  It’s amazing.  The texture of the croquant, the light layer of mousse and caramel finish it’s plated with all pair well.  Found it a to be a succulent dish which should be had with a cup of coffee or espresso at hand to give a little moisture if (ahem:when) you get overwhelmed by chocolate.

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The next plate, simply named “Passion” is likely my favorite.  Passion is a treat to the eyes as well as the taste buds.  What seemed to be plastic holding up the dessert ended up a solid white chocolate banner, thinly designed to hold the innards in place. Edible, of course, and holding flavor that’s about to blow your mind. Once you break through the mold you’ll find an assault of flavor pounding on your taste buds like the hammer of Thor.  From top to bottom first to arrive is a thin layer of passion fruit curd which reminds us of a gel.  Digging past the urge to eat all the gel immediately you find more passion fruit flavor, this time in the form of mousse.  This mousse in particular is extremely delicate and must be mixed at an exact temperature ensuring appropriate taste and texture.  The chef is so precise she prefers to do it herself.  In the middle you’ll find a “present” as she puts it, of raspberry cream cheese mousse which seems more frothy than the mousse surrounding it and adds a hint of complexity and twist of flavor to your bite.  All of this tops a classic chocolate-buttermilk cake which you’ll want to indulge upon again and again.  There is a sweet/tangy balance here that makes each flavor pop wildly.  This is an impressive dish to order and will satisfy in more ways than one.

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Following the need for a more classic chocolate cake I tried the Raspberry Gâteau.  This is a purposefully fallen chocolate soufflé baked with Triple-Sec and Brandy.  Can we take a moment to praise the dessert gods?  Enrobed with dark chocolate ganache and topped with fresh, local raspberries, this makes for a dense and rich chocolate flavor with a light-touch fruit finish.  Tthis is a great substitute in place of a regular slice of cake.  It’s fulfilling and enough to satisfy two.

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To finish things up I was greeted with a White Chocolate Mint Torte, served beautifully and looking impressive before taking a bite.  Take note why: a three-day process is used to ensure each dynamic shows it’s true value. What looks like the most impressively built portion, the exterior shell is an almond sponge cake textured with a distinguishable chocolate “stair” design.  It’s beautiful by itself yet shows only one aspect of how this treat comes alive.  The cake simply wraps a white chocolate mint mousse topped with a gel that sits atop a medium-bodied brownie.  The taste reminded me of biting into a large, creamy Andes mint or mint-chocolate ice cream in cake form. Scrumptious.  Another beautifully plated dessert which adds to the overall charm.

 

Papa Haydens impressed and if the food, led by Head Chef John Mealus, is anything like the desserts this is most certainly the place for your next date night.  Both locations will delight whether this is your first or four hundredth meal together. Take a look at their website and drop in to enjoy dinner or a tasty dessert.  TheTizz gives our full recommendation and we’d love to hear your own experience in the comments below.

-Tizz

Kay’s Bar

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Sellwood is an interesting place. Stepping into a dive bar may require hopping over a dog or two on the way to your seat.   Bicycles rival cars for the most popular way of transport.   Working attire?  Better believe you need a full sleeve tattoo and holes in your ears.  It is home to well renowned restaurants with lines around the block and a dozen dive bars which make you feel like a scumbag after leaving even if you weren’t one beforehand.  And you know…  it’s excellent.  Sellwood has character, flavor, and life.

Kays is one of those original favorites that adds character.  Opened in 1934, it’s history walking in the door.  The best way to describe it is the classiest of dive bars.  You can tell by the wood clapboard walls and the 1980’s malt liquor adds strewn all over that this used to be a dive bar. What throws you off is the tasteful remodel which must’ve come in the last 10-15 years.  Marble counter tops at the bar. Classic red topped stools.  Stitched leather seat backs in the booths which line the outside walls.  Someone did this with purpose.

Really you’re needing to stop in for the burgers and poutine.  That’s right, poutine. In case you’ve been living under a rock, poutine comes from our Canadian neighbors to the North.  One of them had the brilliant idea to take a plate of fries, add gravy and seasoning, then melt cheese on top.  It’s extremely unhealthy and yes, you should still eat it.

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The burgers are some of the best in the area.  The menu is often given a little shake and you’ll find slightly different styles of burgers often, likely due to the amazing amount of toppings available.  The Kay’s Burger, starting at $9, is a build-your-own style with easily 15-20 options to identify your preference.  Portobello, avocado, and Swiss?  You got it.  Blackened seasoning, queso blanco, and jalapenos? Yep.  BBQ sauce, bacon, and cheddar?  Sure.

Happy hours are available from 3-6 every day (3-8 on Mondays) and have a good variety of things you can snack on or create a whole meal from.  With a small but great variety of beers on tap and over 50 whiskeys available, this is easily a place you can find yourself wanting to return.

-Tizz

The most understated Manhattan

rontoms2You’ve probably passed by Rontoms and not even known it.  There are no flashy signs, banners or neon flickering.  In fact, there’s no sign.  The only sign even signifying the fun within? A shadow of a man with an umbrella.  The walls are painted a drab green and it’s easy to saunter by on your way to Sizzle Pie (review to come), the delicious pizza joint doors away. It’s understated, yet stylish when you take notice.  That goes for most things at Rontoms.  The drinks, food, and attention to detail present themselves in a way that feels like silk to the senses.

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The walls have been torn back to the basic structure, with exposed beams and open cement and metal frame climbing up the wall.  With just a few splashes of color the room is brought alive along with lighting that is always just a hair too dark.  The gaping room is open and comfortable.  And this is all you’d know, really, if it’s your first or even second time here.  That’s because behind the bar there’s a walkway which leads back to what you’d think is the kitchen.  Instead it leads you outside to one of the most beautiful outdoor Portland patios available.

rontoms3 There is a ton of space out back.  There are more than a hundred people outside on a Friday night and it’s all hidden from the street.  The bamboo island lends a nice touch, as well as the rock beds surround the outdoor seating.  I know what you’re thinking… this is Portland.  It rains.  Rontoms has that covered, literally, with enough space for everyone protected under an architectural brilliance.  The fire pit keeps you warm, the exterior bar makes it convenient and did I mention the ping pong table?  Prepare for a challenge.

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…All of which might lend to how delicious this drink tastes in my hand.  That, or the quality ingredients.  That needn’t matter. What does is what a great spot this is to come and relax.  Just know, you’re now in the heart of East Portland, so non-hipsters beware – there’s a lot of flannel and mustaches here.  Worth it? Worth it.

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-Tizz

Star Bar: Unexpected and delicious

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Black. This, I’ve decided, is the perfect descriptive sense of Star Bar.  A brick exterior surrounds the only defining feature being the outline of a blue star in the window which sits in front of dark black curtains designed to keep the place dimly lit.  Inside is similar to what you’d expect.  It’s definitely a dive bar.  It’s definitely got a rock influence.  It’s definitely a bit hipster.  I mean the website alone is Star-Bar-Rocks.com, which is pretty spectacular in it’s own right.  Those are definitely red light bulbs being used above.  None of this is a problem, mind you.  I tend to enjoy these places, but at this moment I’ve been without food and overworked and all I want is a delicious burger.  With traveling by foot in the cold out of the question, hesitation set in when all I assume will be available is fried chicken strips and an onion ring basket if I’m lucky.  Blah.

Stepping up to the bar I’m greeted with a head nod.  Friendly in a “I’m really freaking cool” kind of way, a stiff whiskey was served as I perused the plastic laminated menu which had giant rings to bind it which lead to pages “flipping” in random directions.  “Oh, burgers and sandwiches. Nice,”  I thought to myself especially as I saw real ingredients for a good burger like Swiss, mushrooms, and avocado. “What’s this?”  Free-range, grass fed meat.  Huh. Not sure weather to be proud or ashamed of Portland right now.  I order my burger – with tots of course – grab my order number (which is actually just an old record) and slide onto a black couch in the corner seat to sip my Buffalo Trace.

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My order takes a while to come out, though I understand why almost immediately.  The smell of spices hits my nose and I realize this thing has probably been made by hand from scratch a moment ago.  The burger has been hand shaped and cooked medium rare. It’s incredibly juicy – enough so that every bite or two ends with a finger cleaning.  Maybe there is something to this free-range beef because it tastes incredibly fresh and pure,  The bun is fresh and lightly fried with a touch of oil. The Swiss cheese melts away over freshly sauteed mushrooms and uneven chunks of avocado practically fall out.  My friend is drooling over my food at this point.

This is when I lose a tater tot. Two. A fork is then used on the friend’s hand.  By the end, I’m full yet almost considering ordering another because of how incredible it just was.  How incredible? This was possibly the best burger under $10 I’ve had in Portland. That’s saying a lot in one of the top culinary cities of the country.

-Tizz

A Veritable Quirk

Felt green curtains.  They’re what I’m staring at as I enter the door of Veritable Quandary, a quaint restaurant, highly decorated in an old brick building, surrounded by plants and hardly looking large enough to feed 15 people rather than 100+.   I push aside the curtains and duck into the room to find what I’d almost recall as an old English pub (classy and clean, of course).  A long wooden bar takes up half the space and but a few small booths line the other wall.  It’s packed.  People are celebrating, sauntering on in conversation about friends and work.  As you pass by the tall bar stools and past the active and crowded kitchen, a hostess meets you and guides you down the stairs and into the main dining area.  Who knew this was back here?  There’s even a wine cellar with a single round table which can be reserved for your big events.

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The outdoors is amazing still.  Gated and sitting beside a grass field rather than other buildings, the patio leaves you feeling at home.  Denny, the long time owner who brought the wonderful restaurant here in  1971 does all of the gardening himself, taking care of and positioning every plant you see.   While great if you can find a spot, it’s difficult when the sun is out and events are happening near the waterfront.

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A glance at the menu will have most mouths watering.  Walu walu, free-range lamb and chicken, quail egg salads… all sourced from local companies.  And please, feel free to be adventurous tonight.  The quality of ingredients won’t let you down.  Finding out the lobster mushrooms in my dish cost more than the prime cut of meat? Pretty excellent.  There are a number of well-tuned individuals running the kitchen as well.  Props go to Annie, the chef.  Her amazing skill and creative mind keep the food exciting and her staff seem to have nothing but love for the woman.

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Pricing can get up there when aiming to have a big meal and yes, you should go to have a big meal.  Get anything that looks good.  I didn’t get the feeling itmes were overpriced however, which is nice.  Based upon the quality and quantity, have always left happy.   A great place for dates and those looking to broaden horizons.  We highly recommend the Veritable Quandary and will continue to go back ourselves.