Critic's Notebook

What Portland Knows That Seattle Doesn't

A week of restaurant reconnaissance in Portlandia reveals a little big trend Seattle restaurateurs have yet to pick up.

By Kathryn Robinson August 13, 2012


Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

This just in: Portland is now officially parody-proof.

I was there last week on a little off-the-clock restaurant recon and just about every guy had a big thick feedbag of a beard. A house concert of a hard-rock cellist featured a woman who took the stage (the plywood-on-a-boxspring stage) to announce that the artisan craft brewer who supplied the beer would donate all proceeds to the anticoal lobby. I waited in a 40-minute line at Salt and Straw for pear-blue cheese ice cream. A woman walked a goat across the Burnside Bridge.

Portlandia is no longer a send-up. It's a reality show.

The food truck scene really has become an every-neighborhood affair, with several clusters, or pods, around town. Besides having clever names like Cartlandia, the trucks do something else pretty noteworthy. Many of them serve small portions at small prices.

The pods I visited were mainly in Sellwood and Moreland, where I found buck tacos and $6 brisket plates--and where I found their diminutive sizes to be just right. A signless new truck, open just five days on Milwaukie Avenue and serviced by a sweet lady on a chair by the smoker, dispensed two fine meaty baby backs with a scoop each of baked beans and white rice, for $5.

At first sight, my reptilian brain wanted more. By the bottom of the container it was plenty enough.

Have Portland's wall-to-wall carts influenced the larger restaurant scene? It's a point worth pondering. Strolling along North Portland's Mississippi Avenue one dusky evening we happened upon Little Big Burger, a burger joint which opened a couple of years ago and whose sustainable, compostable ethos dovetails with its product: Gorgeous quarter-pounders with tons of ecologically-correct fixins on slider-sized brioche buns. Oh yeah...for $3.75.

My daughter wanted two--her reptilian brain did come from me, after all--but I urged her to wait until she'd finished one. Sure enough, one satisfied. Even if she'd decided to get one more--as plenty will at Little Big Burger, and no shame in it--it's nice to see the default reset to a saner standard. Better for the body, better for the planet, better for the old pocketbook.

A trend made in Portland that Seattle could use a little more of. Goats across I-90, not so much.




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