Portland, The Mighty Gastropolis: An Edible Tour of Portland with Authors Karen Brooks and Teri Gelber

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Portland has become one of the nation’s most iconic food cities.

karen and teri
Authors Karen Brooks and Teri Gelber. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

I credit this, in part, to IFC’s Portlandia which relentlessly spoofs the city’s focus on ethical eating and eat-local mindset, but a new book by authors Karen Brooks, Teri Gelber and Gideon Bosker shows that eating in Portland is not all Portlandia. And even when it veers dangerously close to the tv show’s goofy sketches, what’s so bad about that?

Portland: The Mighty Gastropolis is a journey through what Brooks calls “America’s New Food Revolution.” It’s a revolution that is stained with pickle juice and greased with bone marrow. It’s happening on board carts, inside butcher shops and across communal tables. The Mighty Gastropolis,” Brooks says, “is really a story about passion, obsession and perseverence.”

On a recent trip to Portland I asked Brooks and Gelber to select three unique themes that identify their mighty gastropolis. Below is what they came up with:

The Ole Latte Coffee Cart in Downtown Portland.

Portland Food Carts: A Street-Smart Silicon Valley of Food

According to Brooks, all Portland food tours begin with the food carts. Unlike food trucks in other major cities, Portland food carts are stationary trailers that line parking lots all over Portland. Brooks describes them as “culinary shantytowns” and that is exactly what they look like – a hodge podge of styles, shapes and colors, all spot-welded together to create “re-imagined town squares.” Above is a photo of Ole Latte Coffee’s cart, what Brooks calls “the Rodeo Drive” of Portland food carts. Todd Edwards, the cart’s proprietor, micro-roasts single-origin espresso beans on board his 90 square foot cart.


Pork Burger at People’s Pig (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Around the corner, Cliff Allen helms the People’s Pig. At six feet, three inches tall, Allen barely fits inside his cart and admits he can’t extend his arms out straight when he’s working. But don’t let the humble digs fool you, these young chefs and artisans are creating exceptional products from minuscule spaces. For Allen’s pork burger he grinds his own pork belly and shoulder, grills the patty over mesquite, puts it on his own home baked sourdough bread and tops it with his cart made pickles.

Many describe the food carts as laboratories. Brooks explains, “For a lot of young people, the idea of obsessive cooking, artisinal cooking is their best hope for a meal ticket…it’s their way to enter the american dream machine without digging an unsightly hole in their pocket.” At $500 to $1,000 a month for rent, a food cart in the heart of Downtown Portland seems like a pretty good deal. Hear more about Portland’s food carts below:

Below is a recipe from the book for Salt & Straw’s Melon and Prosciutto Ice Cream. This flavor combination was a collaboration between Olympic Provisions and Salt & Straw. Here us an excerpt from Brooks:
How did thin sheets of Olympic Provisions charcuterie end up rippling through the frozen music of cream and canta- loupe at the flavor-romping Salt & Straw? Long before they redefined ice cream on Portland turf, drew rock-club lines, and grabbed instant national press in 2011, cousins-cum-ice cream dreamers Kim and Tyler Malek had a flash inspira- tion: to recast fresh melon and proscuitto (Italy’s contribu- tion to the sweet-salty pantheon) into local gold with fantastic meatcraft from Portland’s slow salumi lords. They cold- called the owners, with no portfolio or even a product, just an idea for a delicious collaboration. OP’s response: “Come on over . . . today.” That’s Portland, in a scoop.