Zesty Cuban Classics

pambiche
Arroz con Pollo, Pambiche

The Party gods own Spring Break on the West Coast; they demand a celebration of life in the form of bright colors, loud music and living it up. Naturally, when my friend Lee mentioned wanting to head up for her Spring Break vacation, I enthusiastically accepted. She flew up from the Southwest in the late morning and like any good out-of-towner she stepped off the plane hungry.

Lee had been here before but this time round we decided to stretch outside of our comfort zone and try places even I hadn’t been to. Cuban kept creeping into my mind, perhaps because the sun teased that day and reminded me of warmer times. We Google mapped around us and found a place called Pambiche nearby.

As we made our way up the street, a driving bass line pumped through the vibrantly painted exterior walls. “Yep, this is going to be good,” I predicted to my friend. The quaint restaurant makes sardine cans feel roomy. Crammed within its small walls are more tables than it should have; to further add to the frenetic atmosphere, lively paintings, wooden carvings, and musical instruments hang in the air as one-minded waiters bustle to and from the bar like bumbling bees.

I don’t say this as a critique. The setting seems natural or serendipitous and adds to the experience; its guests gather on this little island, sat close to strangers who become neighbors. You can’t avoid overhearing intimate conversations and smiling, sipping on mojitos and enjoying the feeling of “getting away” for the lunch hour.

Ropa vieja is arguably the most notable Cuban dish and my mouth watered for it, but in the spirit of new experiences, I ordered the Arroz con Pollo. For eight dollars I had enough for two gigantic meals. A big sprig of parsley sat atop Creole-style chicken sprinkled with paprika, saffron, and olives. Valencia saffron rice mingled with a healthy portion of fresh peas, cabbage and cilantro. There’s nothing quite like the flavor of saffron and the first bite confirmed that perfectly cooked rice consistency a Southern girl like me demands of jambalaya.

I was in my happy food place; where music, food and good company all intermingle to create the perfect dish.

 

Advertisements

Belly-Warming Scandinavian Cuisine

lefse1
Lefse Special, Cafe Broder

Surviving a Portland winter requires a transformation of body and mind from mere mortal to Pacific Northwest god. The beards donned by natives [now often seen in metropolitan areas abroad] surfaced here not as a fashion statement but as a survival tactic. Until you have felt the assaulting left hand of rain and right hand of wind tackle your face in a fatal one-two blow, you won’t understand what it takes to be initiated by the Rose City.

A winter morning arrives not by approach of dawn’s light but by the creeping, never-ending darkness of eternal night. There will be no natural indicator of time now, no; only measured moments between downpours of baptizing rain and the empty promise of a forgotten sun’s rays teasing behind a cluster of clouds.

Until late spring you must lie to yourself daily that there will be flowers blossoming one day; that your socks won’t soak through within seconds of stepping outside. You’ll need to stoke a fire in your belly with the hope that comes with warm nourishment and Scandinavian food is sure to do the trick.

Often the smallest factors bear the largest impact, a constant reminder to never judge a book by its cover. Cafe Broder is such a place, unimposing in size and almost unnoticeable if it weren’t for the queue that forms outside on the regular. The generated warmth of body heat and lively banter welcome you into the quaint oblong cafe. Vintage baubles, stainless steel cabinets and a slack-jawed bass mounted on the wall muddle Danish

lefse2
Half-eaten lefse, Cafe Broder

modern with rustic industrial.

Perched at the bar, I couldn’t help but notice muscles (bulging under a stranglehold a of faded black fabric) sling what looked like a muffin tray of gooey batter into the oven. The muscles belonged to the head cook who expertly manned multiple orders destined for either the frying pan or the oven;

I ordered the daily lefse special, consisting of potato pancakes with ham, farmer’s cheese and lingonberry jam topped with two eggs and greens. I tried not to notice when I saw “Muscles” pour half & half into the mini square skillet that held the eggs. I needed sustenance to guide me through the assault of rain pellets that waited for me beyond the cafe doors.

The first bite launched an ephemeral twitch of my taste buds, a gentle nod of agreement in response to the artfully combined sweetness of ham and lingonberry with the savory bite of cheese and pancake. I could feel my belly warming with each slice and swallow and I almost missed the sound of wind scraping natural elements against the window outside.

As I took my last bite, I let the flavors linger in my mouth and prepared for the journey home. I layered my waterproof jacket on top of my sweatshirt and folded my scarf under as I zipped up. I was unaware of the assortment of weather that would soon greet me, but for the first time since the sun last shone I was smiling.

 

 

Vegan Jambalaya in the PNW

IMG_5125
Vegan Jambalaya, Broken Top Bottle Shop, Bend, OR

My first memories center around my hometown of New Orleans; yet I wouldn’t say I love all Cajun cuisine. Grits hold a special place in my heart – every gooey mouthful transports me back to breakfast at my best friend’s house. I can remember the Summer sun bobbing in the thick air and the steaming gold blob of butter  running down the white mountain of food.

Crawfish were always a little bit too much effort for the pay-off, but I wouldn’t turn down a mouthful held out between my mama’s fingers, pecking at it like a baby bird and opening my trap back up for another round. Oysters were a slimy delicacy that I only dare attempt once I’d moved across the state line into Houston and came back for a routine visit to Kenner Seafood. I wouldn’t say oysters were my best friends; more acquaintances that could be called upon to impress a new friend in casual conversation.

I did love a good serving of jambalaya, even if it was a box (gasp!) of Zatarain’s. However, I never expected I’d be overtaken by an irrational need for jambalaya when I moved to Portland this year. I made it nearly 11 months without a thought of Southern cooking; then Mardi Gras rolled around and suddenly I could not shake the daydreams of cinnamon-loaded bites of Manny Randazzo’s King Cake, with the white frosting and sprinkles gushing out the corners of my mouth (Important note: not the stock cakes smattered with overly sugared dye you find at the grocery store).

Thankfully, I had a work trip to Bend and was absolutely delighted to see “Vegan jambalaya” on the daily special at Broken Top Bottle Shop. This place boasts food “for everyone,” and I agree; from the vegan/vegetarian plates to even a doggy rice bowl, you’re sure to find something to fit your dietary needs.

The Vegan jambalaya came out beautifully plated, with dashes of Cajun seasoning on the rim and a fresh splash of arugula and mixed greens. The topping added a healthy portion of veggies you probably wouldn’t find in an authentic New Orleans restaurant, but it married the traditionally Southern dish with the health-conscious Pacific Northwestern palate.

I would recommend a visit to Broken Top Bottle Shop and plan on returning there next time I’m in town. I usually don’t get dessert, but their vegan ice cream sandwich featured local dessert shop Bonta‘s coconut gelato and it would fool any vegan-cuisine scoffer (my dairy-loving co-worker approved).

Bon appetit!

London Street Food: L’Amuse Bouche

IMG_3960
Foodie beware: one must prepare mentally and physically for a visit to the world’s capital city. I never tire of being a repeat visitor of London and with family there I make sure to frequent its cobbled streets whenever watch [and wallet] permit. Don’t believe the gossip- London offers whatever sweet, savory or salty food your palette could dream up and if you’re hoping for guidance, you’ve come to the right place.

Don’t sweat the calories- I averaged a walk of about 10 miles daily and imagine you will do the same quite easily. It’s a city that begs exploration by foot but also hosts a quite navigable transportation system. I recommend strolling and letting the wanderlust guide you to your own food destinations. This is how I’ve found my favorite spots.

If you wander the area surrounding Southward Bridge you might eventually turn your gaze upward and be drawn towards the ancient dome of St. Paul’s. You might smell the sweet-laced yeast of French crêpes rising from a 5×5 striped tent and lose control of your salivary glands like I did.

The quaint pop-up coupled with the charming hand-written a-frame menu highlights the authenticity and the French natives pouring the batter as you watch completes the mood. Choices range from sweet to salty, but the La Goaty’s onion chutney offered a slightly unusual add-on that reeled me in.

After cooking the meal, the vendor folds the crêpe into a paper plate and thirds it neatly into a portable cone that makes it the perfect food for grab & go fare. As usual, I couldn’t wait to sit down to try a bite. The flesh of the pancake was pleasantly crisp with the sweetness of real butter used to lubricate the simplistic griddle. The meal married the tangy twinge of goat’s cheese with a faintly bitter but undeniably sweet onion chutney and the spinach soaked in both flavors perfectly.

I took my meal to the stone seating area steps from St. Paul’s and watched as the pigeons stayed near hoping for a fallen morsel.

IMG_3959

Morning Glory Cafe in Eugene, OR

IMG_3844

I joyfully found myself in Eugene on business once more this past weekend. I gave Morning Glory Cafe a visit last time around but wasn’t impressed- HOWEVER, I did get about the most healthy item on the menu so I figured I’d go back and try out a specialty and they did not disappoint.

The Happy Morning Sandwich is vegan, reasonably healthy, and chock full of southern comfort of its own twist. What makes Morning Glory Cafe’s dishes unique is a hint of dill. A scratch-made biscuit enfolds a soysage patty, tofu patty, and a cream cheese spread accentuates the savory bread with their signature herb. Sensuous gravy smothers the side of cubed breakfast potatoes yet remains subtly salty.

The portions at the cafe are hearty, leaving you with a satisfactory follow-up meal. If you’re looking for a meal in a rush, do not go here. The staff is laid back and not in a hurry to seat you (I waited about 15 minutes after being asked by almost every waiter whether I’d been helped or not). This however is the charming part about Eugene as a community and can be partially avoided by going on any other day except Sunday.

Bon appetit!

Cornbread Cafe – Eugene, OR

Cornbread Cafe, BBQ seitan plate
Cornbread Cafe, BBQ seitan plate

Vegan Comfort Food in Eugene, Oregon

It’s a pretty established fact that if you’re of the Vegan persuasion, Oregon is the place to go; this truth is what spawned a spur-of-the-moment holiday to visit a friend one February that would eventually lead to starting a new home in Portland, Oregon.

Not two hours south is a quaint hippie town called Eugene, home to some exceptionally stellar natural products established long before it was in fashion. Arguably the best vegan food you can find in Eugene is at Cornbread Cafe. The Food Network’s Guy Fieri’s autograph is found etched above the cash register as you first make your way through the brick hovel. It resonates an uncanny fifties vibe that establishes the home-cooked handiwork to come and sets your salivary glands into motion.

I frequently head down to Eugene for business and I’m not ashamed to say that every time I go, I know that I’ll be vistiing cornbread cafe for a plate of undeniably authentic vegan comfort food that hold its weight with the traditional form. If you don’t believe me take a look at the photo and imagine sinking your teeth into BBQ seitan that bounces back with the chewy consistency of a pork chop. Upon first bite, the savory gravy forming a welcomed pool above a snowball of mashed potatoes gently shocks your taste buds with a kiss of salt that will send you into ecstasy.

If that’s not enough, if you sit at the diner-style bar in front of the short order cook window, there’s a refrigerated box of sweet goodness ranging from coconut cream pie to cheesecake in a jar. I’ve yet to sample the desserts, but that’s what return visits are for!

Be sure to stop by Cornbread Cafe if you’re in Eugene- I’m sure they’ll make a repeat offender out of you to.