East Moreland Market & Kitchen serving some of the best sandwiches in Portland
(or anywhere else for that matter)
In the last few weeks, I've rediscovered a fabulous small market, tucked away on a quiet residential street in the heart of the East Moreland neighborhood in South East Portland. They serve the most wonderful sandwiches at lunchtime, and they are so good that it got me to thinking about sandwiches, one of my favorite food categories. I started thinking about some of the memorable sandwiches I've ever eaten from my travels and the cities I've spent a lot of time in. So forgive my long and obsessive recollections of sandwiches. And if you're in the vicinity of one of Portland prettiest neighborhoods, you owe it to yourself to come to this friendly and quaint market to buy groceries, wines, meats or have a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine. But don't forget to treat yourself to one of their many incredible sandwiches. You'll go back again and again and again.
The sandwich has alway been a marvelous invention. But they need to be carefully made. A heavy hand can turn a meatball sub into an acid-reflux nightmare. Everyone has their own personal likes and dislikes. Relish in tuna salad, for instance, makes me violent. I have memories of sandwiches that stretch back to my childhood. We never ate ham, salami, roast beef or turkey sandwiches until my brothers and I were well into our teens. Peanut butter and jelly, tuna salad and bologna were my daily lunch fare. The minute I had a job selling flowers all over San Francisco where I grew up and earned my own money and independence, I began to assert my own adventurous sandwich palate.
There was a small supermarket with a butcher across the street from our home in the Sunset district. The butcher roasted chickens and turkeys and also had cold cuts that I loved, particularly Italian salami, which I had them pile high on sour dough rolls with provolone or swiss cheese, yellow mustard (hadn't been exposed to Dijon yet) and shredded lettuce. They were addictive. My twin brother dated a young girl whose parents had a small, but very nice breakfast and luncheon shop in the main business area of the Mission district, right near the flower show where we bought our roses. They made a grilled tuna and Swiss cheese combination that was as close to a perfect sandwich as I ever got. The rye was grilled with butter to a golden hue, and stuffed with tuna and Swiss that melted. Served with coleslaw and a dill pickle, it was my go-to sandwich from that neighborhood.
Muffuletta: Layer upon layer ham, salumi, mortadella, swiss and provolone.Topped with special
house made pickled vegetable, olive salad, on ciabatta
San Francisco in the 60s had many German-style "hoffbrau" restaurants that specialized in steam table cooked foods. Not much in these popular restaurants interested me except their sandwiches. There was roast beef, or turkey or corned beef, sliced to order and piled high on rye bread or your roll of choice with mustard or mayonnaise or both. Roast beef sandwiches were served on rolls dipped in a beefy, fatty and thin broth called a French dip. While I enjoyed them on occasion they were the precursors of the kind of overstuffed deli sandwiches served regularly at the Carnegie or Stage Door delicatessens. Awkward to hold an a mess to eat, they were never really my cup of tea.
Two more San Francisco sandwiches are remembered from my youth: I recall a tiny, crazy busy financial district takeout shop where I would often meet my mother or friends, order a sandwich and sit in the park for lunch, weather permitting. It was called Paoli's and sandwich I remember was a rich egg salad with a thick layer of minced black "California" olives served on a dark pumpernickel bread. It was a spectacular sandwich, filled without the contents falling all over you as you continued to chew your way through it. The egg salad only had mayonnaise, but it was balanced and the saltiness of the olives complimented the bland richness of the egg salad. My final sandwich memory is of course, Mel's Diner. When I was a teenager, I hung out a lot at Mel's on Mission Street near Vaness Avenue. That was the era of car hop waitresses who roller-skated to cars parked outside the restaurant and served people burgers, fries, Cokes, milkshakes, and other drive-in fare. The place was packed with cars and those girls, who were pretty, sassy and could handle themselves whenever a car diner got frisky, worked really hard to please their hungry clientele. The later it got the busier Mel's became. George Lucas would make Mel's iconic in his film, American Grafitti. Mel's served an original creation, the Patty Melt, a hamburger patty, pressed thin and grilled, served on buttered rye bread with American cheese and grilled onions. It was easier to eat than a hamburger and didn't come with lettuce and tomatoes to interfere with it's beefy-cheesey goodness. For a time it became another sandwich obsession of mine.
Chef Jesse's Mushroom-Bacon Burger at East Moreland Market & Kitchen
In New York, one can find some perfectly awful sandwiches. Most tuna salad there doesn't come close to the quality I grew up with. Your average burger is shockingly bad and carelessly made when compared to the consistently excellent versions commonly served in Portland. Good restaurants are quite capable of producing excellent sandwiches, such as a memorable Lobster roll at Cafe Luxembourg, offered as a special for $25 in 2005. Another spectacular sandwich was a whole soft shell crab, dredged in flour and sauteed until crisp and served on a ciabatta roll with arugula, sliced tomato (a brilliant red, in-season tomato), and house-made tarter sauce at a popular Pearl Oyster Bar in the west Village.
Rome is a very nice place for a sandwich. You can go old school and get a loaf of bread, some salami and cheese, a bottle of wine and a friend and sit in one of the piazzas and enjoy people watching. Romans often stand in little cafes, and eat their sandwiches, that have been prepared in the standard, old-school way: three slices of thin white bread with a variety of fillings (ham, prosciutto, tuna or egg salad, cheese, slices of cucumber on one layer or marinated red pepper strips). Some have anchovies. All are cut into elegant triangles. Pretty and tasty, these are sandwiches you'd be proud to treat your Aunt Mildred to. On my very first visit to Rome, I walked into a place I would describe as a high end Italian deli. There were prosciutto's hanging overhead. Counter were loaded with all sorts food stuffs with cases of cheese, or salumi, or little balls of cooked spinach that had been squeezed dry and could be brought home and quickly warmed or sauteed for dinner that night. The place was mobbed with shoppers and I was overwhelmed by the good looking food, the handsome packaging, the yelling servers, and the slow milling of a hungry and packed crowd. Suddenly I was pushed over to a counter of rectangular pizzas just out of the oven. I watched as customers signed how much pizza they wanted and quickly figuered out that you paid by the slice and the size of the slice. And then I saw it. A golden and crusty potato pizza sliced with olive oil and rosemary. The aroma was sensational. I motioned to the clerk and he gestured back to me: how much do you want? With two fingers, I indicated the generous width I was looking for. He cut the slice and then folded it in half, the potato insides facing each other. He then wrapped a piece of brown paper around the bottom of the folded middle and handed it to me, gesturing to where I would pay for it. I started to eat it even before I paid. A pizza slice is not a sandwich you say? Well folded in half into itself would certainly qualify for sandwich status in my book: two crusts on the outside with the potato in the middle as filler. Sandwich indeed. That insanely good pizza sandwich was a highlight of that trip. I remember going back to the neighborhood to find that shop again, which I inexplicably forgot to notate. I have retraced my steps in that neighborhood on many subsequent visits to Rome and have never found that shop. That potato pizza will haunt me for the rest of my life.
A word or two about bread. My choices are sliced sour dough, rye, pumpernickel, and whole wheat, and I've pretty much given up on eating sandwiches on rolls, though ciabatta are a good solution, and I now understand why you see people slicing rolls or Italian or French bread and pull the insides of the bread out in the preparation of the sandwich. Otherwise everything falls out of them. I never put slices of avocado on a sandwich for this reason. Mashed avocado at least stays put. Slices of avocado, even bread tend to slip out of the sides. I've become rather fond of wraps, though it is shocking how so many bad sandwiches are made with them. Tortillas are great, and I often stuff them with leftovers for lunch, or warm for breakfast with scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese. In fact a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a soft, toasted Kaiser roll is a little bit of heaven to me--please don't pass the ketchup bottle. Scrambled eggs with bloody splotches of ketchup are on my disgusting list too.
Hamburgers--I ate a ton of them when I was in my 20s, not so much before that, and before moving to Portland, barely touched them in my 30s and 40s. Portland is a city of burgers, as I discovered when I moved here in 2009. The quality of the beef that is found in hamburgers here is very high. Still all those things they pile on hamburgers just get in the way and make them a mess to eat. Tomatoes should be banned in any sandwich, they are almost always tasteless out of season. Besides ketchup takes care of the tomato flavor. Cheese and bacon add to the fat content, but are really nice additions. I don't care if it is American, cheddar, Swiss, or blue cheese. Pickles are a nice edition and with lettuce, some mayo and, you've got a complete burger. No mustard, please. That's for hot dogs, which I prefer with sweet pickle relish. Raw onion disagrees with my system, though I often risk heartburn with a thin slice of red. Foster Burger, the brainchild of Pol-Pok's resident genius, Andy Ricker and Daniel Mondok (chef of the late, lamented Sel Gris) pooled their resources and opened a funky joint in a semi-tawdry area of industrial SE Foster Blvd. They were a hit the second they opened their doors and for good reason. The Foster burger just may be the best burger I ever ate. Beefy and tender, cooked to your order (though apparently rare is against the law here), the burger is served on a delicious semi-soft bun of quality. They smear the buns with their own sauce, lettuce, pickle. It comes with the excellent house fries. Foster Burger has maintained its quality, even though Ricker and Mondok have moved on. Portland is rather proud of the quality of its burgers, and it is the rare restaurant that doesn't off their own take on this sandwich classic. Gruner, Chris Israel's special take on "Alpine Cuisine," (hardly what you would think of as a place for a hamburger) has an especially well regarded burger on its bar menu).
Without a doubt, the banh mi sandwich is the biggest discovery in the sandwich world since the creation of the Big Mac. This hybrid is from the era when France ruled Vietnam, and is a French roll stuffed with a combination of meats and vegetables, such as pork or pate or chicken, or beef with shredded carrots, hot peppers, daikon, and cilantro. In New York the banh mi can be very elaborate with crusty French baguette, duck, and other exotic ingredients. Here in Portland, the French Baguette shop is a Vietnamese bakery that specializes in delicious, inexpensive banh mi which keeps the two locations hopping. My favorite holds grilled pork, and all the veggies listed above. I add a liberal squeeze of Sriracha sauce for some extra fire. The average price for one of these fantastic creations is about $3!
Grilled Cheese is only the beginning of this beauty. There's a fried egg in there, baby arugula and pancetta as well.
recently I have found sandwich nirvana at the East Moreland Market and Kitchen. Reminding me of the small grocery market across the street from my house as a teenager, the owners (former restaurateurs) found this empty space in one of the poshest neighborhoods in Portland. The store specializes in ingredients from Spain and Italy, which means you can find all the authentic ingredients you would want to cook these cuisines. The shop has a frozen section, a fresh organic vegetable area, a butcher, offering beef, chickens, pork and house-made sausages as well as high quality charcuterie. You can purchase excellent breads and bakery desserts. But it is the freshly made sandwiches, artfully prepared by chef Jesse, that have caught my attention. I'm not a fan of the Rueben sandwich--there are too many terrible versions in New York. But East Moreland's Rueben is beyond nirvana. They slice Grand Central Bakery country rye and toast it. slathered with their house-made dressing, then stuff it with very thin slices of corned beef and house-made pickle slaw. I could eat this once a week. The ingredients, the bread, and the dressing made me forget about the grilled, greasy messes I've sampled in the past.
The first sandwich I tried here was something called the Rudy. Here's how it's described: Bocadillo de calamari. Fried calamari on a baguette with jamon serrano, manchego cheese, arugula and spicy aioli. The calamari rings are dredged in flour, smoked paprika, salt and pepper and quickly deep fried. They keep the coating very thin, so you taste the squid. The result is a salty, tangy, combination with the manchego, baby arugula, and serrano ham within the confines of an elegant, crunchy baguette . My first bite into this superb combination sent me into orbit. I often ate a Cubano at a terrific little Dominican hole-in-the-wall near my last office in New York. A Cubano is a pretty difficult sandwich to screw up. East Moreland's version is a little more elaborate than your average Cubano: house- roasted Tails and Trotter pork with mama lil peppers, pepperoncini’s, pickles and yellow mustard on ciabatta, pressed. There is a thrill in every tasty bite of this outstanding version. The Grilled Cheese is somewhat misleading: gruyere and muenster are joined by a fried egg, some crispy pancetta and baby arugula on a toasted brioche roll. I would call this the ultimate breakfast sandwich, but I keep wanting it for lunch. There are more choices to keep me coming back, such as their mushroom bacon burger, which a friend recently tried an deemed very special. I've made friends with the owner and chef and we talk food, cookbooks, the neighborhood.
The very pleasant cafe interior of the Eastmoreland Market and Kitchen
3616 Southeast Knapp Street Portland, OR 97202