Food Cart Capitol; Off the Carts

This one is for JC, who firmly believes that my all-from-scratch soups are oh-so-good they should be shared with the rest of the world by being readily available on supermarket shelves. My soups even scored number two on her Top Twelve of 2012 list of favorite eats– how humbling. So, naturally, while in Portland I tasted the best soup I’ve ever had, of course I thought of her.

It all started on a Tuesday night when the guinea pig and I went on a dinner date; he suggested to go someplace nice that night, not necessarily fancy but not a stand on the side of the road either. I put on my orange strap wedges and chose the venue: Farm Cafe, which ended up being a block down from our hotel. I made reservations for 7:30 and we were unusually on time. Our hostess was spacey. She wore round spectacles and short pigtailed hair and a blank expression on her face, fitting right in with the Oregon scene. We sat outside under the shelter of an umbrella; you never do know with Portland skies, and ordered  beers. The guinea pig and I both love trying all things local when we travel, especially microbrews. I did find Oregon beers a little too hoppy for my New England taste; their IPAs do not tickle my fancy. Many of our bar adventures did not include vast options of local microbrews on draft, but the Farm Cafe offered a decent variety, and I was able to avoid another hoppy IPA for a dark, heavy stout.

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We were sitting comfortably in our light jackets in the patio with lines of lightbulbs decorating a brick wall and grape vines climbing up the entryway, when our appetizers arrived, baked brie and a bowl of the soup of the day, both to share between the two of us. The guinea pig fell for appearances, diving into the fancy brie, that came hot in a white porcelain boat topped with pine nuts and strawberries that had melted in its own sweetness in the oven. I started the soup, mixing in the black pepper sprinkled on top. Oh that soup. Only inhaling its aroma and warmth was ecstatically satisfying. Beer, cheddar, and leeks. Must I say more? Executed unsurpassably. It couldn’t have been done any better; I doubt it could. It was beautifully smooth, like one of those  Venus commercials where a silk scarf slides off of their recently shaven, perfectly airbrushed legs, but all on my tongue, the background music playing and my taste buds rejoicing.

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We exchanged appetizers. I tried the brie, gooey and warm, sweet from the fresh but baked strawberries, crunchy from the pine nuts, and crispy from the crusty bread. I am a cheese-fanatic. While I have not yet met anybody who does not like melted cheese, I am admittedly a bit of an extreme. So, I surprised myself that although I had no criticism for the baked brie, I wanted the soup back. I thought, it might be my lucky day, since the guinea pig prefers his soup chunky and not blended into baby food, maybe he’ll push the bowl back without my intervention. I’d get what I want and not come off as greedy. Imagine how I felt when I heard him make love to the soup, my soup.

But could I blame him? This was a bowl blended into the perfect consistency of harmonious flavors. The good news is that my last bite, before the entrees were brought out, ended back on the soup: beer, cheddar, and leek. And all’s well that ends well.

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Surely dinner did not end at appetizers. It ended on a sweet note, with dessert. The guinea pig and I couldn’t come to a unanimous decision so we thought to get two and share; one a chocolate molten cake with coffee ice-cream, the guinea pig’s choice, and another a tart rhubarb  crumble with a scoop of cold vanilla bean melting a-top. And these came after entrees, my dijon-spicy eggplant and breadcrumb veggie-burger that came in an almost doughnut-like of a bun, and the guinea pig’s rabbit on spaetzel. Yes everything was delicious; what a wonderful dinner that was. But that soup; I will never forget that soup. If it was not the soup-of-the-day and a permanent menu item, you would have found me skipping out on the food cart scene and at the Farm Cafe every lunch and dinner with a bowl of cheddar, beer, and leek.

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JC, if you find yourself in Portland, (Portland, Oregon obviously), I do hope it’s when the Farm Cafe’s soup of the day is their cheddar, beer, and leek again.

Howl to the Moon

I have never been a fan of carbonated drinks. I am not a soda-drinker, and gag at the site of the over-sized grape sodas on the shelves of Walmart aisles that have bottled nothing more nutritious or delicious than gas, color, and sugar. San Pelligrino and Perrier are just imported waters with fancy names that allow them to wear higher price tags, but still don’t impress me as their fizz buzzes up my nostrils and carbon dioxide vainly occupies the insides of my girth completely. I have a surprisingly high-capacity stomach, able to fit bowls and bowls of cheesy carbs like a macho man, but go yellow belly when it comes to gulping glasses of gassiness, a reason I’m not a soda fan- it takes up all the stomach space leaving the food with nowhere to go. There was a time when almost the same went for beer, a bubbling liquid with low alcohol content that brimmed over my stomachs capacity before getting me the slightest bit drunk, the European of the brands earning more of my respect than the bland tasteless Americans. I know, beer fizz isn’t fairly comparable to soda fizz, beer’s naturally forming yeastiness versus soda’s injected CO2, and while I preferred the bitter notes over the artificially sweet, it still was not my drink of choice. Until I settled in the Upper Valley of New England, where everything on tap is micro-brewed local and flavorful, saving America the embarrassment Miller and Budweiser has caused to the world.

I have come to realize that the best thing to wash a burger down is a good pint, and to do that, the favored beer of cold and flu season’s peak is Howl for me. It’s crafted by Magic Hat, a brewery out of Burlington, Vermont, that is actually more widely distributed than some others, and comes bottled in their Winter Seasonal pack. The black lager with cocoa subtleness speaks to our winter needs. I will open a parenthesis here and add that the state of Vermont has earned my blind faith when it comes to food and drink, my favorites their delicious apple ciders, exquisite cheeses, voluptuous maple syrup, and well-bred micro-brews. Parenthesis closed.

Magic Hat's graphics are just as, if not more appealing than what's inside

Not every snowy night calls for a mug of mini marshmallow spotted hot cocoa. Spiked or not, a cold beer shall conquer, especially when beef between buns is involved, roofed with oozing cheeses, sweet caramelized onions, pickles, and sauce that elopes with the meat’s juices all over your hands and runs past your wrist onto your arms, and what could be better than a beer that’s not too chocolatey to take away anyone’s thunder or deviate from the purpose of being a beer, but delicately nostalgic of that mug of cocoa. And as for the fight with the fizz? I think I have overcome.