Skip to content

Monthly Archives: October 2007

Bar-B Right on ‘Cue

As I mentioned last week, I left Portland on the Monday night red eye in order to get back to Chicago for work on Tuesday. Traveling in the middle of the night meant very little sleep. It also meant more time for going out to dinner with my family. Mango Mama was all set to take us out for tapas at the brand new hot spot Toro Bravo, but that was not meant to be. A writeup in a city magazine and a review in The Oregonian meant everyone and their mom was there to give it a try. When we arrived the hostess told us the wait would be an hour. We decided to go looking for something else to eat, and we only ended up going to the end of the block. There we found Russell Street Bar-B-Que, a down-home, but hip, all-out meat haven.

BrisketAs only a barbecue joint in the Pacific Northwest could do, Russell Street pulls its barbecue styles from all across the South, including Virginia, Texas and North Carolina. There are five different sauces, including three degrees of a Virginia tomato-based option, a Kentucky-style sweet-hot mustard sauce and a spicy North Carolina vinegar. All meat is vegetarian-fed, and all fish is wild. Among the menu options are pork and beef ribs, pulled pork and barbecued wild salmon. And, in a very Portland turn, Russell Street also serves smoked and grilled tofu for the vegetarians and vegans. Needless to say, we stuck to meat.

ribsDaddy Salmon and I tried the Texas-style smoked beef brisket (pictured above) topped with the medium Virginia sauce and with all of the other sauces to sample. The meat was soft, falling apart at the touch of a fork. It was tasty, although it could have been a little bit fattier and more moist. The entrees came with cornbread (so-so) and two sides. I tried mixed sauteed greens and barbecue beans with bits of meat, both of which were excellent. Mango Mama tried a tasty smoked meatloaf made with a mixture of pork and beef. Trader Joanna opted toward the healthier choice of a barbecued chicken breast, but she couldn’t resist the crispy handmade fries. The most impressive dish was Flava Flav’s beef ribs (pictured here). The menu said they would make you feel like Fred Flinstone, and these massive meat-laden bones fit the bill perfectly. The meat was rich and delicious, and Flava Flav did her best to eat as much as she could. She took the rest home along with the bare bones so our dogs Mattie and Athena could enjoy the meal too.

I was more than sated when they all drove me to the airport afterward and waved goodbye. I’ll have to bring Empanada Boy back to Russell Street the next time we’re in Portland.

Russell Street Bar-B-Que
325 NE Russell St.
Portland, OR 97212

Russell Street Bar.B.Que in Portland

Oregon’s Autumnal Bounty

peppersIt’s taken me a while to write this post because I’ve been exceptionally busy in the last few days. In part this was because of a last minute trip to Portland, which got me home at 5 am on Tuesday. Despite the unfortunate schedule for the return flight, I had a fabulous time in Portland and ate very well. I will tell you all about it, but first I have an important announcement:

Yesterday (October 23, 2007) was the one-year anniversary of The Mango Lassie. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe that this blog— which has become so much a part of your weekly routine— was ever not in existence. Many of you have been loyal readers from the beginning, and I thank you for your support. The Mango Lassie will continue to grow and change as time passes, but it will only be able to do so with your constant commitment to reading each week’s entry. Please keep reading and eating well, and tell all your friends to do the same.

GourdsNow, on to my first great culinary experience during my short jaunt to Portland. On Sunday morning Mango Mama, Daddy Salmon, Flava Flav, Trader Joanna and I went to the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market in Southwest Portland. This is also a great market for Portlanders from other neighborhoods because it’s open on Sundays unlike the rest of the Saturday markets.

As we walked around from booth to booth, shapes and vibrant colors of the fresh fruits and vegetables repeatedly took my breath away. The stunning background of reddening leaves in the distance set off the mountains of mushrooms and squash Wheelbarrows full of red, yellow and green bell peppers were like carts of precious stones put on display. The dazzlingly sunny sky made everything appear all the more bold.

RomasWe couldn’t resist some of those peppers. Mango Mama and I also bought a heavenly, rich and tangy sheep’s milk cheese, some pretty little tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower, chanterelle mushrooms and some deliciously sweet apples. Many of these items, along with Mango Mama’s excellent homemade pickles, helped form a gourmet lunch when we returned from shopping. It was a spread typical of a meal at our house: crackers, cheese, apples, pickles and a delicious, buttery raspberry shortcake made my one of the artisan bakery booths. Everyone serves themselves from an assortment of bowls and trays.

I tend to think of summer as the high time for fresh, local produce, but my autumnal farmer’s market visit made it clear why harvest festivals come in the fall. The more I contemplate the ability for so much flavorful and gorgeous food to grow even as the days get colder, the more miraculous it seems.

Hillsdale Farmers’ Market
Wilson High-Rieke Elementary Parking Lot
SW Sunset Blvd. and SW Capitol Hwy.
Portland, OR 97239

Chicago’s Got Beef

Budacki's exteriorEach day on our way to and from the train stop near our apartment, Empanada Boy and I have passed the same places. There’s a Chinese joint, a liquor store, a bar, an antique shop and a chiropractor’s office. Then comes a bold yellow sign decorated with old-fashioned circus-style writing and a picture of a giant hot dog. It’s Budacki’s Drive-In, a typical Chicago institution specializing in hot dogs, Italian beef, gyros, french fries burgers, meatball sandwiches, milkshakes and anything else that’s somewhat bad for a person. Diners order from a counter and can sit at another counter inside or move outside to picnic tables.

Empanada Boy and I managed to stay away from Budacki’s for more than a year. One day when I couldn’t be home for dinner, EB decided to try it out. His review was unmitigated; he ended up going back a second time later in the same week.

Hot DogsBudacki’s and other places like it are known for their hot dogs. The Chicago-style dog is more than a genre— it’s a religion. Like everywhere else in the city, these are all-beef numbers, locally-made by the Vienna Beef company. The ones at Budacki’s come all dressed up with mustard, pickle spears, tomatoes, relish and onions. The freshness of these accompaniments accentuates the pure, beefy flavor of these tasty dogs. Empanada Boy tried the double hot dog meal during our last visit. (Actually, I should say mylast visit since EB’s been back since.) Thin, crispy french fries come with the all of the meals. Budacki’s somewhat ridiculously advertises these as “pomme frites” on a sign outside.

Italian BeefBut EB’s favorite is the Italian beef: thinly sliced layers of beef cooked in a broth with oregano and other spices. It’s served in a crusty roll, which is often soaked in the broth used to reheat the meat. The meat is usually topped with a spicy hot pepper relish called giardinera. Italian beef is a signature Chicago dish and is apparently difficult to find outside the Chicagoland area. According to Wikipedia, Italian beef was typical of the simple, hearty fare being made and eaten by Italian Americans during the early 20th Century. It likely came to be called Italian beef by the non-Italians who started purchasing it from their neighbors. Whatever the real story is, I loved Budacki’s version. In the past I’ve been disappointed to find the beef in these sandwiches dry and a little flavorless. The meat here is tender and still wet with broth. But it’s the spicy giardinera that brings it all to life. EB convinced me to try it with mozzarella. The meat completely overshadowed the mild cheese. If anything, it helped to hold the bread together.

Now that EB and I are clued in to the greatness of Budacki’s, it will be hard for us to stay away. I will try to limit EB to once a week and hopefully wean him down to twice a month. Chicago’s hot dogs and Italian beef didn’t become tradition for no reason; these are the flavors that keep people of all ages and ethnicities coming back for more.

Budacki’s Drive-In

4739 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60625

Budacki's Drive-in in Chicago

Doughnuts: A Showdown

OutsideMadison, Wisconsin was the place to be this weekend, or so Empanada Boy and I determined. We decided to drive up after hearing that Drumstix and Popcorn Princess were having a shower for the upcoming arrival of their first child, Herbert. We also took the opportunity to catch up with EB’s friends Po’boy and Milkmaid.

After a few beers, Po’boy commented that he’d read my previous entry on Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts. He asked if I’d tried the doughnuts (donuts?) at the Greenbush Bakery in Madison. Not only had I not tried them, but EB, the true Madisonian, hadn’t tried them either. Despite our dinner and beers, Po’boy insisted we couldn’t end the night without trying some doughnuts. It was to be “Portland vs. Madison: a doughnut showdown.”

07-10greenbush-bakery-donut.jpgLike Voodoo Doughnuts, the Greenbush Bakery is open late— until 3 a.m. on Saturday nights. Unlike Voodoo, there was no crowd of drunk hipsters waiting on line outside. In fact, we were the only ones there. One thing that automatically makes the Greenbush unique is the fact that it’s kosher. This fact is advertised all over the restaurant. Another major selling point is the fact that all doughnuts are fried in trans fat-free oil.

Milkmaid and I both ordered the traditional glazed cake doughnuts. Milkmaid ordered a sour cream one, and mine was chocolate. Both were quite tasty with a pleasant density and moist interior. Unfortunately, the chocolate had very little chocolate flavor, but the tang of sour cream made both more interesting. These were better than the basic doughnuts I’ve tried at Voodoo.

OreoPo’boy and EB ordered Oreo doughnuts, fittingly made with cream fillings. I found these overly decadent and a little disgusting. EB loved them and pronounced them better than those he’d raved so much about at Voodoo. We also tried a maple-glazed round and an un-doughnut-like apple pie thing.

Both EB and I were partial to the doughnuts at the Greenbush, but EB made a good point. He said he appreciated the creativity, wackiness and sense of humor that has made Voodoo a Portland institution. Greenbush had old-school appeal, but less of the cult status. In general, I tend to agree with EB’s assessment. I don’t really like doughnuts enough to seek them out on a regular basis, but a funky atmosphere goes a long way toward enhancing their appeal. The final assessment: Voodoo wins on vibe, but the Greenbush takes the cake (if you will) on doughnut quality.

Greenbush Bakery
1305 Regent St.
Madison, WI 53715