When you’ve cooked professionally and catered incessantly, you can’t just walk into a shindig empty handed — or with something too slapdash. You know that you can’t get away with a simple cheese platter, or a store-bought dip or appetizer without a little razzing. People expect more. Chances are you will become invisible as you walk in the door — all eyes will be on what you are holding. And it had better be good. Not fancy, mind you — just damn tasty….
“I know good bagels, and this isn’t one of them”, one friend once sniffed dismissively when referring to an inferior product from a chain here in town. Because I knew she had spent time in New York, I understood that she found validity in using her geographic past as a critical bludgeon.
A mathemetician might write the equation as such.
X (past familiarity with exemplary product) + Y (discerning palate) + Z (ingredients x proper cooking methods) = BB (best bagel)
BB – (X or -Y + Z) = CB (Crap Bagel)
Okay, you can’t all be math geniuses so I will break it down to language you can understand. Some assume that unless you can pull out a serious bagel pedigree (having lived in New York, Los Angeles or near an artisan baker as verified by NY Times or Saveur), you can’t call crap– or manna– as you see it.
It’s like they don’t care if you like what you like; if you can’t pull out some serious creds, don’t get in the fray. Trust me — these bagel aficionados are as serious as a pulmonary embolism and you’re going to wish you had one if you get in a debate as to what you do or do not know. Let them just have this one.
But when I tell you I went to college in Montreal, believe me when I say I know good bagels — have you not heard the term MONTREAL-STYLE BAGELS? There is a reason they’ve been given their own moniker, people – this sort of bagel is the bomb. They start out with an enviable starter, are given the proper time to rise, and then hand-formed into smaller rings than the NY bagel. They are then boiled, given a short rest and then baked in a wood fired oven until they sport a blistered skin and wonderfully dense, chewy interior. God then kisses these angels and lovingly sends them along.
They are so good in fact that denizens are willing to walk in sub-zero temperatures before sunlight to secure a still-warm bag. They are that frostbite-worthy. I ate thousands of some of the best bagels on the planet for over four years, herego, I know bagels. And so when I tell you Henry Higgins is worthy of your bagel attention, listen up.
On the other hand, I grew up in Connecticut and lived on Sarah Lee bagels (basically Wonder bread with a hole) until I went to college. And during that time I loved these spongy frat boys with a fervor most girls feel only for puppies and boy bands.
So am I bagel expert or bagel ignorant?
I only bring up my seemingly conflicting creds because I want nothing from deterring you from trying Henry Higgins bagels and making up up your own mind. Just look at them. It’s like looking at the sun — stare too long and it’s not good for your eyes. But it’s hard to take your eyes off them, right? (Must be that blistered crust.)
I know all those East Coasters may want to torch my house for saying so, but for a New York style bagel, I think they are some of the best ones I have had in Portland. (A later post will talk about my favorite Montreal style bagels, Tastebud).
Does that mean there aren’t other good ones here? No. Have I tried all that is out there? Not yet- or come up empty when I have tried. More to follow.
But for now I am simply saying that I have had a lot of meh bagels and these are the the best NY style ones I have had SO FAR in Portland – and if you think there are better, let me know. In the meantime, calm down, bagel crazies, we’re just talking about a bread product. Get back to your New Yorker and let me do my thing here.
But for now, Henry Higgins. Until they open up their own brick and mortar at Foster and 65th (allegedly in next couple weeks), find them on the weekends at 537 SE Ash Street (near Grand) in their charming little storefront on the weekends or at various shops and cafes town during the rest of the week.
I brought a gaggle of teenagers and kids to HH this past weekend and it was a huge hit. The woman behind the counter couldn’t have been more accommodating. She recalled eight different orders (“so, here’s your “#1, lox on onion bagel, scallion smear, hold the onion, #2, pumperknickel buttered, not toasted, #3…”) without paper assist and with extraordinary grace and composure as the line started to grow. She wanted each one to be perfect, and they were.
You know a bagel is great when you can’t stop eating it. Like this pumpernickel with scallion cream cheese.
You know you’re a pig when you eat your entire bagel without offering up a taste to anyone else but still find the time to beg bites off of others. Like this poppy seed with lox, caper, onion and tomato.
Don’t take my word for it. Don’t let other bagel snobs persuade or dissuade. Bagels are something we don’t feel comfortable unless we’re ranking them. Stop. We don’t do that with friends– why must we with bagels? It’s not a zero-sum case for crying out loud.
Just jump on that train and hold on for its worth.
This place opened up about three years ago, and I think it has been busy since day one. Who could be surprised? Alberta Street suddenly popped with surprises. Beets roasted with coconut milk and curry leaves. Aloo Tiki – pan-fried potato patties served with green chutney. Pork vindaloo: meat braised until fork-tender with red chilies, garlic and vinegar and served with buttered rolls (fond remembrances=keyboard drools)….
Some people might take advantage of a rare 60 degree and sunny day in January by taking a long hike in Forest Park. Others might seize the opportunity to do a little mid-winter garden clean up, or even pull together an impromptu Ultimate Frisbee game.
Are they crazy? Me, nothing says doing the weather justice like pulling together some pals and eating at an outdoor food cart. Why everyone isn’t outside eating on a day like this is beyond me — haven’t you seen the forecast, people? Don’t you know it’s likely to start pouring again in just a couple days?
Okay, I can’t help others inability to see the light — and stuff their faces al fresco — but I can grab some of my nearest and dearest and hit the road. In this case, the road only as far as Mississippi and Skidmore where a couple of my favorite food carts reside inside the Mississippi Marketplace (the name given to the pod of carts anchored by Prost, a brew joint next door)….
Ideally, I will have the morning free to do all I want and need to do and I will still have time to make homemade pizza for you. Maybe madelaines, too. And how about a milkshake?
Really, Mom? No, I’m yanking your chain. I will be lucky if I can get something pulled together from what we have in the fridge and get it to school in time. Won’t just me being there be special enough? Maybe I should just do what so many other Mom’s smartly do — just grab something palatable at New Seasons or Whole Foods and dash it over. (What they bring in looks great.)…
I was thinking about C today (she’s one of my regulars on my Meals on Wheels route). I haven’t seen her lately—for the last three weeks her caregiver has told me she’s sick in bed, sleeping, or fighting a bronchial infection. I have fretted over her, and knowing her advanced age, I never know which week will be the start of a further decline, which predates a bad fall, which week may even be her last. When I walk into the MOW center to pick up my food every Wednesday morning, I never know who will still be on my list, who has moved on to either self-sufficiency, or sadly, to an assisted living center or even passed. Anything could — and has — happened.
C. is a crazy smoker with a butt forever lit and frailer and leaner than a handful of kindling but she has shown an amazing resiliency. She has survived multiple infections and multiple hospitalizations in the three years or so I have known her, but each time she seems to make it back home. In this case, her nest is an enormous Craftsman, badly in need of new carpets and updates of every possible kind but still standing proud in a neighborhood of other big boned beauties, each with its own broad shoulders, grand parlours, and magnificent stairways. …
Are you the kind of person that finds yourself dropping normal codes of behavior in the face of something extraordinarily delicious? (and if not, what’s your secret?).
Most of the time, I feel like I can be counted on to be fairly courteous, somewhat compassionate, and at least passably read social cues and respond appropriately. I play nice, give others their due, go with the flow.
Notice the usage of the modifier most.
When, however, I am in the midst of either a paucity or abundance of said deliciousness, I seem to forget myself. All Emily Post-niceness and good form goes out the window. And then out of said window, good form finds a grubby little motel, pays in cash for the night, and refuses to call her parents to check in.
In the case when deliciousness is in short supply, my unbecoming behavior always begins with the knowledge that I am not alone in recognizing something really scrumptious and that means requests for sharing. Knowing my company, I brace myself for the inevitable request. “Ooh, that looks great. Can I have a bite?
Okay, but how much I have left will determine how graciously or ungraciously I acquiesce. If I am only one or two bites in and much of the journey still awaits me, I can be pretty civil, and on a good day, I may even be the first one to jump in to offer a bite.
If, however, I am nearing the end of my edible bliss and then you jump in, I will probably still accede to the request but don’t expect me to look enthused by your late interest in my food, and I will most definitely be watching you like a hawk to make sure you don’t overstep your bounds (one new love interest made the mistake of finishing a particularly memorable meatball sandwich of mine and that was one of the last meals we ever shared.).
I am worse than a 3 year with a brand new Lego set – I am a greedy little wench and sharing is not something I want to do.
Same goes for abundance. If I am overwhelmed with volume on an especially toothsome morsel, I find myself in the throws of gluttony—and I just seem to forget what is appropriate. I want more, more, more – and convention and niceties be damned.
Take the bat mitzvah of one of my dear friend’s daughter. I knew it was being catered by Meat Cheese Bread (a sandwich shop that also does some catering) and I had heard raves about it, but had yet to stop by their tiny Buckman neighborhood spot. When I got to their party and I saw all the gorgeously laid out sandwiches during the event (turkey with avocado and bacon, beet BLT, and flank steak sandwich with pickled onion), I delved into one sandwich and then another and then another, stopping only to enjoy some red wine and the stellar potato salad (also from MCB) there.
When, at the end of the evening my girlfriend told me I should take some leftovers home, I pounced. No, “Oh, I shouldn’t – you have relatives in town (which she did).” Not a single demurring “Maybe just one – all that will hold for your husband’s office.” No. It is like I forgot decorum – and I crammed that little to-go box with as many steak sandwiches halves as I could fit in one box. Understand, I didn’t say how many I could comfortably fit in the box, or how many would be appropriate to take, but literally, as MUCH FOOD AS I COULD FIT IN THAT BOX. I didn’t care that they were getting mashed – I was laying them all sorts of ways so I could maximize filled cubic inches, leaving nary an unfilled inch unfilled.
Ever seen a clown car empty its contents? That’s what it looked like when I opened up that box at home later as my husband watched slack-jawed with equal parts horror for the gluttony and begrudging respect for the inventiveness with which I approached the problem of such a small box and such a big appetite (word to the wise: pretend that the box doesn’t close and use napkin to disguise bulging contents, much like a pulled out shirt over pants that won’t zip up. Not that has ever happened to me. Ever.).
Truth be told, those 6 halves of sandwiches were all I ate for the next 24 hours. I didn’t care what anyone else in my family ate—I made the kids a morning smoothie (somewhere between sandwich half one and half two) and I was done cooking for the day – I told my husband to pick up a pizza and make himself his own sandwich as I didn’t think I had enough leftovers to share with him. Nice sharing, right? (I warned you it wouldn’t be pretty).
I had steak sandwiches with coffee in the morning, I had them with a Diet Coke throughout the afternoon, and I had them with a glass of red wine at supper. Even though they were getting a little soggy the day after the event, they were still delicious and when I was finished with the last one, I felt suddenly sad. I missed them. Like a paramour who visits for a long weekend and then afterward when you suddenly find yourself alone, you find yourself pining away. Reliving all the good moments, a happy loop of memories– in this case, my loop just happened to involve globs of blue cheese and crunchy Ciabatta.
A week or so later I remembered them and reminded myself that I am an adult (by name only, sometimes) and that the good times didn’t have to end. I sent my husband to go retrieve some (“remember those sandwiches I was too greedy to share fully? You can change all that with one simple drive”) and I was back in sandwich business. Did I want to try some of the other sandwiches that were surely as deserving as their steak brethren? No. Park Kitchen Sandwich was all I could dream of – with a side of that stuff-me silly potato salad that I remembered so fondly.
I have been back probably six or seven times in the three months that we – I am talking about Park and me—first met, and each date is as memorable as the last. A sandwich’s success hangs on its bread, and the Fleur de Lys Ciabatta roll that holds it all together is a solid team player with the broad, solid shoulders required to hold it all together and the soft, fluffy interior necessary to sop up all the blue-cheesy, vinaigrette-y goodness. They say it is flank (although it looks like finely shaved roast beef to me, but who cares, you can call it the guano if it tastes that good) and its thinness perfectly holds all the juices herein and intermingle saucily with the pickled red onions. Each bite hits the notes of tangy, rich and pickled – you provide the mouth, MCB provides the party.
Take a minute to take it in. See that little glob of blue cheese inside that tangle of dressed greens? Not every bite will taste of it, but when you bite down on it, imagine it like a flavor grenade—ready to detonate an explosion of tangy creaminess. The pickled onions offer a piquant respite from such richness while the steak offers the chewy backbone. It’s that balancing act that has me intrigued every time (like the best steak salad you could enjoy given a big Ciabatta hug).
Oh, and that potato salad! So few do this well, and this one rules the roost. Cherubic red potatoes cooked until tender and then some, allowing them to mush slightly and hold all the kick of vinegar (wine or white vinegar?) and flavored to the hilt with a preponderance of green onion. It is a strong enough public speaker than it can perform without an assist from another or crib notes. This is a side salad with sex appeal and I dare you to take your eyes off—or fork out—of it.
Is it ridiculous to post a review based on one sandwich? Ask the Louvre marketing department if they are comfortable using a pic of Mona Lisa as a representation of the caliber of art work displayed there. And not to quibble, ( which of course means I am about to go quibble-bonkers on you)’ I’ve had three of their sandwiches and one of their sides and they are exemplary if not of exalted Park status).
Will I try other sandwiches from MCB? Yes, eventually. I am very curious about their much lauded green bean, bacon and egg sandwich – and I hear their breakfast burrito with green chilies and scrambled egg knocks it out of the ballpark, too. Even the front desk guy who knows my husband lol too well has not so-gently recommended it might be time to branch out, try dating new sandwiches for a while.
But allow Park and I have to but a few more times together. And for God’s sake, out of the sharing zone. As Yoda might say, Alone, we must be.
Soup in the fridge is like money in your checking account – it’s readily available for immediate personal expenditures, can be moved with ease to savings (your freezer), or held short term for barter. Need to thank someone for something they did for you – perhaps they picked up your kid, shared their expertise, or dropped off something yummy unexpectedly. Give them soup. I doubt not one person will turn you down — you not only showed your gratitude but you also helped them solve a problem of their own, aka what to eat and soup’s versatility allows them to make their own decisions (spend?save?share?). Money, baby….
Know that feeling when you sit down for Mexican food – be it a taco from a hole-in-the-wall, a bowl from Porque No? or a burrito from Chipotle and you take that first bite of the chip… don’t you feel just a frisson of excitement in the moment as you lead it to your craw? Will it be wonderful? All crunch, minimum grease, pure corn? Will it be a starring player or an afterthought best relegated to the prop closet? I find there are few certainties in life and even fewer in the tortilla world, and even a place I have come to count on for killing it one day with the chips drops the ball the next time. Alas.
And then here’s the thing about a store-bought tortilla chips – if fresh, they run from decent to slightly above average, corny-ness arm-wrestling grease in a war to see which flavor wins. Salt anoints the result. Seemingly, most tortilla chips are purchased to be a Sherpa for their traditional journeymen – the brawny guacamole and the oft-sloppy salsas. With such weighty and strongly seasoned toppings to transport, their approval ratings are too often based on how well they fulfilled their role. How else to explain the big boys of the snack world morphing the tortilla chip into uniform strips, huggable boats, diminutive cups, and saucer like rounds? With such deep pockets, I am sure the multi-national snack scions have done sufficient research that has ultimately told them – AMERICANS WANT THE BEST DIP DELIVERY SYSTEM OUT THERE.
(Now I love my salty snacks more than the next girl, but for purity of the tortilla chip discussion, here I will not address the further adulteration of the tortilla chip that involves additional flavorings agents or powders).
Enter Juanita’s Chips. Made in Hood River (a cartoon-length drive away for out-of-state readers), these humble chips have cracked the code of crunch, and each bite is a revelation. Ingredients: “STONEGROUND CORN MASA FLOUR, TRACE OF LIME, VEGETABLE OIL (CANOLA OIL OR SOYBEAN OIL), SALT AND WATER.” Dare I say “and pixie dust”?
Open a bag and you will see what I mean. Breathe in deeply. Let the waft of corn aromas envelope you, look at the glistening beads of salt. Pick one up – they aren’t perfectly formed, all the better, and look at the little blisters on the chip which tells you somebody’s frying smart – and quickly (just a guess from my own experience). Prepare for the snap of the chip – don’t be surprised if parts and shatter upon first bite. Ride the mellow corn ride as you chew and savor the last snap of saline goodness and that tiniest bit of lime, barely discernable but sufficient to cut through the richness of the chip and leave you wanting more and more and more. Screw the guacamole – I could eat half a jumbo bag without stopping. And here’s the thing – tightly closed, this bag (if it survives initial plundering), continues to hold its charms for days on end.
Juanita, how do you do it? Have you made a pact with the devil to deliver such a binge-inducing product? Don’t you know once opened I am powerless to resist you? Do you know that I had to lie to my kids the other day because they caught me sneaking a handful at 7 a.m. and asked incredulously what I was doing—and all I could do was offer a pathetic “I’m testing them for freshness for your lunch snack reply”. Really, 8 chips are necessary for freshness test?
Oh, Juanita, whatever you do. Keep ‘em rolling – I can always buy bigger jeans.