First stop: Mississippi Marketplace—ten food carts that form an "L" shape around the German brew pub, Prost. It's located in the heart of the Historic Mississippi District at the corner of Mississippi and Skidmore.
At the apex of the "L" are three vegan food carts: The Ruby Dragon, The Sushi Tree, and Native Bowl.
Mississippi Marketplace is the vision of businessman Roger Goldingay, who according to an October 2009 article in The Oregonian converted "a dilapidated building and an abandoned lot into a food-cart center, a community gathering place, and an incubator for small artisan businesses focused on food and crafts." The entire cart space is constructed on eco-friendly, permeable asphalt with native plant landscaping. Cart-hoppers can enjoy their food at canvas-shaded tables or on Prost's expansive deck, where smiling waitresses serve eleven different imported German beers. (In winter months, a beverage purchase from the bar allows you to stay warm and dry and enjoy your food-cart meal indoors.)
The atmosphere at Mississippi Marketplace on this delightfully sunny Sunday was fun and festive, almost like a carnival or Oktoberfest in spring! I parked myself at Native Bowl, and just watched the action for a while, observing happy customers come and go. Julie Hasson and her husband, Jay, are Native Bowl's owner/operators.
I recently met Julie at the Portland Food Cart Festival, where we quickly became friends. I'm a fan of her online vegan cooking show, Everyday Dish TV, and I couldn't wait to visit Native Bowl and wrap my lips around some of her fabulously inventive vegan cuisine.
Each of her native bowls are a combination of fresh vegetables and grilled tofu or soy curls in flavorful sauces on a bed of jasmine rice. Wait a minute—soy curls? What the heck are they? The funny thing is, I'd heard this phrase when I visited another wonderful food cart in Portland last fall, Homegrown Smoker. But since I didn't order them at the time, I never bothered to ask exactly what soy curls are. But more about them a bit later ... Back to Native Bowl ... Julie explained that each signature bowl is named for a street or neighborhood in Portland: There's a Mississippi Bowl, a Couch Bowl, (for out-of-towners like me, it's pronounced "kooch" not "couch"), an Alberta Bowl, and a Broadway Bowl. How cute and clever is that? I couldn't decide which one to order, as they all sounded enticing. Julie thoughtfully gave me a taste of each of the sauces, which made choosing a lot easier. I went for the Mississippi Bowl, as I am a sucker for barbecue, and it contains a luscious combination of creamy ranch dressing and two different barbecue sauces!
Looking almost too pretty to eat, Julie advises first-timers like me to mix everything up to get the most out of this dish. You can glimpse what mine looked like after a stir and several chopsticks-full, next to this little sign that was affixed to the table where I ate. Rabid reformed smoker that I am, I was very happy to see it.
How do you describe something that tastes so good that adjectives like delicious, delectable, and scrumptious just don't do it justice? I don't know, but all I can say about the combination of crunchy fresh vegetables, chewy soy curls, fragrant jasmine rice, creamy ranch dressing, and sassy barbecue sauce was enough to make me wish I lived in Portland so that I could eat at Native Bowl for lunch every day.
And if that isn't enough inspiration, here are two more gorgeous native bowls: the Alberta Bowl and the Broadway Bowl.
Okay, so back to soy curls ... Julie explained that soy curls are the clever invention of local entrepreneur Dan Butler. They're made from whole non-GMO soybeans and nothing else! Having moved away from fake meats containing isolated soy proteins, I was intrigued and enthused about soy curls. In the conventional processing of isolated soy protein, toxic chemicals like hexane (a solvent), are commonly used to release the oil. But soy curls are not processed with any chemicals. The texture of the soy curls in my Mississippi Bowl did not disappoint my taste buds, and in fact, far exceeded my expectations. They would be perfect in all kinds of recipes like fajitas, un-chicken salad, and chili, and they'd satisfy even the most hardcore omnivore's craving for something meaty in texture. I look forward to getting my hands on some soy curls and trying them in all kinds of recipes. You can learn more about soy curls, how to cook them, and where to buy them at ButlerFoods.com.
Lucky dog! Everyone can have a tasty treat at Native Bowl!
I was so full when I finished my bowl, I couldn't believe it when Julie offered me dessert: one of her Chocolate Cups a la Mode! (Think "death by chocolate" and you'll begin to have an idea of how amazing this tasted. In fact, I'm quite sure this is exactly how I want to die—while eating one of these.) It's a warm, melty, deeply rich chocolate cake topped with a scoop of Cherry Chocolate Chunk soy ice cream, and slathered in an incredible house-made chocolate sauce. You can't tell from the photograph, but what was in this cup was way beyond decadent. I thought I could only eat a spoonful or two, but remember that stupid Alka Seltzer commercial? Well, I'm gonna say it: I can't believe I ate the whole thing!
At this point you pretty much could have rolled me on out of there. But Jessica over at The Sushi Tree had something delicious to share. And anyone who knows me knows that I love really good vegan sushi. She proudly held out a plate with one of her Green Dragon Rolls, and well, I couldn't exactly refuse to taste it, could I? That would have just been rude.
The Green Dragon is a delightfully inventive mix of all sorts of yummy things like asparagus, daikon, sunflower seeds, avocado, cucumber, and cilantro that melted in my mouth. While I couldn't possibly eat a whole one of these generously sized rolls after all the other food I'd eaten, I had to take one to go. Even after the long ride home, the sushi still tasted so fresh and delicious, I wished I'd ordered more than just one for the road. (The idea of moving to Portland is becoming more appealing all the time.)
The farthest thing from my mind at this point was the idea of eating another morsel. But I had to see what kind of food was coming out of the beautiful little custom-wood-designed Ruby Dragon cart. The Abbott open-faced sandwich looked sensational, and I can't say I wasn't tempted to taste one. It's made with two huge slabs of curried tempeh dusted with a blend of sixteen Ethiopian spices, glazed with brown rice syrup, and served on toasted Dave's Killer Bread with home fries on the side. The Jade Forest Kale Salad looked equally tantalizing.
Just two days earlier, I learned of a new vegan bakery in Portland, (well, new to me, it opened in October),Back to Eden Bakery Boutique. Julie encouraged me to visit, and I thought to myself, "could there really be another vegan bakery in Portland to rival all of the sweet decadence of SweetPea Baking Company? So before heading across the steel bridge to Powell's Books, I made my way to the trendy Alberta Arts District to find out.
Oh, if only I had room for some cafe au lait, a milkshake, or an Italian soda! Click on the pic below, and just look at all those yummy flavored syrup choices!
But with a case filled with delectable-looking cupcakes, cheesecakes, truffles, pies, and layer cakes, it wasn't going to be hard to find something wonderful to take home to enjoy later with a cup of tea. Choosing what to take, was going to be the hard part!
After several minutes of vacillating back and forth between this and that, I finally decided on a scrumptious-looking Strawberry Hazelnut Layer Cake and a Pumpkin Whoopie Pie with Strawberry Filling. They were both sinfully delicious. I've never tasted strawberry frosting or filling that were so sweetly fruity. It was as though fresh strawberries had somehow just morphed themselves into buttery sweet creaminess.
I made my way to Powell's, and after selling back a bunch of books I'd purchased the last time I was there, I scored a pile of Robert Silverberg books I haven't yet read. When I got home, I cracked the first one open, poured myself a cup of tea, and settled in for the evening.
The vegan food, the energy, the people, the books ... I really do love Portland! Especially when the sun is shining!