Posts Tagged ‘Portland’

Brunchbox

Brunch Box

Every time I visit Portland, I have a laundry list of new and old restaurants + food trucks to visit. And trying a few new burger joints is always at the top of my list. I’d been seeing Brunch Box near the top of Yelp for awhile now, but I don’t spend much time in SW, so I’d never been. On this occasion we were en route to Beaverton via public transportation – all of a sudden Brunch Box was on the way – AND I was hungry! Good deal.

Brunch Box is located at Food Cart Alley – more than a whole block of food card stretching from SW Stark to SW Oak on 5th street. You could go to a different place for lunch every work day for at least a month. Brunch Box opens at 8 on weekdays because you’ll note they serve breakfast, too (but I don’t think they have a brunch menu *cue snare drum and crash cymbal*).

I was excited to try a grilled-cheese-cheeseburger, which from what I can tell started as a food cart thing. Basically you make two grilled cheese sandwiches, and then throw a cheeseburger in the middle. There is no possible way to make one of these burgers even remotely healthy, so kiss your diet good-bye, at least for one meal.

Don’t worry, not every burger is a grilled-cheese-cheeseburger, but Brunch Box is definitely about outrageous, crazy burgers. As a result, I’d normally have a tough time deciding what to get, but I figured for my first time, I’d try the YouCanHasCheeseburger ($6), and I think it’s a good option. And for all the food that is packed into these burgers, the prices are quite reasonable.

A bit confusing to order at first – you fill out a laminated menu with a dry erase marker, and then leave it sitting there. I came at 2:30 PM, very much off-peak hours, but I’m impressed if they can keep stuff in the right order, since there’s not necessarily someone standing at the front to see who is in line when. I foresee it being an issue, but people seem to love this place, so I guess they have it worked out.

The mystery of how to order solved, I got the burger, and then went to find my friend, who was going for food that was…a bit on the lighter side.

Being that it was 2:30 PM on a dreary Tuesday, there was not much of a line, so I got my burger quickly. Boy does it look delicious – creamy cheese enveloped in Texas toast. Then the glistening caramelized onions, and then the burger patty which has got to be so juicy to make this burger just right. I open my mouth to take a bite…

and…

and…

and…

OH GOD it delivers. Juice going everywhere…er wait is this description helping your appetite?

But yes, this is a well-seasoned, cooked-to-perfection beef patty (with more cheese melted atop the burger). It will make you forget all those times you were served a lifeless industrial frozen patty that was bland and dry. Every bite is packed with flavor, yet somehow the American cheese orgy in your mouth isn’t overpowering of the meat flavor. I imagine the grilled onions have something to do with that. Also, shockingly, four pieces of Texas toast isn’t a ratio-killer. I’d attribute this fact to the makings of Texas toast – soft and buttery bread soaks up all those wonderful juices, but is thick enough to keep the structure from collapsing into a soggy mess.

In the fairness of disclosure, the amount of cheese could cause the overall package to border on salty, so you might opt for a more modest offering if you don’t like salt that much. I, however, finished the burger quite quickly, as umami overload kept me from putting it down. As tasty as it was,  I find myself feeling like my arteries are clogging just thinking about this experience. So keep that in mind, or completely ignore it (might I recommend the latter option?)

Well, that concludes my meal at Brunch Box. Thanks for reading…hm, what? You’re imploring me: Conrad! where are the fries?! You ALWAYS get fries with your burger! Why not now!

Yes, that was the biggest question mark I felt having finished my first grilled cheese burger, too. You’re not alone. But I hate to break it to you: no fries here. No shakes either. 

Before continuing, I’d like to remind you that it’s not that my arteries didn’t feel sufficiently clogged, but rather I was quite surprised by the options offered instead of fries.

See, when I think Portland food truck, I don’t think of Lays potato chips and Coca Cola. Really, I’m craving those fresh-cut organic potatoes and local corn-syrup-free natural sodas. For $2 you can add a bag of chips and a soda (or water). But seriously, it can’t be that hard to throw a deep fryer in there. I want my fries! 😦

But this got me thinking…what aspect of Brunch Box actually is Portland-y? No fries? Heck, my burger came with American cheese! I can’t remember the last time I’ve had American cheese. I couldn’t shake the notion that someone picked up Brunch Box out of LA or Austin or any southern foodie haven and just dropped it in Portland to see if it would cause a hipster riot. Maybe hipsters think American cheese is offbeat and therefore cool? Dang now my head is spinning…

I’m not at all saying there’s anything wrong with not screaming OMGPORTLAND just because you’re located there, but I thought it was an interesting departure from the way things are done in a very proud city with such a vibrant food culture. Especially when so much of the food scene is so hipster, too.

And as I mentioned above, Brunch Box is in a cart pod of 20 or so trucks, so it’s not like you can’t walk five feet and challenge yourself to get a different side. Seriously, if you get a bag of chips and soda with your Brunch Box burger, with all the options on Food Cart Alley, you need to get yourself checked out. You can schedule it with your blood pressure test after you become addicted to the wonderful specimen that is the YouCanHasCheeseburger.

‘Nuff said. Writing this has made me quite hungry. I need to eat lunch, now.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: A-

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): B 

Keep on nomming!

Note: Apparently Brunchbox is opening a restaurant soon, according to the online menu. I’ll bet you a Redonkadonk burger that they serve fries.

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LBB fries

Little Big Burger

There are two obvious interpretations of the name:

1) Little or Big burger – your choice.

2) Little burger, Big flavor.

When I saw one was opening near my best friend’s house on SE Division Street, I knew a trip there was in my future. My interpretation, without seeing the menu, was 1), but after said friend made a trek there, he confirmed that the intent is 2). There’s an LBB in all 5 quadrants of Portland proper, so you shouldn’t have to go to far, wherever you’re located.

Once I finally saw the sprawling menu (you can see it on the homepage), it seemed like LBB was channeling it’s inner In-n-Out – keep it simple and straightforward. Fine by me, so long as the burger is good! I actually didn’t mind at this particular moment that the burger wouldn’t be huge – it was already pushing 2:30 PM, and I had plans to cook dinner on this particular evening.

I ordered a cheeseburger ($3.75) with chevre, and an order of fries ($2.75). Note there are milkshakes here, but there is a root beer float, as well as a good [canned/bottled] beer selection that’s not mentioned on the online menu.

Unsurprisingly, this is an order-at-the-counter establishment, so we ordered, then sat ourselves at one of the few tables inside. You’ll notice LBB is a decent takeout option.

When I went up to the counter to get my burger, the first thought I had was, yes, it’s little. If I didn’t know what to expect, yeah, I might’ve felt a little let down. But really, it’s just my mind playing a trick on me. A 1/4 lb. burger isn’t all that uncommon – it’s just usually served as a thin patty to cover more surface area. But that often makes for a flimsy dry patty (think typical fast food – those are usually flimsy 1/4 lb. patties). So the way LBB serves the burger, you’re going to get less “bites” (but they’ll be much higher quality, if the patty is cooked correctly).

And boy am I happy to say, the burger was cooked to perfection. Juice oozed out with every bite, and any letdown I felt was immediately replaced with umami. And the x-factor of this burger must not be left out, either. The chevre was a neat twist – not only did it add a nice creaminess, it also mixed really well with the burger as a whole, and gave the burger a bit more depth than your standard cheddar or jack cheese.

The compactness of the burger also forced me to take smaller bites, which led to me eating slower (and savoring each bite more), which led to me feeling fuller – really not a bad thing at all. The “little” burger served here is actually a great idea; however, I think the business just needs to make their product a bit more known to passersby, so that there isn’t that confusion of “wait, that’s it?” Our brains are powerful entities!

That said, I don’t see why the option of a double cheeseburger isn’t on the menu – doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request. But honestly, if you’re OK with getting a double cheeseburger, what’s a few more carbs in that second bun? 🙂

And just so we’re clear:

LBB patty = 1/4 lb.

In-n-Out Double-double (2 patties) = 1/4 lb.

LBB fries

 

I’m not so sure about the fries ($2.75). It may have just been my experience, but something tasted a little bit off. The fries are served with one of the era’s most polarizing ingredients – truffle oil. I’m not a huge proponent of truffle oil (a bias which may have something to do with my enjoyment of Anthony Bourdain’s writings + No Reservations (see Croatia episode) – he hates it); to me it’s fine, but I don’t really see why it’s a necessary addition to food. My preferred encounter with truffle oil is as a component of a truffle mayo or aioli…

But yes, the fries, something was awry here. I’m not sure if the frying oil was burnt, or if the fries were just overcooked, but something was a bit off – a bit disconcerting. Unfortunately, that wasn’t it; rather, another battle was taking place. The truffle oil and the house ketchup (Camden’s Catsup), didn’t mix well on the palate. The strong, earthy truffle taste was fighting the bold spices in the ketchup, and the result just amplified that burnt sensation, and I eventually just finished the fries without ketchup, and then just ate some of the ketchup. There’s the start of something good here, but the flaws stood out to me, here. That said, the portion size is huge, so you’re probably pretty safe splitting an order of fries, especially if you’re not sure about going for a second burger (you can haz, and you should haz more cheezburger, in case you were wondering). Cost of two cheeseburgers (yes, that’s half a pound) and half an order of fries? Under $9.

As a side note, Camden’s Catsup is really good – spicy, and not overly sweet – definitely a far cry from your standard Heinz Ketchup. But the flavors are really bold, so you don’t need too much of it for the full effect. And as I just mentioned above, it perhaps doesn’t mix as straightforwardly with other flavor combinations as does generic ketchup.

Even as we were headed out the door, I strongly toyed with the idea of getting another burger for the road, but it was a late lunch (almost 3PM at this point), and I figured I’d enjoy my satisfied-but-not-overfull state of being.

My main advice would just be to know what the restaurant name means ahead of time, and you won’t feel “let down” by what you’re served. That’s all mental – if you get past that, you’re going to find a really juicy, flavorful burger. The name Little Big Burger is definitely true – it’s a little burger with big flavor. I just wish they’d make that connotation a bit more obvious to those not in the know.

Will definitely go back, even if for a afternoon snack!

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: B+

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): B

Keep on nomming!

 

 

Lardo

Lardo

To be quite honest, I’m not sure if I should expect a restaurant paying homage to the delicious pig to cook a delicious burger. On one hand, meat is meat, but on the other hand, there are so many things you can do at a pork-themed restaurant before you make a beef burger (not that I am complaining, mind you).

The short answer is that hands down, Lardo makes one of the best burgers this side of anywhere and everywhere. I came upon a recommendation of Lardo from a good buddy in the Bay Area, who was in town early for the same event as me. He just so happened to be walking on the same side of SE Hawthorne at the exact same time as us – complete coincidence. He’d just eaten at Lardo, said the burger was amazing, and that we should definitely try it. We were headed to Cartopia, but burger you say? OK, Lardo it is. I returned a second time that trip, and two more times on my next trip. Half the reason I love Portland is for the food, so if there’s a place I’m going to twice in one trip, you can rest assured there is something at said eatery with which I am simply in love.

So let’s meet my object of affection: the Lardo Double Burger. Two patties stacked with Oregon cheddar, Lardo sauce and a thick slice of, that’s right, pork belly ($8). The burger is definitely not for the faint of heart, as it oozes two types of meat juice in every bite. It’s definitely an umami overload, so be prepared for some serious richness. The Lardo sauce is another rich element, but it has a bit of a kick which has a net cutting-down effect to the dish as a whole.

This delicacy is held together by a fantastic fresh bun which somehow manages to absorb all the juice without becoming soggy. The bun top is pretty big, but the bread is so light that the portioning is pretty much right on. Lest you think the burger is a work of perfect architecture, it is held together with a mini wooden steak garnished with a slice of pickle.

But the best part is when you take that first bite. It’s always a good sign when I bite into a big burger and all these wonderful juices flow into my mouth, onto my plate for fry-dipping, and quite possibly onto my clothes, as well. Maybe I’m getting that extra bit of melting sensation from a thick slice of cheese. But what’s this extra juicy, melty, salty thing sending my taste buds over the savory edge?  Why, that’s the humble pork belly – until not so long ago one of the most underrated ingredients…ever. Because the pork belly, when correctly cooked (as it is at Lardo), will melt in your mouth, it offers a more sublime burgering experience than its extremely close relative of bacon. Pork belly just sings umami, and add it to this burger, and you’ve got umami overload. And you just might get some crispy bits too, which add for a nice change of pace while you’re chowing down.

Another neat thing about this burger, is that despite all the different elements going on here, the size is not too big, and not too small, and everything really works in perfect harmony…if you’re down with very rich flavors. But I think you get the point about the richness by now. As a side note, I didn’t realize that “double burger” actually referred to two patties – I thought it was patty + belly. Which just goes to show you the soundness of architecture this burger boasts – both patties balance nicely!

And don’t you DARE forget the fries. Naturally, the Lardo fries ($4) are fried in, well, do I even need to make you salivate any more? Not only that, but they’re topped with parmesan and deep-fried rosemary. Deep frying fresh herbs is one of the best little cooking secrets around, in my opinion, as it makes stringy herbs crunchy and very edible without taking away their namesake qualities.

Deep fried rosemary on fries? Puts them over the top as some of the best fries out there. There’s also an amped up version, the Dirty Fries ($6), which also have pork scraps. I should try those one day…

One small gripe I have is that there’s no small portion of fries. If you’re coming here by yourself, you’re kinda stuck getting the one size, and it could be a little much with your main dish. My thinking is that it would be convenient to have an “add fries” option. Given the portion size, though, I have no complaints about the price, and also, just come with a friend: a burger + splitting an order of fries is only $10 + tip. Seriously, this sizing is my only slight complaint, if you can even call it that.

There’s also a good selection of beers and barleywines, and I’m pretty tempted by the mimosas by the pint. Yeah, I had to read that a couple times myself, too.

There isn’t much seating inside, unless you want to wait for a few minutes (Lardo is order-at-the-counter, so waiting for a table a few minutes works fine), but come in the warmer months and there are tons of tables set up outside for slow-paced gatherings, and in the winter, the same tables are covered from the elements with easy access to the restaurants interior.

As an aside, on my various trips here, my friends have eaten most of the menu, and while there hasn’t been a miss yet, the burger has yet to receive less than three thumbs up. So if you aren’t looking to clog your arteries, why are you coming here you’ll probably find something else a bit less intense to suite your pork fantasies. I’m not sure if I’ll ever try anything else beyond a taste of a friend’s because, well, read above. There’s also a milkshake food truck associated with Lardo, if you desire some sweet with/after your meal.

But yeah, who am I kidding, this is one of my favorite burgers out there. I literally have not a single complaint with it, and the accoutrements simply elevate it to an umami-nirvanic heaven.

It is one of the most flavorful burgers I have ever had. I can give it no other rating.

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: A+

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): A

Keep on nomming!

 

Violetta

So maybe it’s not the most flattering picture ever, but these things happen when you have a nice burger in front of you that is just asking to be chomped on!

Noah and I decided for an additional burger stop, we would head to Director’s Park to go to Violetta (same owners as the food cart Etta). Violetta is another order at the counter restaurant. You then have your choice of sitting inside, or moving outside to the cement park (with a glass cover overhead incase of rain). Being July, we opted for eating outside. Fortunately, they bring the food right to you, despite being mixed in with people from other surrounding restaurants which share the use of the outside tables.

The outside setting in the summer is very pleasant. There is something nice about eating downtown in an area that isn’t too overcrowded, but certainly “happening” enough! I didn’t mind the wind that kept blowing our napkins because it was really a beautiful day out. Did I mention that I just love Portland?

Again splitting two burgers, we went for the Oregon Blue Burger (pictured above), as well as the classic Violetta Burger (pictured below). We also got an order of fries, with herbed aioli.

The Oregon Blue Burger is up first. It had a great burger sauce that really complemented the blue cheese, and is what stood out the most to me. I wish I had gotten a side of that sauce for the fries! Because there was a sauce present, there was less cheese, which made for a burger that was much lighter than the previous night at Killer Burger. I will get this burger again when I return.

The second burger was the basic burger. It was pretty good! I personally enjoy butter lettuce on burgers, so I had no arguments there. Although you can’t really see them in the picture, the highlight was the “10-hour tomatoes”. There was a good 20 hours of deliciousness in them, though. Regrettably, there were only about three of them on the burger (cherry tomato sized). Otherwise, though, the burger wasn’t that memorable, though it sure tasted fresh!

But the stars of today’s show, fair readers, were the fries. I know they’re expensive, but they are everything a french fry should be. Don’t skip out on them. You get a choice of one sauce. We went for the herbed aioli, which was good. Next time I will go for the harissa ketchup.

In the end, a 1/3 lb. burger with fries comes out to about $10. But if you go for the half pound option, or get some dessert, or a local specialty drink, you’re looking at around the $15 mark (which is a bit expensive). If you’re looking for a bargain burger, I’d go elsewhere, but this is a nice lunch spot, especially on a warm summer day. 

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: A-

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): B+

Keep on nomming!

Killer Burger

(12/11 update: I visited Killer Burger again this past December on my yearly New Years pilgrimage. Not only was the burger just as amazing as last time, we were thrilled to learn that the Classic or PB burger are $4.95 with bottomless fries during happy hour. Are you freakin’ kidding me? Experience +1/3 letter grade!)

OK, so we’ve established that I like burgers, and if you’re reading this blog, I suspect you do, too. But where do you draw the line for burger toppings?

Dare I ask, peanut butter?

Well, I’d been in Portland on vacation for nearing a week at this point, and had failed to have a single burger yet (what a hack). After a last-minute overnighter up to Yakima, I vowed to right this wrong. So when I heard peanut butter + bacon + pickle + burger…well yeah I had to try it.

The Killer Burger restaurant itself is pretty small (I imagine not much more than 30 covers, if my overused memory serves me correctly), so be prepared for some noise and a wait. Our experience coincided with what we had read ahead of time – you may not get a table right after you order [at the counter], but by the time your food is ready, you’ll probably find a spot to snag.

Oh right, the food. Well fortunately, when I’m eating with Noah, he’s usually amenable to the get-two-things-and-each-eat-half. Sometime cutting a burger in half can be a bit of a challenge, but it’s worth it to try moar! As they say, moar because moar!

So we went for the Peanut Butter-Pickle-Bacon burger, as well as the Teemah burger, a bleu cheese option.

I’ll start with the Teemah. Yes, we made it a double burger, having just driven back from Yakima, WA, and having not eaten since much earlier in the day. Definitely a solid bleu cheese burger, definitely not skimping out on the cheese, and you know, Oregon bleu, can’t really go wrong. A solid option if you’re not feeling adventurous. But for me, it’s not the burger that I’ll find myself distinctly remembering down the road.

But the PB-P-B burger. Wow. Delicious. Yum. Nom.

Now just to clarify, it’s not strictly peanut butter, but a sauce that heavily features peanut butter, much like a dip for appetizers at Thai restaurants. But it really complimented the burger well. Picture a cheeseburger, but…creamier! And with bacon!

Noah commented that perhaps his portion of the burger had a bit too much peanut sauce, so perhaps it works best with that optimal amount. My guess is that I had just the right amount – not to nitpick, but maybe make sure it’s spread evenly. I could definitely see it being overpowering, or just not present enough.

Searching around the internet now, I see that the side of fries is bottomless. I didn’t notice that when we ate there, but bottomless fries are always a check in my book. And they tasted good, too.

OK so what’s the downside, you’re asking?

Heaviness. With peanut butter, bacon, special sauces, cheese, it really adds up fast. By the end of the meal, I was really struggling to finish because eventually it just becomes so much. So even though the burgers were great, but could I really see myself coming here all that often? Probably not. But it would be a great once-in-a-while sort of joint because it really is tasty!

One advantage about Portland is that there is no sales tax, so the price tag is always that much cheaper. A burger and fries here runs you about $10, and I promise, you’ll leave full. But maybe too full. Come with an empty stomach, and you’ll get to enjoy a killer burger.

And be adventurous. Get the PB-B-P burger. And if you do go there, let me know about the unlimited fries. I should be more observant :).

It’s burger time in Portland! We’re making another stop tomorrow!

The Last Bite:

Burger Rating: A-

Overall Experience (sides, service, cleanliness, price, etc.): A

Never stop nomming!