Monday, April 20, 2015

Mediterranean Exploration Company

333 NW 13th Avenue
Happy Hour: 4 - 5:30, daily

Five days before giving birth to my baby girl, I enjoyed happy hour with friends at Mediterranean Exploration Company. It wasn't supposed to me my last hurrah. I was sure--as research had indicated--that she would be late, like most other first borns. Nope. There was no waiting around during my first days of leave. I didn't get my toes done. Never got that massage I wanted. There wasn't a chance to relax before our lives completely changed. I even went to work the day that she was born. That little girl will be eleven weeks old this Thursday. She doesn't sleep through the night...but either does the dog. She does, however, take naps. And if I've eaten and I've showered and there are clean clothes for tomorrow, I still have time to blog. I am, however, almost out of material. I guess that means I will have to head out for happy hour soon enough. And when I go, I'll be bringing her with me.

I would love to head right back to Mediterranean Exploration Company for another bite of their falafel sandwich. Perhaps my senses were heightened due to the hormones, but I'm pretty sure that I would LOVE that sandwich if I were to have another go at it now that things are somewhat back to normal. It's hard to tell by the picture (as things were so perfectly wrapped) but that sandwich was stuffed with good flavors and amazing textures. And the ratio of falafel to hummus was spot on. Included in the mix was a handful of arugula, a little tahini, and just enough s'hug. (I spend a lot of time googling ingredients--to avoid embarrassment--but this time I decided just to ask. It's a condiment, can be super spicy, and is apparently as common to Yemenites as ketchup is to Americans.) All that, and the most delicious pita. It wrapped up perfectly, didn't fall apart like so many do, and helped to balance the other flavors involved as opposed to being a bit too overpowering.

An easy dish to share with friends--and something that can stave off a little hanger, if the potential exists--is a bowl of olives. At the Mediterranean Exploration Company, they serve my favorites: the castelvetrano. Warmed and served with a little olive oil and a bay leaf, this bright green snack is something that I can't say no to. (And I don't mean just once or twice. I can't say no until the bowl is empty. It can be a problem.)

Also pictured are the Keftedes--Greek Meatballs--made with lamb, pistachio, parsley, mint, and tomato. The presentation was commendable--I know the pickled red onions were fantastic because they came on my plate too--and every meat eater at the table seemed to really enjoy the dish.

My husband enjoyed one of their seven dollar cocktails (a decent price at dinner, but a little high compared to some happy hour establishments) while I sipped on the house-made ginger ale. They also offer three dollar draft beer and seven dollar pours of wine (with one sparkling, one white, and one red made available during happy hour).

Happy Hour is limited to the bar (at the bar itself or one of the many high top tables) and things fill up rather quickly. If you are going with a crowd, plan to get there early or expect to spend most of the night standing.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Nearly Meets (it's pricey)


Mediterranean Exploration Company on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Stella Tacos

2940 NE Alberta Street
Happy Hour: 3 - 6 PM, daily

I love avocados. I love them in salads. I love them on sandwiches. I love to eat them straight from the source with nothing more than a little salt. And now I love fried avocado tacos.

Fried Avocado Tacos are on the menu at Stella Tacos for just $2.75. And they're only two bucks during happy hour. In fact, most of their tacos are just $2 during happy hour. (Only those made with seafood don't come at a discounted rate.) We stopped in for a late lunch recently and easily filled up without spending much cash at all.

With multiple veggie tacos available, I picked one of each. The Vegan Mole Taco was full of flavor and came topped with peptitas, adding just enough crunch to the mix. The Black Bean Taco included smashed beans, pickled carrots, sweet onions, jalapeƱos, queso fresco, and cilantro. And that Fried Avocado Taco--the one that will have me back for more, perhaps ordering nothing but--was topped with grilled onion slaw, roasted mushroom sauce, and fresh cheese. The texture--especially that crunch from the freshly breaded and fried avocado--and flavor combined to create an enjoyable treat that was both good for me (loaded with veggies) and not (fried foods can lead to trouble, eventually).

My husband enjoyed three meaty tacos, favoring the Shredded Brisket most of all. Also pictured--although you can barely see the Shredded Brisket in the back--is the Pollo Asado (Char-broiled Draper Valley chicken topped with shredded lettuce and an avocado creme) and a Chile Colorado (pulled pork shoulder topped with matchstick potatoes).

Although not included in the discounts, we enjoyed a (very small) side of guacamole and a bag of freshly made tortilla chips. The ratio of chip-to-dip was WAY off, but the chips had enough flavor all on their own that it wasn't too much of an issue.

Despite the name on the door, there are a few other items on the menu (including a lunch special, if you get there too early for happy hour). I'm most interested in the Alberta Bowl (topped with a chile relleno) or the breakfast Chilaquiles Tacos (available until 3 PM daily).

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets (order at the bar)
Ambiance: Meets
Value: Meets

Stella Taco on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 19, 2015

24th and Meatballs

2329 NE Glisan Street
Happy Hour: 2 - 6 PM, daily

Six dollars! Two sliders and a pint of beer (or soda) for six measly dollars. That's pretty amazing. And that's exactly what you get at 24th and Meatballs. I'm not the type to say the following, but in this situation it seems fitting to declare this happy hour deal as AMAZEBALLS. I'm guessing everyone says that about this place...and it's okay, because it's the truth.

Happy Hour pricing is available daily between 2 and 6 PM. That means you can enjoy a late lunch, an afternoon snack, or an early dinner for only a few bucks. The menu seems small--with only the slider combo listed--but when you consider all the choices you have to make with both the balls and the sauces, it's actually almost overwhelming. (And, yes there's a vegetarian option...but one with walnuts in the mix, which means this post came with a lot of help from my meat-eating husband.)

24th and Meatballs is located on NE 24th and Glisan in a corner complex called The Ocean. In it are five "micro-restaurants" with a variety of cuisines and an abundance of outdoor seating. Similar to a food cart pod, this complex is ideal for a family that just can't agree on what to have for dinner. While my husband enjoyed his sliders--one Classic Italian with Tomato Basil Sauce and one Pork Picante with Spicy Pork Sauce (pork on pork is apparently a popular choice)--I walked to Slowburger for a meat-free mini black bean burger.

Like so many Portland establishments, the restaurants at the Ocean expect you to order at the bar and bus your own table. That's not going to drop our rating for service, though. This place meets all of our expectations and we hope it meets yours too.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Service: Meets
Ambiance: Meets (especially on a nice day)
Value: Exceeds

24th & Meatballs on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Iconic Lounge

2226 NE Broadway Street
Happy Hour: 3:30 - 6:30 & ALL DAY Monday

We stopped in for Happy Hour at Iconic Lounge on what might have been the worst night for it. They were in the process of changing the menu...that very night. Not everything on the long list of discounted food items was being pulled--but enough to warrant a return visit, that's for sure. Until that happens, here's a sampling of some of the items that are still available at a discount today.

It's not just the menu that's changed since our visit. Happy Hour at the Iconic Lounge now runs seven days a week. And they've added a number of cocktails to the list of discounted drinks, all available at $5 each. Add that to the long list of food items and you've got a Happy Hour that is likely to please a crowd.

And it's definitely going to please anyone from the Lewis Clark Valley. Having spent the first eighteen years of my life in that valley, I recognize the menu items that are so well known to the people living and dining in the small towns of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. There are two--two very unusual sounding menu items--that appear on the menu at the Iconic Lounge that might just cure the homesickness (or at least lessen it just a bit) of someone from the LC Valley.

The Steak Bites--better known to those of us from the valley as Bite Size Steak--are not just named because of their size.  As a vegetarian, I can't speak to the flavor or texture but know that it's the preparation--both the marinade and the manner in which it's cooked--that makes these bites so memorable.  The second item, called the KA-Boom! on Iconic's menu, is a pizza topped with mustard, sauerkraut, Polish sausage, and sweet onions. It's a strange combination of flavors but one that I've seen on menus since I was a little girl.

It was obvious to me that the owner of the Iconic Lounge has some connection to the Lewis Clark Valley. It was also obvious that he has poured his all into this establishment. There are a lot of details--from the ingredients to the decor, the themed events, and the teamwork exhibited by the employees--that lead me to believe that the Iconic Lounge is not just a money-making attempt but a true labor of love.

The menu at Iconic includes shareables, soups & salads, sandwiches, and pizza. A number of the regular food items make a repeat appearance on the happy hour menu with a savings between three and four dollars each. We opted for the hummus plate, the deviled eggs, and a white pizza. My husband also ordered the American Pie--a personal sized pizza with pepperoni, sausage, onion, mushrooms, and olives.

The hummus plate is served with an ample amount of grilled bread, a small stack of cucumbers, and a pile of Kalamata olives resting happily on top of pickled red onions. I'm a big dipper--I like a lot of hummus with every bite--but I have a feeling that most everyone would agree that the ratio of bread to hummus was off by a lot. I felt super wasteful sending the plate away with more than half the bread remaining...and nothing else. I liked the bread--don't get me wrong; I just wanted more hummus to go with it.

Also resting on a pile of pickled red onions were the deviled eggs. These eggs were basic--no fancy add-ins or accompaniments--but had good texture and a fresh quality to them.

Trying my best to stick to the Happy Hour menu, I ordered the White Pizza. I love cheese and I love garlic, but this was a little too much for me. I ate a couple of slices but had to call it quits soon after the plate arrived. Next time, I'll stick to a pizza made with a red sauce base. The veggie pizza looks like a good choice and the vegetarian version of the American Pie would be my ideal meal. The spinach & beet salad looks really good, too. The beets are roasted and topped with apples, hazelnuts, and chevre. It's available on the Happy Hour menu with a glass of wine for just $9.99.

I will definitely be back to Iconic someday soon--and not just because I've already promised my nephew a special birthday delivery of the KaBoom! pie. They've got good snacks, a cocktail menu that I'd like to explore, and great prices during Happy Hour. Plus, they play excellent movies on two oversized screens, all day long.

Food: Meets
Drinks: Meets
Ambiance: Meets
Service: Meets
Value: Meets


Iconic on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cafe Castagna

1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Happy Hour: 5 - 6 PM & 9 - close, Tuesday through Friday

Portland does happy hour better than any city I know. Food carts, too. But we aren't just about discounts and street food. Portland's food scene is forever expanding and the talent in this city is growing at a rate that seems almost out of control. Recently, I had the opportunity to experience some of that talent at a special event hosted by Watershed Communications and Cafe Castagna.

Although we spend the majority of our blogging efforts in search of the best discounted drinks and the cheapest eats during happy hour, it's nice to get out for a fancy meal now and then. At Cafe Castagna, you can do just that--at a fixed price. I've always loved the concept of a prix fixe meal--assuming, of course, that they include a vegetarian option in every category. (Which reminds me...Portland Dining Month is just a week away. I'd better start planning.) But at Cafe Castagna, they've made things even easier. As long as you trust the chef. And having tasted some of the creations coming from Chef Wesley Johnson's kitchen, I know he's one to be trusted. For as little as $30 per person, Chef Wesley will fill your table with his favorites. Leaving it up to him means that you are getting the best pairings, the freshest ingredients, and--in many instances--the newest items to hit the menu.

We started the evening with appetizers. Available on the menu in the cafe is a plate of fried panissa--similar in both appearance and texture to polenta fries but made with a chickpea puree--for $8. These are perfect for sharing and quickly became one of the most frequently passed plates of the evening.

Also ideal for sharing and an excellent starter option is the Flatbread. Served with three small dishes of chicken liver mousse, harissa & labneh, and Turkish hummus, this dish gives everyone at the table a chance to savor some of the broad flavors that Chef Wesley has introduced to the menu at Cafe Castagna.

Charred Beets, Oven Roasted Carrots, and the most fragrant citrus salad made with grapefruit, Meyer lemons, ginger, basil, and thinly sliced charred garlic are all available on the current menu as share plates. The roasted root vegetables were not listed on the menu but paired perfectly with some of the meat dishes and made this vegetarian happier than happy. Allowing the chef to make your selections for dinner could easily equate to enjoying items NOT on the menu.

Although the majority of the plates served from here on out were meat dishes, Chef Wesley did state in his introduction that the fixed-price chef's dinner can cater specifically to vegetarians (Thank you, Chef Wesley!). One dish that he's sure to include--and that's listed on the current dinner menu--is the Celery Root and Parmesan Agnolotti, served with black trumpet mushrooms. This was, by far, my favorite dish of the evening (and I'm not just saying that because it was the only vegetarian entree available).

By the end of the evening, there were so many plates on our table that it made passing dishes from one end to the other a bit of a puzzle as there just wasn't room to set anything down. The majority of the dishes were meat entrees that I just can't comment on. Luckily, it was a blogger dinner (two back-to-back nights, in fact, of Portland's bloggers eating, talking, eating, drinking, eating, and taking pictures from every angle possible) and you can read all about it at Bakery Bingo, Serious Crust, Pechluck's Food Adventures, and Salt.Water.Coffee.

We ended the evening with the most adorable profiterole--with pate a choux puff pastry split in two and filled with a Halvah (sesame seed) ice cream. Topped with honey, chopped walnuts, and a sprinkling of Aleppo pepper flakes, this made for a light finish to a very filling meal.

Despite the many changes to the menu at Cafe Castagna, they still offer one of the very best burgers in town. And it's still available at a discount during Happy Hour (Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 6 and again from 9 to close).

To make reservations for the prix fixe meal at Cafe Castagna or one of the many other restaurants participating in Portland Dining Month (March 1 - 31, 2015), visit OpenTable.


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Po'Boys in New Orleans: Chowzter North American Fast Feasts Awards

One of the most amazing things that has happened to us because of our blog (okay, the actual most amazing thing) is that we were invited to become Chief Chowzters for the Portland area. I remember when I first got the email, I thought maybe it was a scam. I didn't quite understand why we had been chosen, and I also was very skeptical that the invitation also included a free trip to San Francisco for the Chowzter awards. As it turns out, Chowzter is actually a legitimate company that is serious about food. They have local experts throughout North America (and other countries) who are insanely dedicated to finding the best food ever.

After working hard to come up with our list of our very favorite fast feasts in Portland, we officially became the Portland Chief Chowzters. While my co-bloggers went on that first trip to San Francisco, and later went to a trip to London, I was taking care of my new baby. They came back with tales of eating, eating, drinking, and more eating. They also talked about all of the other cool food bloggers they met on their trips. I was happy for them, but obviously very, very jealous.

When I heard that we were invited to another Chowzter awards ceremony in New Orleans, I decided that it was finally time to leave my baby for a few days! I knew my husband was more than capable of taking care of her, and I wanted to finally meet all of the Chowzter people I had heard so much about. We also had three of our favorite places up for awards (Pip's, Frank's Noodle House, and Dove Vivi), so I thought it would be fun to represent them.

While my co-blogger has an entry planned that covers the fancy places we got to experience, I wanted to write about my very favorite part of the trip: the Po'Boys. I don't know if I had ever even had a real Po'Boy sandwich before this trip. If I had, obviously it was not very memorable. Even though I knew it was a New Orleans specialty, I didn't have very high expectations.The Chowzter people decided the best thing to do was go to three different Po'Boy places one right after another (like a pub crawl for Po'Boys!) to determine which Po'Boy was the very best. Having experienced a Po'Boy crawl, I now want to live the rest of my eating life this way. Pizza crawl, BBQ crawl, sushi crawl, dessert crawl?!

After a very long (and odd) taxi ride, we arrived at our first destination, Domilise's. I had been dying to hear real Southern accents, and the ladies behind the counter fulfilled this desire immediately. They were really sweet, and we could tell this was a popular neighborhood place. People at other tables were friendly and talked to us about their favorite items. We ended up trying two sandwiches here: the fried shrimp and the roast beef. The shrimp had a really delicious spicy/sweet sauce, and it was my favorite of the two. The roast beef was a little bit dry, but the sauce on it was amazing. One of the locals said that the mustard was Zataran's brand, which I had never had before. Usually I am not a fan of spicy mustard (as I mentioned in another blog entry that embarrassed my co-blogger, it makes me want to vomit), but this mustard had just the right amount of spice to it. We were off to a great start, but we had to save room for our other stops.

Our next stop was Killer Po'Boys, which is at the back of a bar called Erin Rose. This place was small, but they definitely had their own unique twist that made our visit worthwhile. These Po'Boys reminded me of Vietnamese Banh Mi  sandwiches. I tried the pork belly (amazing) and the shrimp. Other people also tried a meatloaf version, but I am not a fan. The pork belly had a great flavor, but the shrimp was not as good as at Domalise's. They were sauteed instead of fried, so they already had a disadvantage. My co-blogger pointed out that they were completely different genres so couldn't really be compared, but I did it anyway, and Domalise's won!

I was feeling a little full and lethargic at this point. A few people started to give off signs of possibly quitting and skipping out on the final stop. Luckily, we persevered and rallied, figuring we would have enough time on the taxi ride over to work up an appetite again. At the last stop, Parkway Bakery and Tavern, all of the Chief Chowzters who had decided to go out for fried chicken were already there. They had eaten delicious chicken but did not want to miss out on the final Po'Boy stop of the day.

Parkway Bakery and Tavern ended up being my favorite, partly because it was such a fun experience, but also because they truly had my favorite Po'Boys. Because there were so many of us, we got to try so many menu items. I tried shrimp, French dip, roast beef, regular fries and sweet potato fries with gravy, fried pickles, and bread pudding for dessert. The shrimp was really good--they were fried perfectly, but could have used more sauce--but the roast beef was the real winner. It was so tender it was falling apart; it was like having a pot roast dinner on a sandwich. If I ever get to go back, this is the sandwich I will order again. Other people also tried alligator sausage and surf and turf, but I skipped those. We also got to meet the chef, who had a fun accent and was so nice. The service here was also amazing--they were really busy, but they did not bat an eye or miss a step while dealing with 30+ food bloggers who were all taking a million pictures.

Although my co-blogger is writing an entry about our two delicious, multi-course dinners (and the awards ceremony), I do want to mention something else about our trip. I was blown away by all of the people we met. So many of the Chief Chowzters really are experts when it comes to food--many have been on TV shows or they are professional food writers. And all of them were so nice and friendly. Just a few of the fun bloggers we got to hang out with were Fiona from Boston, Tiffany from Niagra Falls, Drew (and his beautiful wife and baby) from Austin, Rachel from Dallas, Joe from Detroit, Lauren (and her adorable baby) from Washington D.C., Bradd and Kristy from Philadelphia, Shanna and Felice from Dallas, and Kim from New Orleans.  And now we have a big fat list of cities we want to visit and people who we want to show us all the best places to eat!


Domilise's Po-Boy & Bar on Urbanspoon

Killer Poboys on Urbanspoon

Parkway Bakery & Tavern on Urbanspoon