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Welcome to Valhalla – Portland's Newest Food Cart

July 28, 2009 No comments
This Way to Valhalla

This Way to Valhalla

Portland’s food cart scene is one of the most dynamic and explosive in the country. What’s exciting to see is how the food carts are growing and flourishing beyond the defined cart clusters (or cart villages like SE 12th and Hawthorne, often called “Cartopia”).

This month the scene got a huge enforcement when Burgerville decried ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ and launched its own mobile food cart called the Burgerville Nomad.

But Matthew “Black Arm” Woodard doesn’t think too highly of the big businesses jumping into the cart scene. “Cart’s are for the little guy, not big businesses to make even more money”. Woodard is the owner of Portland’s newest food cart, Valhalla. Formerly a welder, Woodard decided to beat the economic downturn with a food cart specializing in Vegetarian and Vegan comfort food. “There aren’t a lot of affordable veg sandwiches in this town. Backspace is $8!”

Perfectly Grilled Vegan Sandwhich

Perfectly Grilled Vegan Sandwhich

Launched on the hottest day in Portland in over twenty years, Portland’s newest food cart helps fill the gaps in the dining options on SE Hawthorne.  Located on SE 33rd and Hawthorne, tucked behind the Dollar Scholar, Valhalla serves up a simple and affordable menu that is sure to quickly find a following.

While the menu might be simple, the tastes are anything but. I had the Vegan Garden sandwich, which came panini-grilled on two slices of Grand Central Baking Como bread filled with Tofutti cream cheese, cucumber, sprouts and tomato. The bread was brushed with a rosemary vegan butter and grilled to absolute perfection. All the ingredients in the sandwich were fresh and the tomatoes were bursting with flavor. The sandwich cost only $5 – $3 less than its equivalent across town.

To accompany the sandwich I had a cup of the Vegan Creamy Tomato soup. More subtle in flavor, the soup was not overly creamy and had a nice mix of flavors. It’s not your plain ordinary tomato soup and it’s clear a lot of tought went into the combination of flavors.

Valhalla's Menu

Valhalla's Menu

The rest of my family got the three cheese and tomato sandwich ($4) which featured Boar’s Head Cheese on Grand Central Bread.  Also cooked to perfection, these grilled cheese sandwiches were gobbled up in no time.

Next time I visit Valhalla (and there will be many next times) I’ll try the Vegan Sloppy Joes which were highly recommended by Woodard.  He also indicated that he’d be carrying homemade pickles that are sure to impress.

With fantastic food at good prices, Valhalla should do extremely well and show that great carts can succeed even when they are outside the cart clusters.

Valhalla Sandwich Co. is located at 3279 SE Hawthorne Blvd (right behind Dollar Scholar). Hours haven’t been set yet but they should be 11am to around 10pm daily.

Follow Valhalla on Twitter @valhallacartpdx

Categories: Food, Vegan Tags:

India Oven – Location, Location, Location

March 19, 2009 5 comments

India Oven Now on SE Belmont

I always had a love hate relationship with Kinta Restaurant.  I really valued having a vegetarian restaurant in my neighborhood with spicy ethnic food and an ever changing array of fresh vegetable choices.  Unfortunately the idea of Kinta always seemed better than the reality.  Frequently messed up orders and lack of a clear vision plagued Kinta, combined with the hefty competition with a flood of nearby Thai restaurants spelled the end for this local eatery.

Kinta’s loss has been India Oven‘s gain.  Previously located in the dungeon that is the Hawthorne Theater, India Oven moved from SE Hawthorne to SE Belmont into its ideal new location. Even though I am a fan of India food I hadn’t visited India Oven in its previous location. The Hawthorne Theater seems like a dump from the outside, so it was hard to imagine enjoying a meal inside.

Days after their move to SE Belmont, I made a point to give India Oven a try. Even though they had completely relocated their business, I found the service and food at India Oven to be right on the mark.  My meal consisted on Vegetable Pakoras, Papadams, Dahl, Vegetable Byrani and Aloo Gobi (which I think is one of the dishes that is a true barometer of a good Indian restaurant).  All the dishes were well spiced with medium portion sizes. Of the three I enjoyed the Dahl the most with perfectly cooked lentils with nice balanced flavor. The Aloo Gobi was solid, not the best I’ve ever had, but well balanced and tasty.  The Pakoras were a nice mix of vegetables deeply fried and absolutely delicious. I also quite enjoyed the Vegetable Byrani which was the largest portion of the dishes. The final bill was in line with many of the medium priced local businesses but notably higher than going out for local Thai.

The best thing going for India Oven is its new location. Perfectly placed in the heart of the Belmont Business District India Oven should find success where Kinta failed. Even though they had only been open a few days the restaurant was fuller than I had ever seen Kinta.

India Oven is located at 3450 SE Belmont St.

Categories: Food, Vegan Tags:

Cool Tech at PDX

November 28, 2008 No comments
Columbia Sportswear's Interactive Display Window

Columbia Sportswear's Interactive Display Window

On Wednesday I went down to PDX to pick up family vising in Portland for the Thanksgiving holiday. As I waited for them to get off the plane and clear the security checkpoint I played around with the window display at the new Columbia Sportswear store (which is right before the security checkpoint at the A, B and C gates).

The Columbia Sportswear store has an interactive display window. You can touch the various icons on the window itself to get information about Columbia Sportswear and to play videos of their products in use. Most people standing around the window didn’t realize that you could interact with it, but the reception to it was pretty good when my daughter stepped up and started playing Warren Miller snowboarding videos on the full display window.

The opportunities for a rich interactive retail experiences are so vast and it’s nice to see a non-technology company like Columbia Sportswear embrace new technologies for one of their keystone stores. Who knows maybe Microsoft will start promoting this technology as “Windows for Display Windows”.

Categories: Politics, Portland, Vegan Tags:

Nutshell Restaurant Has Closed

November 16, 2008 3 comments
Where Will Bigfoot Eat Now

Where Will Bigfoot Eat Now

It comes as little surprise the news that Nutshell Vegan Restaurant has closed. In September I wrote the piece In A Nutshell – They’re Screwed that took a look at how Nutshell had gone from Portland darling to a restaurant precariously on the edge of the “Portland Restaurant Dead Pool”.

That hypothesis became a reality this week when Nutshell threw in the towel and closed their doors.  Perhaps the final nail in Nutshell’s coffin came from Alison Hallett who wrote a sharp criticism of Nutshell in the Portland Mercury review: Cracked Up – Nutshell’s Unsuccessful Revisioning.

Nutshell’s closing is either vindication for chef Sean Coryell (who left the sinking ship) or a sharp condemnation of the owners of Tabla (who also run Ten01, a restaurant which had its own near death experience last year).

To be fair 2008 has proven to be one of the toughest years for Portland restaurants yet.  With a growing list of restaurants closing because of the brutal economy including: Rocket, Kalga Cafe, Banh Cuon Tan Dinh, Genoa, and Carboni’s, the BBQ/wood-fire pizza. We expect at least five more Portland restaurants to join this list befor the year’s end. So if there’s a local Portland restaurant you don’t want to see added to the list, I highly recommend you make sure you dine there a few times before the end of the year, it does really matter.

Categories: Food, Vegan Tags: , ,

Nutshell Restaurant in Portland is Screwed

September 1, 2008 No comments

Even Bigfood Would Be Bummed

Even Bigfood Would Be Bummed

The restaurant started out of a simple proposition – create a unique place which served gourmet food that used fresh local and natural ingredients and didn’t have any animal products. The words VEGAN weren’t plastered across the sign or on the menu. The food was just Vegan by nature. The restaurant had its roots in a series of very successful Vegan family dinners run by then Tabla chef Sean Coryell. Coryell went to great lengths to produce intricate and flavorful dishes using a wide range of exotic ingredients. Speaking with Sean at those family dinners you’d hear his absolute passion for the food.

Coryell enthusiasm fueled a nearly year long effort to build Nutshell. Opened in late 2007 and located on North Williams, Nutshell won raves from the Veg community and even won over some hardened omnivorous Portland foodies. But no sooner had it opened than the signs began to show that things were not well behind the scenes. An ever changing menu and constant experimentation by Coreyell and almost manic fascination with expanding the restaurant to Tokyo, Hawaii… “global man” created an environment where food could be extremely hit or miss.

Coryell’s departure from Nutshell marked a significant change. The menu with a thousand revolving dishes was simplified down to just a handful, the portions cut back significantly and although the restaurant was built with an open kitchen as its centerpiece the men and women in the kitchen made it perfectly clear they were all about business.

This week Nutshell made another turn. With rumors circulating about its demise and increasing complaints about the food and service Nutshell added butter, eggs and cheese to just about every dish on the menu (There’s even an egg on their pizza). With a bad taste already in their mouth this move infuriated the Vegan community and signaled another clear step towards the end of this once beloved eating establishment.

So what went wrong? Were Coryell’s eyes too big for the patron’s stomach? Did the Tabla team bungle things behind the scenes as they did with the Ten 01 opening? Or is it too much to thing Portland can sustain a gourmet vegan restaurant? (or even a Vegan Strip Club?) I think Portland can absolutely sustain Vegan restaurants, even a gourmet one, but like all restaurants they need to be well run. Just because something is Vegan doesn’t mean it’s going to be an immediate success and adding eggs to your plates doesn’t mean you’ll stay afloat. I’ll be surprised if Nutshell didn’t shutter its doors by the end of the year or completely reinvent itself (ala Ten 01).

Categories: Food, Vegan Tags: , ,