Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Meat Cheese Bread: You Gotta Problem Widdat?

You have to get to Merriam-Webster's third definition of "funky" to capture the essence of new eastside sandwich shop Meat Cheese Bread:

funky adj. 1: having an offensive odor; foul. 
2: having an earthy unsophisticated style and feeling; esp.: having the style and feeling of older black American music (as blues or gospel) or of funk; "A slick, heavy beat that is unmistakably contemporary and irresistibly funky" - Jay Cocks. 
3: a: odd or quaint in appearance or feeling; b: lacking style or taste; c: unconventionally stylish; hip.

Counter, blackboards, silverware…what more do you need?

While going that far down the list might not have passed muster with my sixth grade English teacher, it concisely describes a certain lowbrow style that several local eateries have adopted. Using local, even house-made, ingredients from produce to charcuterie, and I'm thinking here of Bunk, Foster Burger and other spots, it seems to borrow from the food cart aesthetic that is putting Portland on the national foodie map.

Shunning high style as well as high ticket prices, Meat Cheese Bread is a restaurant for our time: chef-run and simply designed, focused on food, not frills. Service is of the step-up-to-the-counter variety and you can help yourself to the water and tableware, with food "plated" on craft paper on picnic-style baskets.

The Cuban pulled pork with jicama slaw.

But despite the lack of servers and ambience, when your order is called and you bring it to your table, any hesitations are washed away by waves of deliciousness. My Cuban pulled pork, sauced with "orange mojo" and strewn with jicama slaw, was pig braised to perfection, though the long whole wheat bun that it came on wasn't quite up to the task of holding the whole thing together and required a fork by the time I was halfway through.

The house BLB (top photo), an imaginative twisting of the BLT to accommodate an ethic requiring that no tomato will be served out of season, is genius. Neuske's bacon sits between two thick slices of light, toasted white bread with a layer of thinly sliced roasted beets topped by lettuce and a garlic aioli. It's fresh, slightly smoky and deliciously meaty and the perfect foil for a side of jicama slaw or potato salad.

Would you go fork-to-fork with this woman? (I thought not.)

And because we'd heard about their bread pudding before coming, my pal Luan (of Foster & Dobbs fame) and I dove in and ordered some for dessert and were not disappointed. This is bread pudding worth fighting over and, though we managed to avoid coming to blows, it was difficult to maintain our composure over its rich, luscious, yielding yet somehow not-too-sweet or bready texture. This is bread pudding worth a trip all on its own.

So I say, if this is the future of restaurants, bring it on. Who needs frills and frippery when the chow is this good?

Details: Meat Cheese Bread, 1406 SE Stark St. 503-234-1700.


Katherine said...

Their BLT may or may not have been a contributing factor to my move to PDX.. It's heavenly. Try The Maple..sandwich ON bread pudding? Heaven.

Kathleen Bauer said...

I know…now that I've had the bread pudding it's going to be hard not to order that next time!

Portland Charcuterie Project said...

I reviewed MCB in and gave them a solid "Meh"... I think I'm just ruined by the goodness that is Bunk..

Very nice people though.

Very well written.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Todd. Though I'd give them way more than the "meh" rating. Or, to put it another way, if more cafés were this "meh," I'd be ecstatic!