Team Feast goes to Austin and What We’re Eating in Portland This Week
The Feast Newsletter Volume One, Edition Two
Welcome to Edition Two of the 2022 Feast newsletter.
After what felt like the longest and wettest Oregon Spring ever, the days are getting longer, the sleeves shorter and we have not in recent memory seen Portland look greener. Oregon in June is a sight to behold, and after a trip down South, we are happy to be home.
Team Feast just returned from Hot Luck, Feast Portland’s sister festival in Austin. Jordan’s excellent take is below. We are grateful to all of the chefs that participated, but wanted to send out a special thanks to all of the Portland chefs who made the trek: Earl Ninsom and Colin Yoshimoto of Eem, Carlo LaMagna of Magna Kusina, as well as Elias Cairo of Olympia Provisions. These talented individuals represented our city well. While this newsletter hereforeward will mostly focus on stuff happening in and around Portland, Feast and Hot Luck share some of the same energy in their respective DNA. (Full disclosure: I am a partner in Hot Luck along with Austinites Aaron Franklin and James Moody.) And so accordingly, we feel it’s in our purview to take our readers along for the ride in this week’s issue of the Feast Newsletter.
Thanks to all for reading.
Team Feast Goes to Hot Luck
By Jordan Michelman, Editor
In Austin I snacked, and nibbled, and tried not to collapse in the Texas heat. I’m quite familiar with the limitations on post-festival reporting—i.e. “me telling you about food you cannot eat at a festival you did not attend that is now over”—so instead think about this more as some radar spotting: any restaurant or chef mentioned in this piece should be big-time on your future eating plans, and you should follow them on Instagram immediately so as to further ogle their food.
In some ways, it can feel like food festivals reduce the sum total of the craft down into a few individual bites, but the limitations of the form can also feel exhilarating. Everyone is placed on the same footing, with the relative unknown and the multi-hyphenate award winner serving right next to each other, which is very much part of the fun. The busier and more successful a restaurant is, the less often you get to see the chef, but not so at Hot Luck, where someone like Chris Shepherd (Underbelly Hospitality, Houston) personally hands you a small plate, and you get to call him “chef”, or Christina Tosi (Milk Bar, New York) gives you a little cup of her cereal milk ice cream, and is then visibly delighted to overhear you complement it.
Part of the joy of an event like this is stumbling, quite accidentally, upon unexpectedly brilliant coursings and pairings from the multitude of different chefs and kitchens. The fiery jerk chicken at Canje (Austin) followed by a grilled shrimp and dilly ranch salad by Her Place (Philadelphia) followed by a Jewish black & white cookie from Laura Sawicki — an impossible chain of events for any single restaurant, and yet a reality born across one evening of Hot Luck.
The almighty vibe of Hot Luck is one of kinetic energy, as if powered by its own renewable fuel source—the sun, perhaps, because lord was it hot—spurred on by unconventional venues and live DJs and a sense of exploration and discovery. It is rare to find yourself at a food festival with dozens of things you’d like to try, but such is this event.
Here’s some of my favorite stuff from each night, a three-day stretch in which I drank dozens of cans of Rambler mineral water and enjoyed food from more than fifty individual chefs. For our Feast readers, you should absolutely be considering attending next year’s event in Austin. This experience is very much worth the flight.
Thursday Night–The Giddy Up!
The first night kicked off in downtown Austin at the legendary music venue Mohawk, which quickly became mobbed with attendees excited for the return of Hot Luck. Food highlights include a smoked mozzarella and Franklin Barbecue sausage pizza by Chris Bianco (Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix), chocolate malt French fries by Becky Masson (Fluff Bake Bar, Houston), flatbreads by Reem Assil (Reem’s California, Oakland), and the aforementioned cereal milk ice cream by Milk Bar. The longest line of the night went to Portland’s own Elias Cairo of Olympia Provision, who served “all the meats” sliced fresh in heaping individual charcuterie boards.
Friday Night–Hi, How Are You?
The entire Franklin Barbecue property saw itself transformed into a multi-purpose smoky barbecue pit of promise and mystery, supporting dozens of chefs from around the country cooking a surprisingly vast and diverse spectrum of cuisines. Quite simply there was stuff I wanted to eat everywhere — I tried everything, some of it twice.
The single best thing here was the profound, transformative jerk chicken by Canje, chef Tavel Bristol-Josef’s Austin Caribbean restaurant. This alone was worth the trip to Austin: a slow burn to nuclear rising tide of flavors, smoke and sweet and that wonderful fifth element of char bark, all of it cooled out by a side of pickled cabbage. I went back multiple times, numbing out my mouth then seeking salvation in plural cans of Rambler.
There was unexpectedly great seafood all around the grounds. Portland, Maine’s Eventide Oyster Co. enjoyed a consistent line throughout the night, with folks lined up for warm brown butter lobster rolls in a soft steamed bun. Uchiba (Dallas) served a memorable sea bream poke with Tom Kha and compressed watermelon; Houston’s Underbelly offered a cheffy crab craw rice cake bite with basil corn; Amanda Shulman (Her Place, Philadelphia) made my other favorite dish of the night, a grilled shrimp, charred cucumber and ranch salad with dill, topped with a fluffy potato bun, all of it so cooling and complex and memorable.
Yes, there was Franklin Barbecue brisket, and it was great—as good as you’ve heard, served very simply and without artifice on a piece of white bread with a little pool of good barbecue sauce, and pickles. Simple, delicious, and the line wasn’t bad. Ashley Christianson (Poole’s Diner, Raleigh) served an entire chili burger to the guests at her booth. Crispy Gai (Portland, Maine) tossed Hung Lae curry wings with garlic by the bowlful, and I could have honestly eaten forty of them, and might have, were I not at a food festival.
Saturday Night–Al Fuego
The grand denouement of Hot Luck , in which many dozens of the nation’s best chefs—including Portland heroes like Carlo Lamagna, Colin Yoshimoto, and Earl Ninsom—occupy several acres of a weepingly beautiful oak grove in Texas Hill Country outside of Austin. Live fire cooking is the focus, and there are smoking pits everywhere, from enormous custom Franklin Barbecue rigs to inverted trompos powered by bicycle and towering cauldrons of Trinidadian pelau. The environment is gorgeous, the food opportunities expansive. I tried it all and here’s what jumps out.
Chicago’s Monteverde restaurant served me what may have been the single best dish I tried at the festival: of all things, a potato. Specifically a small, round, butterball potato that had been gently smoked to a crisp, then rolled in Italian honey, stuffed with robiola cheese, and dusted in a generous flurry of white truffle. The texture, the sweet, the cream, the savory…I can still taste it. I am booking my reservation at their restaurant now, and will be first in line to buy chef Sarah Grueneberg’s cookbook “Listen To Your Vegetables” when it drops this fall. If you had told me I would go to a barbecue guy’s festival and have my favorite dish be a potato, well, I am not sure how I would have responded. It was a damn good potato.
Taos-SLC chef Zak Pelaccio served up a smoked lamb and pea agrodolce bite that checked all the boxes: smoky yet subtle lamb, offset by a bright, sweet green note from the veg. Good lamb is hard to get right, especially in a large setting, but this nailed it. I loved the compressed, smoked, magically textured mushroom tacos from Wicked Kitchen, the awesomely maximalist sliced elk muffaletta on an English Muffin from Lutie’s (Austin), the Yemenite pistachio dukkah scallop by Alon Shaya (Saba, New Orleans), beautifully fragrant and spicy ham hock pelau by Jerk Shack of San Antonio, Huckleberry’s charred opa on a crispy tortilla chip with spicy pico, and the brilliantly unexpected chilled hojicha tea served alongside tea poached salmon over crispy rice by Yoshi Okai (Otoko, Austin).
As a final word let’s end on something sweet: I needed it after all the protein. The local gang at Oatly made me a deliciously cool and creamy ginger matcha latte, and thus armed with refreshment I perused the astonishing assortment of dessert delights at the Albert Hotel table, courtesy of pastry chef Amanda Rockman. The hotel itself opens in Fall 2022 in Fredericksburg, Texas—this is now big on my personal radar, as a burgeoning Texas Hill Country enthusiast and lifelong hotel geek—but my heavens is their baking program already dialed in. Upscale lemon bars, banana pudding with a chef’s complexity, and of all things, the best peanut butter and jelly cookie I have ever tried. A conversation killer, this cookie was—all you can really do is stand there, chewing and smiling. I wonder when they’ll begin taking reservations…and if they will be serving that cookie…
Meanwhile back in Portland, here’s what we’re eating this week…
Strawberry season is upon is in the Pacific Northwest, which means it’s time for strawberry vodka at Kachka, made using the most delicate, sweet, slightly pleasantly sour Hood Strawberry variety—perfect for drinking at the bar, and available to-go at Kachka’s delightful upstairs takeaway deli, Kachka Lavka…speaking of strawberries, Doja Tea Lounge in Tualatin are offering a strawberry-centric menu all month long, including at their Saturday “high tea” style ticketed lunch. If you haven’t explored Doja Tea Lounge yet, they are quietly one of the best bakeries in Oregon right now…happy 23rd Anniversary to E&R Wine Merchants on SW Macadam, which they celebrated by pouring Champagne for visitors and hosting a tasting with multiple bottles from the 1999 vintage…congratulations also to Angel Medina and the team at Republica on the launch of Taqueria Los Ponchos in the Pearl District, a new taqueria concept serving classics like Al Pastor (via glorious spinning trompo) and cabeza with a tight, fun drinks menu—they’re open evenings for now, Thursday through Monday (more from Angel + Co. in an upcoming issue of this newsletter)…frequent farmer’s market fliers are raving about, well, everything from Creole Me Up, chef Elsy Dinvil’s line of Haitian pickleez, sauces, and drink mixes—find the chef personally sampling out specials each weekend at the PSU Farmer’s Market, the pickled mango is especially delicious…last but certainly not least, the best Portland thing I ate this week was very traditional—every trip I’ve taken outside of town for the last decade has been met immediately upon return home with an order from Nong’s Khao Mon Gai, a healthful reset and still one of the city’s best, most consistent kitchens… all dispatches formatted for the curious and hungry, please report tips to email@example.com
2022 James Beard Awards
For the first time since 2019, the James Beard Awards will return on June 11th (Media Awards) and June 13th (Chef Awards) in Chicago, and Portland is well represented in multiple categories this year. Team Feast would love to congratulate the following Portland nominees.
Cookbooks: General Category
Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health
Gregory Gourdet with JJ Goode
Cookbooks: Single Subject
Grains for Every Season: Rethinking Our Way with Grains
Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg
Best Chef: Northwest
Carlo Lamagna, Magna Kusina
Thomas Pisha-Duffly, Oma’s Hideaway & Gado Gado
Earl Ninsom, Langbaan, Hat Yai, Eem, and others, Portland, OR