By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Let’s be honest. The best food you’ve ever eaten was cooked by your mother. Oh sure, maybe every meal wasn’t great — maybe not even all that edible — but there was at least one thing she could put together that had you drooling from the moment you caught a whiff of it coming from the kitchen. That’s comfort food. Perhaps it was cookies or homemade soup or mac and cheese (not the kind in the blue box). This was the stuff you’d want to light up a dark, dreary day or to warm your insides after confronting a chilly outside world.
That’s the kind of eating Leah Tucker specializes in. “I do classic, Americana comfort food.” Leah, her hair pulled back by a red bandana, is grilling onions inside her mobile kitchen at the Piknik Park Food Cart Pod on Southeast Tacoma Street in Portland. Her business is called City Slickers.
“The concept behind City Slickers is city-specific, iconic food. I do big-name foods that people should recognize: Philly cheesesteaks, Chicago Italian beef sandwiches, New York dirty water dogs, L.A. street dogs. And my current claim to fame is Cincinnati chili.”
The onions are beginning to sizzle as Leah slices through a roll of pillowy soft bread. “So it’s these big flavors and foods that you grew up with and as a society, a culture, as a country we’ve grown up with. These are things that were introduced into our society decades ago and for whatever reason they have made a name for themselves and stuck with us. We still love them and we carry them with us wherever we go. We transplant from the Midwest or the East Coast or from California, to anywhere else, we want to see those foods. We want those foods — we crave them.”
Despite how tasty and stomach-filling the beef sandwich is that Leah has handed me, it wasn’t what brought me to her food cart. There’s another menu item I’m curious about, and to learn more about that my first stop was actually at Portland’s StormBreaker Brewing.
This was a day on which North Mississippi Avenue felt like the Mississippi Delta. It was hot and humid — the first day of the heart-stopping heatwave in August. But not even triple-digit heat could wilt Steven Shomler’s enthusiasm for what he has planned for cooler days in October — the first Portland BLT Week. “Celebrating the glory that is the BLT,” he said. “The BLT is actually my favorite sandwich.”
For those who don’t know, Steven has written books, hosts a weekly program on the Portland Radio Project, produces podcasts on beer and food, and markets the stuffing out of anything having to do with Oregon food and drink. In August, he promoted Portland Burger Week. “I work hard to serve people, work hard to care for them. And I love to celebrate the things that I love.”
The ex-corporate banker had just wrapped up a meeting with the owners of StormBreaker and was enjoying one of their beers as he explained how he began organizing Portland BLT Week in January. Of the 40 restaurants and food carts that asked to be included, Steven chose 30. But the menu doesn’t end there. A special beer and bacon confection are also on the menu courtesy of The Commons Brewery and Blue Star Donuts. Steven was talking to Salt & Straw about an event-themed ice cream as well.
In some ways, Portland BLT Week is a DIY event. It won’t be held at one location. Like Portland Burger Week, it’s a mad dash to see how many sandwiches you can scarf down during a limited period of time. Here’s the thing, though, BLTs are like anything homemade. They are comfort food because they are familiar. The same three ingredients are a must. But there’s always room for variation, as Steven illustrates when asked how he takes them. “If I make one at home? I like cracked wheat sourdough. I like iceberg lettuce. I like Bests Foods Mayonnaise. I like sliced tomatoes and pepper bacon. Very simple. Maybe some avocado.”
But are you a food adventurer? Will you dare go where your taste buds have not been before?
Back at City Slickers, Leah Tucker thinks so. Because she understands a basic rule. “BLTs are classics. It’s like a grilled cheese. You can’t get any more classic than a BLT or a grilled cheese. It is a basic comfort, easy, and yet it translates across every season. There are very few people who wouldn’t eat bacon on a sandwich.” To that end, she will keep her BLT simple but with some adventure.
A couple of other things to know about Portland BLT Week: The sandwiches will be modestly priced, so keep that in mind when you tip your server. Give them some extra comfort while you have some comfort food. For more details on the event, Oct. 1-8, check out the event page on Facebook.
Leah’s Bacon Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich
Paired With Laurelwood Brewery Free Range Red
By Leah Tucker, City Slickers
The Leah BLT starts with “a fabulous sauce. I make a mean garlic aioli, so that’s going to be my twist on the BLT. Instead of a standard mayonnaise, we’ll be using a garlic aioli.” The sauce comes with a secret ingredient that adds extra bite.
Bread: Standard white bread, thick cut, toasted. It will stand up to the other ingredients.
Tomatoes: The clean, sweet flavor of heirloom tomatoes will balance out the garlic aioli.
Bacon: Applewood-smoked bacon. Leah wants to experiment with weaving the bacon strips into a mat to ensure there is bacon with each mouthful.
Choosing Your Beer
I am old fashioned. I go somewhere, order a beer and then decide what to eat. But Portland BLT Week is about a sandwich and you need to base your beer choice on the sandwich you’re having. The beer should complement the bacon. Leah Tucker likes a red because it balances lightness and depth with the smoked bacon. On the other hand, if you’re having a sandwich with a fatty slab, Breakside Brewery India Golden Ale has a crispness that could cut through the bacon heaviness. If you run into a Canadian bacon version, you might try a glass of Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter. The nutty flavors go well with the bacon sharpness.
After visiting City Slickers, I had to try a homemade BLT. It was standard: basic bacon, a beefsteak tomato, lettuce on some toasted bread with bits of garlic in it. I paired with Fleur de Blanc from The Commons Brewery; the white farmhouse added a little tingle to each BLT bite.
Portland BLT Week
Monthly recipes and pairings from your favorite brewpubs around Oregon.