A Tale of Two Cheese Carts

Cheese and crackers are one of those childhood staples, like mac n cheese or cartoons, that you never really outgrow, you just consume them in increasingly sophisticated ways, generally involving Steve Jones’ Cheese Bar or Pixar. And since this is Portland, it makes perfect sense that at some point, sophisticated cheese consumption would merge with the food cart phenomenon, hence, this tasty peek at two new mobile purveyors of a youthful classic all growed up.

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CHEESE & CRACK

Ask buoyant Cheese & Crack proprietor Will Steuernagel why there are tiny plastic hippos in his napkin drawer, and he’ll retort, “Why not?”* A reply I borrowed when someone asked me why somebody would open a cart devoted exclusively to cheese and crackers…”Why not?!”

Spend your lunch hour savoring the contents of a petite pizza box cleverly re-imagined as the ideal holding pen for Steuernagel’s housemade crackers (choose between decadent “butter” or gluten-free “seedy”), your cheese and charcuterie choices from the imaginatively-designed tiered wall menu, whatever accoutrements you crave—Castelvetrano olives, cornichons, seasonal or dried fruit, and a sweet ‘n savory Dijon, honey stick, and Spokandy chocolate mint ending, because, you know…why not?! You won’t find gourmet Steve Jones-curated cheeses or artisan Portland-made charcuterie here, but the offerings are fresh and portions satisfying enough to send you back to your desk sated.

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As for drinks, you’re probably bent on a glass of wine at this point, but you’ll have to make do with the cart’s unique bitters bar—your choice of bitters sprinkled over ice with a splash of simple syrup, then topped with soda water and spritzed with lime. A lovely refresher to battle the wilting noon sun.

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Definitely in the running for ‘cutest cart’** (to push it nearly over the brink, there’s even a $4 kids’ cheese plate…and a brown rice bowl for your pooch), Cheese & Crack currently shares the SE 33rd Avenue alleyway divot behind The Hazel Room with a ramen truck, but hopes to move downtown soon, to lure business folk away from their cubicles for a midday trip down an cheese and cracker crumb-strewn memory lane.

SE Hawthorne & 33rd Ave *  Tue-Thu 11am-3pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9pm * 503.847.9554 * cheeseandcrack.com

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THE CHEESE PLATE PDX

Nothing I see on always-fun, always-interesting Alberta surprises me anymore, and by nothing I mean copious amounts of bare flesh and the occasional bout of raving lunacy, so when I popped over to The Cheese Plate PDX for lunch, it was nice to see that owner Nick Dickison was fully clothed and sane, and things only got better from there.

Nick, formerly a cook at nearby Ciao Vito for over three years, and his wife Carina Rumrill, always wanted their own place and brainstormed different concepts over the years before committing to one of their great loves—cheese, and hence, this darling** wood-faced cheese shack was born a mere month ago.

The all-local cheese selection is very thoughtfully-chosen—my $8 Oregon Cheese Plate included a wedge of Ancient Heritage Dairy’s gorgeous Valentine, a couple of blocks of Tillamook’s white cheddar, and a crumbly slice of Rogue’s Echo Mountain Blue, plus three marble-sized “chevre truffles” rolled in nuts, herbs and spices, and the cart’s custom “Fromage fort” blend smeared on crostini, along with crisp, fresh housemade lavash and seed crackers and a small cup of seasonal compote. Servings are quite petite, but considering the quality and price, I’ve no quibbles. Fair warning though—if you’re reasonably hungry and/or very fond of cheese, I’m not so sure you’d be inclined to share your plate, so order accordingly.

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The meat-free menu moves beyond cheese with its Picnic Plate, an excellent option for the commitment-shy—order a la carte, or for $8, choose 4 of the elegant sides like soft-boiled eggs with truffle oil and seaweed caviar, wild mushroom and kale pate, Filthy Phil’s pickled eggs, melon with ginger salt, goat and blue cheese stuffed olives, or a perfect puck of a fudge brownie with blue cheese and port drizzle, to name a few.

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Remaining cheese bases are covered with the daily featured “vintage cheese” selection, (Scotch rarebit, in this case), a garden cheese sandwich with cart-made chevre and hazelnut romesco, a featured local cheese (today’s was Washington’s River Valley Cheese’s Valley Girl, and they’d, like, grilled it with tomato and olives) and fried cheese sticks—cream cheese, goat cheese, scallions and cilantro rolled and fried in rice paper and served with peach chutney. Vegan choices are clearly marked, and anything on the menu can be rendered gluten free if you ask.

Once the tough choices have been made and perfect cheese and picnic storms assembled, you can eat your chic bamboo board-plated picks at one of the petunia-shaded picnic tables overlooking Alberta Street, and hope against all hope to see something worth whipping out your iPhone and hitting the record button. Why not?!

2231 NE Alberta St. * Hours here *  503.422.8707 * thecheeseplatepdx.com

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*The real answer turned out to be: “because everyone deserves a toy with their lunch.”

** Both carts were built by Erin Haltom of Portland-based Independent Mobile Kitchens.