I woke up so all aflutter this morning, I half expected to see plane tickets to Paris on the nightstand. But then I realized that my morning butterflies were just preemptive insulin spikes resulting from my anticipation of the Grand Opening of much-missed The Sugar Cube food cart, the newest and sweetest addition to North Portland’s Mississippi Marketplace.
A couple weekends ago I popped by after a trip to the Big Egg, just to sniff around. According to Twitter, the cart wasn’t open yet, but I thought I’d see if darling owner Kir Jensen was inside experimenting, and better yet, might perhaps need a recipe tester.
“Hey Jen,” Kir said calmly when I poked my head in the open door. I was impressed. I hadn’t seen Kir since she’d closed her beloved Sugar Cube (which occupied a space in the SW Alder & SW 9th cart cluster) way back in February. “You have a great memory!” I told her, and she just smiled. “I have a knack for remembering faces,” she said.
Kir showed me around her pretty little cart (which, with its pink, white and brown stripes, resembles a slab of old-fashioned Neopolitan ice cream), proudly noting that it’s much bigger than the old one and has generous storage space in the form of gold-painted cupboards bejewled with chunky glass handles. She explained her plans to offer sweet favorites like her infamous cupcakes and brownies, along with a more sophisticated dessert menu, the contents of which she swore me to secrecy. Quite honestly, the dishes were so deliciously detailed and complex I doubt I could have recounted them if I tried.
I think you can imagine how excited I was for The Sugar Cube to open today.
I arrived at 12:05 pm, and was relieved to see there wasn’t the long line of fellow cake crazies I’d had nightmares about, just a small but steady trickle of Kir’s friends, loyal fans, and lucky passerby.
“What can I get you, hon? A brownie? Sure, you got it!” she said enthusiastically to the patrons in front of me.
Once you get past the straightforward names (ie: Coffee and a Cookie, Beer.Cheese.Bacon), Kir’s menu reads like something you’d find in a high-end restaurant, not surprising considering her dossier includes stints at Genoa, clarklewis, and the Ritz Carlton. The Coffee and a Cookie, for instance, is an inch or so of sinfully creamy coffee panna cotta in a squat Ball mason jar, topped by a soft dollop of whipped cream and whisper-delicate shavings of chocolate, and accompanied by a crisp gingersnap covered in a light crust of sugar that glitters like fresh snow after a big freeze. The deep coffee flavor bounces straight at your tastebuds, tempered by the seductively sweet–but not too sweet–burnt caramel sauce that seeps down into every bite as your spoon digs in again and again. This glorious dessert rings in at a scant $6, and was served in a real glass jar on a delicate pink-flower lined china plate.
Next I had my way with the Beer.Cheese.Bacon–a small, round, and impossibly moist and rich Guinness and ginger stout cake topped by a scoop Fifty Licks Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, praline bacon crunch, a light drizzle of bitter buckwheat honey, and snowy little shavings of white cheddar. One of Kir’s magic sugarpowers is her ability to make unbelievably moist and flavorful cake, cake so good you cry a little bit when you eat it, and this cake is no exception. The scoop of pale, creamy Fifty Licks ice cream was so chock-full of vanilla bean it resembled some sort of alabaster ice cream universe, with a billion little black pinprick stars. The praline bacon crunch was exceptional, soft meaty bacon beneath a thin glaze of sugar that instantly melts, leaving nothing but the pure flavor of the meat, and the soft curls of white cheddar dissolve on your tongue just after imparting their sharply creamy nip. How much did this one-plate pleasure rush set me back? $7.
Due to an unfortunate run-in with some tacos earlier, I was now out of cash. (Just so you know, the Mississippi Marketplace has an ATM machine on site, but I’m too cheap to pay the fees.) So I couldn’t try the rest of the menu, but I intend to return again soon. Probably tomorrow, at the rate that I keep thinking about that panna cotta.
In addition to the more elaborate desserts, Kir’s menu features an “Ultimate Brownie” topped with bittersweet chocolate ganache, fleur de sel, and a grassy green olive oil ($3.50), the cupcake of the week ($3-$3.50), and hot drinkable deliciousness like the Hot Chocolate Malted ($5) with Ovaltine chocolate malt, whole milk, Venezuelan Maracaibo Creole milk chocolate, whipped cream and smoked Hawaiian salt, and quintessential autumn favorite Draper Girl’s apple cider, which Kir infuses with vanilla bean, fresh ginger, cardamom, cinnamon sticks and nutmeg and serves with a Tonalli’s old-fashioned glazed doughnut ($5).
You can also special order Kir’s cupcakes with 72 hours notice and a minimum order of two dozen. Cupcakes include the deliriously good Highway to Heaven–a chocolate buttermilk cupcake with a salted caramel center and chocolate ganache top, the humorously divine Amy Winehouse–boozy brandy and orange zest-infused yellow cake dipped in a bittersweet chocolate ganache and served with a coke straw and a sugar bump that emulates its namesake’s signature hairstyle, and the rich My Goodness My Guinness–the aforementioned Guinness and ginger stout cake with maple cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut.
Yep, if sugarpower is the greatest of them all, then The Sugar Cube will soar this time around.
Located inside the Mississippi Marketplace at N. Mississippi & N. Skidmore * Thu-Sun Noon-sold out * 503.890.2825 * twitter.com/TheSugarCube